The building itself is glorious, with a huge stone-cut mural over the front entrance. A seated female angel lovingly rests her arms over the shoulders of two industrious children working on crafting or writing. A cast of other statues helps each other over to the angel-mother, holding hands as they carry scrolls and lyres and palettes of paint. A cherub beams down over the entrance in this mix of male and female adult statues chatting and carrying art supplies while children diligently study. The sculpture is the idyllic educational setting- one not replicated in the flesh.
Germantown High School is situated along Germantown avenue. I am reminded of Elijah Anderson’s “Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City” story about the change you can witness as you drive from the wealthy corridor of Germantown Avenue to the poor. Germantown High is decidedly in the poor section, surrounded by glorious, historic buildings. The high school is not only surrounded, but embedded with historic buildings. The school has an odd shape on its block, and nuzzled into its base are several historic churches.
A church (on the right) nuzzled up next to the entrance of Germantown High.
Another church nestled into the side of Germantown High. “God Stuff” is on the menu for worship. I wonder how involved all these churches and historic cultural centers are with Germantown and Fulton? I noticed that one church advertised an after-school care program. What about the others? These seem like incredible resources for the schools- and I wonder if they are being used as such? Similarly, the schools offer resources to the churches if they can figure out after-school programming and outreach. All the parts are there- but are they working?
Extra parking with a trash-filled lot. This could be a little pocket park space with a garden. At the very least, it could be cleaned up and have some yard work done to make it a pretty-to-look-at if not functional space.
An expired parking meter in front of the expired Germantown High School. Not subtle, I know.
Another glorious historic building with a large sign ‘for rent, lease, or sale’ plastered on it. This building is across the street from Germantown High. What a shame that these beautiful buildings have been priced out of use by a dysfunctional market that cannot appreciate the cost of renovation or the cost of blight. Its moments like this that I wish our city had a more functional tax delinquency system- where property that is not maintained according to city code or whose owners do not pay taxes- is put on sheriff’s sale in a timely and transparent manner that allows investors to pay the debt to the city and get a below-market value investment that can be sold or maintained at a reasonable price considering the condition of the surrounding neighborhood. This is the exact crisis of the Buery Building the giant bank that graced the bifurcation of historic Germantown Avenue into downtown Philadelphia Broad Street. The cobblestone trolley tracks from Germantown end at the Buery, which has “Boner 4EVER” scrawled down her side. Like her Broad Street compatriots, the Divine Lorraine and the abandoned Philadelphia Opera House, the Buery sits at this commercial axis like a despondent and fallen queen- with a price tag on her worth more than her true market value. She is too expensive to repair to her former glory and no longer worth her market value. That such dilapidated landmark buildings hold such a central place in our city and the hearts of many Philadelphians is only tribute to the dysfunctional bureaucracy that holds Philadelphia back. The Broad Street 10 miler race showcases the city’s potential, bright spots, and patches of dysfunction to over 40,000 runner and many more participants cheer along the sidelines. I often wonder if all that goodwill generated during the run could be channeled to something to revive the empty hulks and monuments along the path to the re-purposed and re-invented Navy Yard?
Back to Germantown High.
One of many ‘no trespassing’ signs that make our public schools so friendly. Do trespassers heed these warnings?
The parking lot is surrounding by an overhang of barbed wire fencing. The overhang leans toward the school- answering my question of whether the fencing is meant to keep people in or keep people out.
With a background in zoo design, I’ve studied a variety of cages designed to display highly dangerous animals: lions, bears, chimpanzees. Sometimes plexiglass is enough. Sometimes a moat will do the trick. Sometimes you want a fence- and as a precautionary measure, you want a fence with a barbed wire overhang. The enclosure-side overhang is designed to deter the animals from crawling out (otherwise, you would have the overhang on the visitor’s side of the zoo exhibit to prevent visitors from crawling into the exhibit). I also have to say that most zoo design firms worth their muster will do everything in their power to hide barriers like this. Next time you are the Philadelphia Zoo, check out Great Cat Falls. It has bars, mesh fences, plexiglass. Compare that to the safety measures at your neighborhood school.
The fencing surrounding Germantown High was designed to keep the students inside. Ironically, the school is forcing them out. A police officer ducked into the front entrance before I could get a picture of him. The school is guarded and most likely has metal detectors on the inside. And how much of this protection is reactionary and how much is causal? Would I want my son to go to school in a situation like this? Or will we move to Narberth like everyone else?
The parking lot of Germantown overlooking a dilapidated baseball diamond near Fulton Elementary. Trash and leaves line the sidewalk near the crumbling brick barrier. A mother and her younger children cross the parking lot on their way home. The crossing guard leans against the fencing post. It is so easy to see how this brick wall could be repaired. The leaf litter and plastic bottles could be swept up. The baseball diamond could be spiffed up with a new fence. There is so much space for so many low-cost repairs that the community could ban together to make happen if the school district will not. If only the school district facilities would allow these community efforts at repair instead of trying to stymie them with disability insurance waivers, fees for volunteers, and union labor rights that amount to costly repairs cannot be done by the community but must be carried out by school district employees. There is very little room for community involvement if the principal follows School District code.
Ivy creeping back up a wall towards a graffiti tag that reads ‘sad.’