losing an old friend: Cass Tech

Around Father’s Day my husband bought me Lost Detroit, by Dan Austin with photography by Sean Doerr. a book about the fabulous historic and architectural buildings that are suffering ruin in my home town, Detroit, Michigan. Opening the pages of that book took me to many of the buildings now in ruin that I remember, some that I visited and some that I passed every time I rode the bus to school near downtown Detroit.

As is the current culture of the Internet, I found out that one of the book’s featured majestic buildings, an educational icon and, somewhat of an anomaly back when I was in high school, the historical site and original building of Cass Technical High School is currently being demolished. I watched the video on YouTube posted by Detroiturbexdotcom, and it made me sad that a building that helped build the talent of so many young men and women is coming down piece by piece by a wrecking ball.

When I was in high school, I attended Cass Tech for part of my senior year at Girls’ Catholic Central, another fine institution that fell to the disrepair of the inner city in the late 1960s. Parents no longer wanted to send their daughters into that part of the city, so the school closed in 1969, graduating the last 43 students on record; I was one of those students. In order for our class to complete its required courses, we walked from GCC on Parsons Avenue to Cass Tech to take classes that GCC no longer offered. I had almost forgotten about this until my husband gave me Lost Detroit, and memories started flowing back with every turn of the page.

Today, watching the demolition of Cass Tech feels like a personal assault of a good friend. I remember walking into that building the first time and feeling the life of so many students from every part of Detroit, something rare back then when most students went to schools in their own community. With its size, diversity and the number of classes it offered, it felt not like a high school but like a college, especially compared to the small private GCC. I am glad that Cass Tech, the institution, survives in the new building, but it still feels like we are losing a good friend.

I noticed that some people in Detroit are going to gather for one last time in front of Cass Tech on July 30 at 1:00 pm to bid farewell. I will be there in spirit.

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© 2004–2011 Donna Peach. All rights reserved.

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