Ugliest Building in the World?

Boston City Hall

Recently, Boston’s City Hall was named one of the ten ugliest buildings in the world. The surrounding City Hall Plaza is already considered one of the world’s worst public spaces. This Brutalist structure has been the source of controversy for years; Boston’s own mayor, the beloved Mumbles Menino, hates it. Although I’m not a fan of this building either, I’d like to nominate another, less famous but no less dysfunctional building for this title.

South Shore High School in Brooklyn, NY opened its doors in 1970 and, within five years, its student population ballooned to 6800, making it the second largest high school in the US. Like Boston’s City Hall, the building encountered problems from the start. South Shore was also an extremely tense environment since its opening.

South Shore High School in Brooklyn, NY

I don’t believe that architecture is the sole problem or solution to social issues, but it is often a contributing factor. In the case of South Shore, many of its basic problems were non-architectural but were magnified in a physical environment of colossal architectural failure. Let’s start with its location on the edges of three vastly different Brooklyn neighborhoods — East Flatbush, Canarsie, and Flatlands — all experiencing white flight and drastic demographic shifts during the 60s through the 80s. Its students, at first, were mostly a mix of working- and middle-class Jewish, Italian, and African American students.

But, because the school was so large, it was never really a neighborhood high school, and its students also came from both wealthier and poorer neighborhoods farther away — East New York, Flatbush, Mill Basin, and Bergen Beach. The distances and differences further eroded any sense of cohesion among the student population. More and more students were West Indian immigrants. Students from dour Glenwood Projects across the street from the school rubbed elbows with the nouveau riche National Drive kids.

Actually, no. For the most part, rigorous tracking resulted in precise segregation. The less college-bound the class, the darker the skin and the leaner the wallet. Gym offered a unique opportunity for students to mingle, in what might be described as a daily Lord of the Flies ritual.

I was in high school during a dark period for NYC public schools, also a dark period for the city. Crack, HIV/AIDS, the recession, the rise of youth gangs, increased crime, and sweeping budget cuts, all conspired with the already volatile makeup of South Shore’s student body, resulting in some troubling news stories:

* 5 Are Injured in Racial Fight at School, 13 Jun 87
* At Brawl Site, Tales of Recent Rise in Racial Tension, 14 Jun 87
* 3 Brooklyn Blacks Beaten in Attack by a White Gang, 4 Sep 87
* Racial Brawl Victims Bear No Malice, 5 Sep 87
* 6 Are Accused in Racial Fight at High School, 26 Nov 87
* Flatbush Youths Harass Strollers in the Village, 28 May 89
* Brooklyn Youth Is Wounded in Dispute over Coat, 11 Jul 90
* Youth Shot over a Coat Dies, 16 Jul 90
* Teen-Ager Arrested in Shooting of Girl, 3, 23 Aug 90
* Boy, 15, Is Fatally Stabbed at School in Brooklyn, 22 Sep 92
* Screening for Arms at School, 23 Sep 92
* School Safety Is Debated after Violence, 24 Oct 92

[The NYT got it wrong — the Decepts had at least one headquarters, across the street from South Shore.]

To be sure, the students, faculty, and administration were all demoralized by the budgetary woes — classes and after-school programs were cut, class sizes were increased, lunch was eliminated for many students. Some teachers, like Dr. Gussin, remained effective even as classes swelled well beyond capacity. Others gave up, like Mrs. K, the lone college counselor-turned-resident expectation manager, and her mantra of “Students from this school don’t attend colleges like that.”

South Shore High School

South Shore is not simply a failure of aesthetics, but a failure of functionality. The project was ill-conceived from the start and, although not every problem I encountered 20 years after its opening could have been anticipated, a lot of the seeds were present in the late 60s. It was the embodiment of what Dr. Gussin might call “not a melting pot but a tossed salad” — an unhealthily diverse environment rife with criminal entrepreneurialism, mischievous ambition, polarization, and segregation, presided over by an understaffed administration and a lax security force that could barely contain its students within the massive compound. Ugly or not, like Boston’s City Hall, it never successfully fulfilled its stated mission.

South Shore has been shut down due to “chronic underperformance,” which satisfies me more than I would have expected. The building now houses four separate, smaller high schools. If the DOE ever decides to implode the structure, please give me a call. I would fly home just to witness it.

48 thoughts on “Ugliest Building in the World?

  1. Have you seen the Minton-Capehart Federal Building in Indianapolis? It is obviously inspired by Boston City Hall:

    It’s not nearly as bad as Boston, except on the Delaware street side, where a sunken parking lot destroys the street frontage. Indeed, while I don’t like this structure overlooking the neo-classical war memorial plaza, there are actually some positive things about this design.

  2. I’ve never been inside the Indy building, but it’s not that bad as far as pedestrian experience is concerned. I’d be curious to know what its users think. Boston’s entire plaza seems downright hostile to its various users. Increasingly, I find myself much more concerned with architectural function than form. I have strong opinions about form but, when a building simply doesn’t work given its context and use, that seems a far more serious problem than whether or not I think it’s aesthetically pleasing.

    Side note about City Hall Plaza: it has hosted some great free concerts, including Blondie and Big Daddy Kane. Not that that redeems it…

  3. It is really hard to find a successful, urban, modern building built during this period. Walkability, humanism, localness, connectedness and even natural light were all discarded for a humongous international machine aesthetic. I think the aerial view tells the whole tale. How can a thing as intricate as the education of a person be reduced to a machine diagram? People’s lives, and thus urbanism cannot be simplified without being killed.

    Great post.

  4. Mike, when I was a student there, I was frustrated at the lack of academic opportunities. It was only later that I noticed the lack of healthy social opportunities that were also missing, and I was able to connect that with the school’s bad reputation. It was an environment of so many people with seemingly little in common, and taking away things like art, lunch, and after-school programs robbed people of productive ways to find common ground with each other. When you have three minutes between classes in a building that big, everyone becomes a blur of “us” and “them” or “haves” and “have nots.”

    It’s not the fault of the architecture per se, but I think it proves that this was a bad idea from the start. I do find it interesting that the building now houses four smaller schools. Does that solve the problems I mentioned, or exaggerate them?

  5. Looks a lot like NKU, but better. I definitely would not say this is the ugliest building in the world (from the ext), though it’s inhabitants might disagree.

  6. Brutalist structures are great relics of one of the logical conclusions of the modernist rationale (I think there are others). I like that they are still around for that reason, but I know they are terrible places to live. On the other hand, they are very defensible spaces and that makes city halls, schools, federal buildings and science labs designed in this manner far from functionally obsolete.

    And yeah, of the concerts on Boston’s City Hall Plaza, Menino’s Hip Hop Summit was choice. But, it was KRS that stole the show.

  7. It has a certain Maginot Line ambiance. Tom Wolfe would say that modern architecture is designed to be viewed by somebody passing by on the interstate or autobahn at 75 mph. If you’re standing still, standing in front of the building, you don’t actually see a damn thing.

  8. I don’t know if it’s worse than any other Brutalist building, but I.M. Pei’s site planning was abysmal. Of course, it was planned when the horrible urban renewal thing was going on and similar plans happened all over the country. Is this the project that inspired Jane Jacobs to write Death and Life of American Cities?

    I just found your blog today and it is excellent!
    becky

  9. Becky, I’m pretty sure that Jacobs’ direct motivation for the book was Moses’ proposed construction of an elevated freeway through the West Village, where she lived at the time. Obviously, though, she was well aware of what was going on in Boston, as well as in the other cities she mentioned in the book.

  10. Ah yes, it’s been ten years since I read it, but I do remember her quoting a lot of population statistics regarding Boston’s North End (adjacent to this project) that directly conflicted with the urban renewal justifications. I haven’t checked out this area in a long time, but I know there were big plans for redoing the site.

    When they built the parking garage nearby, they forgot to calculate the weight of the cars into the equation, so they blocked off entry to the garage. Parking being as tight as it is in Boston, people started parking in it anyway, so they started to charge anyway. The garage has since been fixed.

  11. Becky, I moved out of Boston 2 1/2 years ago, toward the end of the Big Dig, and I spent some of my time there living in the North End. I haven’t been back since. There have obviously been changes and improvements to the area, including an infusion of green space and the removal of a substantial blockade in the form of the freeway.

    What’s interesting to me, though, is that Jacobs’ beloved North End retained many of the charming qualities she lauded precisely because it was cut off from the rest of the city for so long. Otherwise, I think the neighborhood would have become gentrified and homogenized much more quickly and more completely than it did. Sometimes poor planning decisions can have a positive effect!

  12. Perhaps! It has such a strong base of people who have lived there forever, and it’s always been the safest neighborhood in Boston! What blew my mind (my parents live outside of Boston) was how much Southie changed with gentrification. I think they even put a moratorium on roof decks to try and slow it somewhat. I hear they are running out of places to film Dennis Lehane movies that are actually in Southie these days.

  13. Nowadays, I think the North End’s old-timers mostly commute to their shops from Revere, or wherever. The neighborhood seems like a theme park for tourists, daytrippers, and drunk frat boys. I found it pretty charmless when I lived there, and the unheated, sunless shoebox of an apartment did not cut it at all. As for Southie [I have not heard that in forever!!!], yeah, it’s changed, too. I don’t think I can wax nostalgic since I’m not from there, so I’ll just say that my four years in Boston were kind of a disappointment, although there are a lot of amazing things in that city.

    BTW, I’m pretty sure I’ve come across your writing online. Do you write for the Design Public blog?

  14. Yeah, you’re right. They don’t really have the authenticity they had 15 years or more ago. I still love the neighborhood though! I never enjoyed Boston that much either. I love to visit growing up, but once we moved there it didn’t really do it for me. And my favorite spot, Harvard Square, was overtaken by chain stores and lost all of its flavor. I grew up in Cincinnati and then we moved to HIngham MA when I was 16.

    Yup, that’s me. I also write a more frivolous blog called The Bubb Report.

  15. Becky, it’s bizarre that you just noticed this. Although, maybe you meant that you right wrongs on your blog? Anyway, I fixed it, so you can sleep at night.

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  19. I think you have it ALL wrong, South Shore HS was a neighborhood school and we all loved the “rotunda” as the library and other offices were there. Rins Stempel was a great principal after taking over from Dr Feingbaum. I developed great friendships and an education that inspired me to be a teacher, an Assistant Principal and a school leader! The best part was when I was AP English (inspired by Jerome Tanklow and Iris Israeli) going to an AP meeting in the principal’s office and seeing your 3 ft class picture saying class of 1987!

  20. “Ugliest Building in the World?”

    You begin by describing two building you deem to be ugly but digress to address the “problems” concerning location and education of South Shore High School that opened in Canarsie, Broklyn, NY in 1969. Its first class graduated in 1970. If you are going to call a building ugly please take the time to research the architectural structure of high school buildings in New York City. Wingate High School has a similar rotunda design as South Shore High School and it was not deemed “ugly”. How do you transition from referring to the building as ugly to the fights, closing, etc? While there were fights inside or outside of the school South Shore High School was not the only public school facing these problems. One would have to look at all the high school in New York City during the 1970s, 1980s or 1990s (please be specific).

    I graduated from South Shore High School in 1990. I was one of the Senior Vice Presidents of the graduating class of 1990, was an honor student and also attended college. I now hold two degrees (graduated from graduate school with high honors), working on my second masters degree, published two books of poetry and teaching English composition. My students passed my classes with high grades and that is attributed to me teaching style and command of the English language honed in the New York City Public School system: public school, middle school, and South Shore High School. The school wasn’t perfect. No school is “perfect”, no administration is perfect but I found that my teachers cared about my well-being and I learned a lot from teachers like Mr. Rich (English), Mr. Harding (Science), Mr. Kane (Black History), Mr. Stember (Criminal Justice), Mrs. Bond (English) to name a few. I learned from Mrs. Iris Israeli (Rest in Peace) who was the advisor to the Senior Class Presidents and English Teacher. I worked in the Principal’s Office (Mrs. Rina Stempel) – how would that be possible if she and the administration spent their day breaking up fights?

    To refer to South Shore High School’s building as an “ugly” building, highlight the negative aspects that existed in every school in New York City for one reason or another is not responsible reporting. The student population was not the issue, the location may have been problematic because one had to rely on taking buses only (because there aren’t any train stations nearby…but one would have to research to see that there were plans to build a train station or stations in that neighborhood but the Crash of 1929 delayed the plans but I digress). I am not sure who you interviewed to gather your information but I am offended at the lack of responsible reporting.

    C. Smith Class of 1990

  21. Ugly building certainly, but author needs to get some perspective. While South Shore wasn’t great, his issue is really with Brooklyn at that time, and public education. In comparison to other schools in the area (Tilden, Erasmus, Canarsie, Prospect, and Wingate) South Shore was a safe haven, and had problems more similar to the likes of Madison, Sheepshead, Lincoln, and even Murrow and Midwood at the time. He makes it sound like the worts place to ever go to school, but at the time it was one of the better alternatives.

  22. Thank you Billy! I don’t know what this person is talking about. Most of the bigger High Schools in Brooklyn like South Shore, Canarsie, Tilden, Wingate, Lafayette, Erasmus to name a few were shut down to create charter schools within the schools but that has more to do with the Department of Education and politics. If one wants to discuss white-flight or gentrification then do that but this person is blaming the decline of the school to the ethnic diversity at South Shore? There were fights but why not speak on the positive? The marine biology program that wasn’t offered in every school, College Now that allowed students to take classes at Kingsborough Community College while a senior in HS? Why not highlight Battle of the Bands? This person writes as if SSHS was a direct link to prison.

  23. I went to south shore. While I could care less how the school looked. It was a great place to go. The faculty and activities were great as well

  24. Thank you all for sharing your own memories of and experiences at South Shore. To be sure, my personal recollection represents but one person’s experience in that place at that particular moment in time, and your viewpoints are helpful in painting a more robust picture.

    The main point I was making, per the “ugliest building” reference, is that, while I don’t believe that architecture has the primary responsibility for the social problems caused or enabled by its practice, it can be a contributing factor and, in the case of South Shore, I argue that it was. That point isn’t really about aesthetics but about the impact of physical design on, in this case, the social makeup and dynamics of a high school. Much of what I described were social problems, but they found an effective outlet in the structure of this building.

    I don’t claim that this was the worst high school in the city, but it was larger than many others and its problems, while perhaps not worse, were definitely present. I referenced the NYT articles from 87-92 since I graduated in 92, so this was the period of my direct experience. Since this is a personal blog, I obviously didn’t interview anyone, and I’m not concerned about a comparison with other schools in NYC or elsewhere. I can absolutely see, though, that there was a connection between my personal experience and the larger forces at work in Brooklyn and NYC at the time.

    I don’t believe that white flight or gentrification caused the decline of South Shore. What I am saying is that the neighborhoods it served were all in transition around the time of my attendance, which created an unhealthy mix of students, most of whom did not live in the immediate area, as South Shore was not exactly a “neighborhood school.” My Scholars’ Institute classmates were almost entirely Caucasian and middle-class or upper-middle-class, which did not reflect the demographics of the school as a whole. That bothered me a lot and, in some ways, contributed to some of the negative experiences I had. To me, the school seemed rather segregated so, yes, you can call it a diverse place, but I can say that it was unhealthily so.

    Carolyn, thank you so much for reminding me of Mr. Rich, who was my teacher for AP English. He was definitely a pivotal figure in my development, and I wish that I had mentioned his name alongside Dr. Gussin’s. By the way, while I agree about South Shore offering some opportunities to motivated students, I was disappointed [though not entirely surprised] when my college wouldn’t even consider giving me credit for the College Now coursework I had done. Some of those opportunities were ultimately of dubious value, though good opportunities to have had nonetheless.

  25. I am a 1975 graduate of South Shore and I have to dispute that the school was a problem from the beginning. There were weird problems with the building, but all in all it was a wonderful place at the time with a fully equipped music and theater department and a wonderful cadre of teachers and staff. While I am sure there were incidents, I never found the school to be a scary or oppressive place, and race relations were on the whole very good.

  26. You’re welcome Maya (Sorry I initially didn’t check your website and had to search for your name. My apologies for just finding it). Do you have an email address to contact you? As part of the SSHS Alumni we’d like to reach out especially the classes of 1985-1990. We’d like to know if there’s anything we can do- I mean we’ve all graduated but your second post was rather heavy (sad overtone). If not I totally understand and will pass that on as well.

  27. I just stumbled onto these posts. South Shore was as much a city as a school and it’s evolution appropriately reflected it’s geography, it’s population, and the times…and it did so quite successfully. It was basically a city, and had all the issues-good and bad- that any group that large should have. I was graduated in 1978 and I had opportunities there that were not ever available anywhere else. I learned from the diversity- it was never a negative and my sense is that the original author expresses his own frustrations based on his own negative experiences. SSHS offered 14 languages at the time- of academic interest to it’s diverse population. There was an auto shop with multiple bays working on real cars for community ‘customers’, competitive athletics…and yes, an academic program geared toward both the over and under achievers. It was a school, (and a beautifully symmetric physical plant), that had all the wonderful things a diverse city can provide, while managing all the issues that come with it. And although it’s not feasible to become friendly with an entire city if people, I continue to enjoy lifelong friendships that were forged there. My friendships were among people who were academically similar, not purely demographically similar. Over the years the demise was more due to budget issues and general apathy in the NYC school system more than anything else. It’s a place I have fond memories of that clearly got me where I needed to be academically- which was a basic reason why I was in school in the first place. I was there during the days of Feigenbaum, Kaufman, Tanklow, Greenberg, Alper, Wolfson, Penino, Senal, Ozer, Saperstein, Ross, Igel, Sunshine, Newman & Anderson…and of a whole slew of younger teachers all enthusiastic to make a difference…and they did. Failure was not due to architecture or the planning behind it… Times and priorities changed…and, as is so often the case, a choice was made to give up rather than repair and evolve. I went to South Shore instead of Stuyvesant BECAUSE of the diversity and opportunities it presented…and it was one if the best decisions if my life.

  28. Jeff and Scott, I’ve read that there were problems at South Shore from the beginning, but my own experience was 88-92, so I can only directly speak of that era. By the time I entered the school, the art dept. had been cut down to a single class — fashion illustration, which I took for 8 semesters because I wanted art. AP Bio was offered every other year. My class, Scholars’ Institute, had just over 40 students, more than there were seats in any classroom we shared. The place was resource-strapped though, as I said, it was tough time all around in NYC, and I’m sure that the budget cuts were being felt elsewhere.

    It’s interesting to me that so many people have come to the school’s defense. I don’t ever think about South Shore and wrote this post really to make a point about the connection between physical space and social behavior. I used this building as an example because I’d spent a lot of time there, unlike most buildings that one may deem ugly. I realize that this was hyperbole to prove a point, though I stand by what I wrote. It’s great that others had a more positive experience at South Shore than I did.

  29. I find it interesting that the author of this article has such strong opinions about the culture of South Shore High School when he/she was not in attendance until 20 years after the school opened. Yes, there was racial strife in the school during its first 2 years. But, all that settled down directly after. Show me a school in NYC that does not self-segregate. People tend to congregate among those that they feel most comfortable (a perfect example is the the Lower East Side of NY). While the school ballooned to more than 6800 students, I was never in a class that more than 6 rows of 6 (36 students which was totally normal for public schools in the day). Last but not least, the school population came together around specific events as does every other school. Events such as a JV and Varsity Football team going to the PSAL Championships, and our cross-town rivalry with Canarsie HS. Sure, the school wasn’t the most beautiful buildings in the world, and no, it was NOT built with air conditioning (I dont know where the author got this from), it was a later add on. Keep in mind, were were in the top 5% of all high schools in NYC!

  30. South Shore HS was a lesson in life and exactly what’s wrong with the world and the US educational system. The environment was harsh but I’ve seen some of the smartest and most dedicated people come out of there. You’ll get different opinions depending on the graduation years but South Shore started out as one of the best public schools available in New York and declined sharply by the mid 90’s. It’s funny how with each year less and less funds were available for public schools like South Shore yet with every year the MTA ballooned their revenue and the salaries for nyc government officials steadily increased .

  31. Racist? For noticing an unhealthy pattern? I’m not sure I follow your logic. Like I said, when I was a student there, the place seemed diverse yet very segregated, and I couldn’t help but notice that mostly wealthier, Caucasian students were in the college-bound classes, which didn’t seem just. I didn’t believe then, nor do I believe now, that this was simply an example of self-segregation.

    Scott S., I am absolutely entitled to my opinion on the place around the time of my attendance. Before and after that, my knowledge is only based on things I read and heard, so you’re correct that some of my observations are not based on direct experience. When I was there, South Shore was definitely not a top-performing school, and your typical school spirit was sorely lacking. Our SING, which typically pits all 4 grades against each other, consisted of 2 groups. The class of 92 almost didn’t get a prom because not enough tickets were being sold. 10 years later, our reunion was cancelled because not enough people had RSVPed.

    As for class size, I know that Scholars’ Institute was the largest class when I was there, larger than any classroom was designed to accommodate. I heard stories of parents pleading with the administration not to kick their kids out of this program, and I think the minimum GPA required may have been dropped from 90 to 88. Maybe this was how our ranks swelled. In any case, my class was too large for one class, but not quite big enough to have to be split. I think class sizes were swelling across the city around this time due to budget cuts. There seems to be a big difference between people’s experiences during the 70s and early 80s and mine, which was 88-92.

    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts here.

  32. “It’s interesting to me that so many people have come to the school’s defense. I don’t ever think about South Shore and wrote this post really to make a point about the connection between physical space and social behavior. I used this building as an example because I’d spent a lot of time there, unlike most buildings that one may deem ugly. I realize that this was hyperbole to prove a point, though I stand by what I wrote.”

    Ugliest building in the world as a title draws one in…

    Concerning the culture in SSHS it may have been segregated to you but as most of us have stated the multi-ethnic population was a plus. (Something I learned growing up- in order to make friends one must first be friendly. If all one sees is color and uses that as a barrier then who’s fault is that? One makes friends based on commonality not necessarily skin color) I was supposed to transfer from South Shore to Midwood High School after my freshman year (SSHS wasn’t even my zoned High School) but I loved the atmosphere and the teachers- so I stayed. I’m not saying that you “had” to or shame on you because you don’t feel the same but that is not South Shore’s “fault” per se.

    As for college bound classes, I’m black and my parents and counselor made sure that I was taking appropriate courses. Yes there were many things that I wish I knew about but one can’t know “every” thing. I was in college bound classes and what I “missed” I made up for in college. What helped me throughout the years was having knowledgeable neighbors and older friends that had already graduated to share tips. The other part was on me to get involved- so when I became one of the Senior Class Vice Presidents I was in the know. It was then my responsibility to inform my classmates of events, etc so that they were also aware of what was going on.

    Speaking of reunions the Class of 1990 has yet to have one lol. Mrs. Israeli (Rest In Peace) tried to coordinate one with students for years and it just never happened for us. We were supposed to host a Valentine’s Day dance in February 1990…it was cancelled. We were supposed to have 2 Senior Trips that year, we had one- we went to Virginia Beach it was fun don’t get me wrong. (The winter trip was cancelled because the other school pulled out at the last minute).

    I also think that overall if one place is not the right fit- leave it and find the right place for you. Granted we are all out of high school now and everyone’s recollection won’t be positive but the reason why so many people were or are offended by what you posted is because South Shore wasn’t a detention center- it was like home (when we were there). I’m sorry that it wasn’t for you. Politics (ie: Budget, the Department of Education, School Boards) also factors into this equation so by the time your class was set to graduate a lot of programs were removed from South Shore and other high schools in NYC. School spirit is generated by the classes. The students are supposed to have “Senior Day”, “Pajama Day”, “Career Day”…that’s the purpose of having class officials. Basically what was taking place at South Shore was happening to a lot of high schools by the time you graduated.

  33. Going back to the original context of this post, the term “ugliest building” was actually a reference to Boston’s City Hall, which had just been named such. I borrowed the phrase to reposition the notion of architectural ugliness using a building with which I’d had a closer relationship as a primary user. In other words, it was a consideration of factors beyond aesthetics, though in some ways wrapped up in the design decisions that had been made.

    Responding to the comments about South Shore’s culture, of course I believe that diversity is a good thing, but my criticism is rooted in the lack of opportunities for interaction and exchange that I’d encountered in school. The makeup of my class was quite distinct from the school as a whole, I didn’t have a lunch period, there were very few clubs and activities in which to get involved after school, and no real opportunities between classes to get to know people.

    I lived the PJs across the street. Only one of my neighbors [Caucasian, like me] was in Scholars’ Institute. Most of my classmates were Caucasian, much wealthier than my family, and lived in Mill Basin or Bergen Beach. Economically, I had much more in common with my neighbors, but not much reason to interact with them. To be perfectly blunt, many of the social encounters I had only served to reinforce the nasty stereotypes I didn’t want to accept.

    Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting any advice outside of school when it came to things like choosing a high school, taking the right classes, or looking at colleges. At school, I quietly seethed at the lack of advice I got, or what I suspected was bad advice. Our college counselor’s lazy discouragement only fueled my ambition [which counts as a positive in its own perverse way].

    Mr. Rich was the one person who seemed to take the time to get to know me and my particular circumstances. I was a voracious reader, and he suggested books for me to read outside of class. I shared with him my worries about my family’s finances, and he helped to demystify the college financial aid process. Once I got to college, I wrote him a letter to thank him for having steered me in the right direction, but apparently he was no longer at South Shore.

    It was only upon later reflection that I realized that the teachers’ and administration’s apathy hadn’t been personally directed at me but was part and parcel of the larger issues affecting all of us at the time. Too few people were tasked with managing too many students, so of course they weren’t giving more time than they absolutely needed to with any of us. Just as I felt betrayed by the budget cuts taking away things that interested me, they were probably frustrated and demoralized by them. If I didn’t safe in the hallways, they probably didn’t either.

    Again, none of those issues were directly caused by the physical environment, but I do believe that they were exacerbated by it.

  34. First of all, the school opened in Sept. 1970. I was in its inaugural freshman class. There was only a 9th and 10th grade. I was also in the first graduating freshman class in Jan. 1974. When it opened, it was this gleaming white, state-of-the-art structure, especially when compared with other high schools approaching a century old. The so-called racial strife was manufactured by paranoid parents and the media. It wasn’t felt by the students at all. Schools like Wingate and Erasmus were scary and dangerous. Real problems came later as the neighborhood evolved as well as the problems New York City was going through at the time. As far as self-segregation, that’s high school. I work at Columbia Law School which is incredibly diverse and students still tend to self-segregate. The writer may be reflecting upon his own experiences many years later. But whatever your inaccurate sources were, there are still hundreds of people many of whom I speak with all the time who would disagree with your faulty assessments.

  35. I’m not sure why I’m repeatedly referred to in the third person but, if anyone feels the need to do that, the correct pronoun is “she.”

    Circa 1990, the racial tension was palpable. Of course, these are adolescent memories run through the filter of adult perspective, but the school seemed imbalanced to me in ways that went beyond social self-segregation. Yes, my writing was largely based on my own experiences, although I cited the NYT articles of that era to show a view beyond my individual observations.

    Dean, thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  36. Wow, what memories! I am proud of being part of the first graduation class of SSHS in June 1973. To correct Carolyn (whose comments are excellent), the school opened in 1970. The 10th grade students were primarily from Canarsie, since Bildersee JHS went from 7th to 9th grade. The 9th grade students came from Georgetown, Mill Basin and the areas west of Ralph Ave since Roy H Mann went from 6th to 8th grade (as Dean Lance, my friend, explained). From the beginning, South Shore was racially and culturally integrated. Students were bussed in from surrounding areas. There was also diversity in the areas around South Shore since there were numerous apartment buildings (projects).

    Though we grew up in a somewhat sheltered community of primarily Jews and Italians in Canarsie, we were from Brooklyn and even back in the early 70’s Brooklyn was very diverse. Our parents worked in racially diverse environments and we were all exposed to a variety of cultures and races. SSHS was not a shock at all to any of us. [Though it was a bit of a shock when I got mugged the first week of HS, but that’s Brooklyn!]

    I also gave up going to Stuyvesant HS (easy to get to on the LL train) and chose to stay in my neighborhood and go to the SSHS. It was the best move I have ever made. Since I skipped 8th grade (SP in JHS), I got to go to SSHS before many of my closest friends,

    We had it all at SSHS, except a pool. They traded the pool for the “beautiful” sculpture they put in the front of the building. The school was brand new and had a music room filled with tons of brand new instruments to use. The school had great academic choices and a full technical opportunities (auto repair shop). I received driver’s ed for FREE and the school even had simulators! We also got one of the first HP desktop computers.
    I do not think there was any significant racial tension at the time, it definitely developed later on. Our classes, sports teams and the music program was integrated and we were each very confortable being with each other.

  37. I also have to dispute the view that South Shore High School was a problem from the beginning. I attended South Shore, as did my brothers. I also grew up in the Glenwood Projects, which are across the street from the school. I had a wonderful experience there. It’s true that the students were far from privileged; as the article says, the student body was a pastiche of working-class Jews, Italians, Irish, African-Americans, Latinos, and Caribbean immigrants. Yet as I recall–and this is not nostalgia or “rose-colored glasses”–most of the students genuinely got along, regardless of race. The surrounding neighborhoods were extremely diverse. The tensions that did arise came about because of a tendency to flood schools with students from far-flung neighborhoods. I still don’t know why this was implemented, because encouraging diversity could not possibly have been a reason. It was diverse to begin with. It’s very strange when people who are did not directly experience your neighborhood or high school have an opinion so divergent from your own experience. South Shore was wonderful. Bizarre New York City policies destroyed it, but that’s nothing new–urban renewal destroyed neighborhoods in the fifties and sixties, and school policy continues to destroy neighborhood schools today. It’s as if all New York City politicians–from de Blasio on down–are interested in a “Bizarro” version of reality.

  38. Barry, thank you very much for your comment. As has been discussed, the years of attendance seems to be key here — I attended 88-92, while many of the divergent opinions seemed to have been formed earlier than that in South Shore’s history.

    I’m glad you mentioned the students from far-flung neighborhoods, because that was something I’d touched on in the initial post. Like you, I lived in Glenwood Projects so, for me, South Shore seemed like my neighborhood school. Of course it really wasn’t, since students came from richer and poorer neighborhoods, some not very close to the school at all. In my experience, the “diversity” actually felt like division — e.g. most of my Scholars’ Institute classmates were Caucasian and from Bergen Beach or Mill Basin, while most of the school was neither. The fact that some students lived far away helped to erode any kind of school spirit — students needed to get back home or to their jobs, and they had their own friends in their neighborhoods and didn’t need clubs or other activities to form bonds with schoolmates. So, there were very few after-school opportunities for social contact or additional enrichment. I’m sort of speculating here based on both what I experienced first-hand and my longer view of what was going on at the time.

    You’re absolutely correct that these various problems were not unique to that school or even just that moment in time, but were [in some cases, still are] symptomatic of broader policies and problems.

    In any case, I’m glad that others did not have the type of experience I did. I would certainly not call the place wonderful, but it’s great that you have fond memories of it.

  39. Pingback: Breaking News: In Fact, Cincinnati Bears No Resemblance to Brooklyn | Visualingual

  40. The Boston City Hall is absolutely beautiful. It’s a product of an unparalleled era in architecture; all superficial decorative elements and shallow crowd-pleasing feelings of “warmth” were discarded. Only the true essence of art remained, one which could not be captured with mere words. It’s a pity that we have plummeted so quickly a golden age of human achievement to a dark age of petty postmodernism.

  41. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. We can agree to disagree, but Boston City Hall is certainly a fine example of Brutalism, and definitely important for that reason.

  42. Pingback: Top 10 VisuaLingual Posts of 2014 | Visualingual

  43. How are you gonna tell future generations that they can’t do what they want to do… That school was an inspiration growing up… Those good friends I’ve made only made me stronger down the line

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