The Old Key West High School (Soon To Be The New City Hall)

In 1947, my father built a house down the street from Key West High School, which was built in the mid-thirties. Behind the school were two houses and a grocery store and a gymnasium, which was catty cornered to our house. Students had to cross the street to get to the gym. Behind the gym were a few homes, but most of the rest of the block held two abandoned houses and a couple of vacant lots filled with brush. Sometime in the early 50’s, the school board closed the street, and tore down the abandoned houses and cleared the vacant lots. Then they covered the whole area with tar, making tennis courts, basketball hoops, volleyball poles and hopscotch drawings. It was completely enclosed by a 12-foot chain link fence with spikes sticking out of the top. The schoolyard was my childhood playground.

My earliest memory is the day they moved the two houses behind the school diagonally across the intersection. One was a rather large house, the other quite small. The family in the big house had five children, four boys and a girl. They decorated the house every Christmas with Santa and reindeer on the roof, wooden carolers, plaster snowmen and singing elves holding bells ringing the yard. They always won the city-decorating prize. Cars constantly lined up to drive by, making Christmas exciting.

Back to the school. They built more classrooms and a cafeteria where those houses used to be. We often climbed the fence to avoid having to walk all the way around to the entrance. There were lots of children; we always had playmates. We skated on the sidewalk around two sides of the school with our skate keys hanging around our necks, being careful not to step on a crack, sold Kool Aid to passers-by for a nickel a cup, hid on the fire escapes and in the bushes, climbed onto the roof, played baseball and kickball on the Volley ball court using the poles as bases, and played Horse on the basketball courts. All with hardly any adult supervision.

The biggest excitement was the time they filmed part of the movie, “The Rose Tattoo,” with Burt Lancaster and Anna Magnani at the school. It was the fire-escape scene. We kids got to watch all the doings. One day a huge publicity trailer pulled up across from my house. They were giving out 5 inch rose tattoos. All of us kids got two, one on the leg and one on the arm. Must have been henna, as it did not come off too easily, even though my Mom scrubbed us raw. We simply could not go to school that way. There were standards back then.

The Lion’s Club met in a building behind the gym on Thursday nights. They had supper and a meeting and if we kids hung around the kitchen, they would give us the leftover desserts.

We were outside all the time when not in school; no television to keep us home. Always barefoot, we all had either ringworm or impetigo at one time or another. I remember once stepping on a nail. When I went home and told my father, he put me in the car and drove to the doctor’s house. Cleaning the wound and getting a tetanus shot took a half hour. Small town. Simpler time.

We had a 3-foot high concrete block fence around our yard. After lunch the high school students would bring their cokes and sit on the wall, dropping their coke bottles inside the yard. Dad would come home from work and collect the bottles and each week take them to the store and get 2 cents a bottle. The Principal called him one day and told him that the bottles belonged to the school and that he had to return them. My father told the Principal that the bottles were in his yard and were his and that if the School wanted the bottles, he could keep his students off our wall. Well that didn’t happen, so my father continued his nightly bottle collecting.

At the end of every school year, the teachers would put in the trash down the street: old papers, and books, erasers, pencil sharpeners, and other paraphernalia, most of it broken. We would haul it all over to our garage and play school, but now we were the teachers. Of course my father had to haul it back. I don’t ever remember him complaining about it. Well, on second thought, maybe just a little.

One more story. They had Friday night dances in the gym and the boys would go outside and gamble on the dark street outside. On Saturday mornings, I would get up early and go over there and regularly find two or three dollars in change and bills on the ground. Found money, like treasure. My father always said that childhood was the best part of our lives. We didn’t believe it then and only realized much later the truth of it, especially in the halcyon Fifties.

P. S. Now that the old Key West High School is going to be the new City Hall, the adventure continues. And that is probably a whole other story.

3 thoughts on “The Old Key West High School (Soon To Be The New City Hall)”

  1. I love this, J. Except for the setting (Key West town vs woods & tiny residential street) this was my story – skate key, barefoot diseases and all – and we all ran wild…and survived! So grateful to have been a boomer baby! Thanks for this post down memory lane.

  2. What fun, Joanne. You stimulate memories in all of us. I wore out three pairs of steel wheeled roller skates on the streets of Bethesda. The best skating experience I recall was in the laundry room at Port Hueneme, CA. It was a huge Quonset hut with the washers and dryers at one end. The rest of this gigantic smooth concrete floor was vacant. I think we had two or three glorious days before the ladies complained to “management” that we were raising a lot of concrete dust and ruining their laundry efforts. Oh well. Fun while it lasted.

  3. Boy did your blog ever bring back memories. Where both Joan and I grew up in central Wyoming, all the grade schools were the brick cube style in the middle of a block surrounded by gravel playgrounds. They were strategically located within walking distance of the surrounding neighborhoods. I’ve been amused that the trend has seemed to be to sell those brick buildings and blocks and build new schools on the only unoccupied property, which was on the edge of town. Of course those schools are no longer within walking distance so the kids have to be bussed. That must be progress. Anyway, I’m digressing. The grade school I went to was located across the street from a large undeveloped ranch. The street to the school ran about 5 blocks along an open pasture. If you’ve ever been to central Wyoming you’ll understand the problems we had walking into the Wyoming wind along that open pasture. There were porches to get under, walls to get behind, that were close enough to each other that we could run to the next spot to catch our breath before running to the next spot until we reached school. To keep the street clear in the winter, there was a snow fence all along that street. A huge snow drift would build up along that snow fence. I was late home many times because I’d stop to play on that drift and would lose track of time. In Casper at that time, streets were never plowed so the snow would pack onto the streets and get quite slick. Going home our backs would be to the wind and we would pull our coats up and hold them like sails and the wind would help us slide along that slick street. Our street had a large number of kids of various ages so there was always a game of some variety or other, even into the late evening. I always enjoyed Kick-the-Can in the dark that we would play on a late summer evening. Although that was before “boomer” time, it seemed a simple, free, time to play, explore, run around without having to be watched or monitored. I read the stories about parents being charged for allowing their kids to walk to a park or walk home from school. Even our kids used to walk back and forth to school. Maybe it’s because Casper was a small town as is Los Alamos. Anyway, thanks for your musings. They lit up some really wonderful memories.

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