The follow-along map for this in-depth post, found here, is what I’ve always thought was the high school. But in digging up info on the area I learned that this building is apparently now the middle school, and high school students are bussed to Mark Twain Village. So either the schools have been reorganized since my time, or else I’ve had the wrong impression all these years and it was always the middle school. All of those “big kids” probably looked the same to me anyway.
When looking at the map, the first thing that strikes me is actually the sidewalk that circles the building. It was at least partially made of gray hourglass-shaped bricks which were particularly smooth under our bicycles, so it was a popular riding area. We would challenge each other to try to ride all the way around the building without ever touching the handlebars, a trick which was easier to pull off on the nice, flat surface. I recall this type of pavement being relatively unique around PHV at the time, but from digging up recent photos it looks like they’ve since used it all over the place. I know the sidewalks generally didn’t have them at the time because I used to play the “step on a crack, break your mother’s back” game while walking to and from school. Here’s a picture I found where these bricks are clearly visible, although they don’t look as fresh and clean as I remember around the school.
As you can see on the map, the school is one large central building with two smaller buildings to the west. In between those two buildings, along the west edge, there used to be a dumpster area. It was enclosed by a big metal gate that slid open and closed on a wheeled track, and usually this gate was left unlocked. This was fascinating to us and we used to play there a lot, pretending that it was the gate to a fortress or secret base. The garbage smell of the dumpsters inside didn’t negate the neatness of the gate back then.
There are only two occasions that I recall going inside this school. If I remember correctly, there was a gymnasium in the southernmost of the smaller buildings and we wandered in through an open side door and found a basketball game in progress. Also, I briefly took a judo class in a different gymnasium inside this school–at least I remember it being a second gymnasium inside the larger building–but I lost interest pretty quickly when I found that I just couldn’t flip my overweight partner even though everyone else in the class could do the flip.
It’s hard to tell on the map but just south of the southern smaller building, immediately across the circling road, is a grassy area which is actually a small hill. I remember a lot of kids sledding down this hill in the winter, which seems strange to me now because it doesn’t look big enough for that. Maybe PHV is very flat and that was one of the few hills we could find. I don’t think that the road with the white dashed line existed back then, so maybe this grassy hill was once bigger.
If you scroll the map a little to the west you can see a large concrete area with basketball hoops and some fading white painted circles on one end. These white areas were actually tetherball courts. Each circle had a metal pole in the middle, although it appears that all but two of the eight poles have been removed. I also remember these painted areas being new and pristine. Again, it’s hard to tell elevation from the map view but the grassy area on the north is actually a hill sloping down into the paved area. Another fun thing we used to do on our bicycles was race down this hill into the tetherball area and then extend one arm and grab one of the poles. You’d then rocket around the pole for as long as you could hold on. I’m sure there were some wipeouts associated with this game. If there’s one thing I remember about riding a bike as a kid, it’s that you were always crashing and bending your handlebars and then you’d have to brace the front wheel between your legs and push the handles back into place.
Scrolling the map further west, there are a couple of square buildings with central courtyards and a nice park-like environment surrounding them. I have no idea what these buildings are, as they didn’t exist in my day. From the look of them, I’d guess that they’re some sort of community center or maybe even more school buildings. Back in the late 70s, this area was an empty field. Sometimes people would fly kites here. But if you traveled all the way back to the far end of the field, along the western edge of PHV defined by a long bushy hill, you would find the BMX track. It may have been built as an official attraction, but I’ve always had the impression that some enterprising kids with shovels created it over time. It was a roughly oval dirt track with a lot of ups and downs and some jumps. Older kids would race around the track and get airborne in some spots. Alas, it was a bit too demanding at my age. I used to try to ride the track but wouldn’t have the strength to get my bike up some of the larger hills so I’d have to jump off and walk it. But it was fascinating and always fun to give it a try on the relatively rare occasion that we strayed this far from home since our apartment building was not near the school.
To the northwest of the main school building are a pair of baseball fields. These may have changed somewhat over the years, but I remember baseball fields being precisely in this spot because my Tee Ball team used to practice and play games there. I don’t recall being a particularly good player, but I loved to don my red and white Mets uniform and wear my cleats. I remember the coach or maybe one of the parents had a van–a big full-size van, back before anybody knew what a minivan was–and sometimes the team would meet at this field, pile into the van, and then take a ride over to Mark Twain Village to play an opponent. Actually, I think that perhaps our uniforms were two shades of blue and we were known as the Blue Jays. But I did play on a Mets team elsewhere — such is the life of an Army brat, mixing up memories of the many places you’ve lived.
There’s one last odd PHV memory to note from this general area. If you scroll the map east and a little south from the school, you can see a large building with a reddish parking lot. These didn’t exist in my day, it was just an open grass and treed area between the duplexes along South Gettysburg and the highway. But somewhere near the corner of South Gettysburg and South Lexington was an odd little stone building sitting off a bit by itself. I recall there being a few doors on either side, as if they were separate storage bays, but these doors were significantly elevated off the ground. You had to climb several concrete steps to reach a landing that ran the length of this small building. There was open space underneath the landing, making it a good place to hide. I think the doors may have actually just been recessed areas, as if they used to be doors but had since been permanently sealed with stone blocks. I have no idea what the purpose of this building may have been, but my young mind always thought of it as something similar to a small train depot, where you’d climb up onto the platform to then board. But if there were ever tracks running along here, there was no trace of them at that time.
But the odd memory is not of the building itself, but rather what we found there one day. Now, there were a lot of snails in PHV. If you went out early on a dew-covered morning you would find them all over the place, and pretty much anytime you could find empty snail shells without having to look too hard. Perhaps this explains the escargot on the menu at the Officers Club. One day our normal group of kids wandered over to this building and we found an enormous pile of grass on the landing, leaning against one of the recessed doorways. Getting closer, you could see that several small alcoves had been formed in the grass clippings, and then we discovered that there were snails all over this grassy structure. It appeared that somebody had ripped up a lot of the grass from the surrounding area and created some sort of snail hotel! As we were admiring the handiwork, I recall another group of kids showing up and telling us in a somewhat threatening demeanor to leave it alone and they had made it earlier that day. They were a bit older and we didn’t want any trouble, so we left. But for some reason that odd snail hotel, and the time that must have gone into building it, has always stuck in my mind.