When a North Texas high school began to fall in June, the town rallied around it, trying everything to save the 94-year-old structure. In just two months, a grassroots group raised $2 million to preserve Old Denison High School.
"I have never seen a preservation battle like this," says Denise Alexander, program officer at the National Trust's Southwest Office, which gave Castle's group a grant for a conditions-assessment report. "To raise $700,000 in a month with commitments of up to $2 million … the outpouring of support has really been amazing."
But on Monday, after months of legal battles and a resident's last-minute offer to buy the building, a crane began demolishing the last section of the Spanish Mission style-building.
"I'm very angry with the short-sightedness of it all," says Michelle Castle, who led the effort to save the 1913 section of the school. "They shouldn't have rushed to the demolition."
But the plan had been in the works for years, says Alvin Bailey, library director, who wrote the grants this spring for the $600,000 demolition.
"A lot of people worked very hard for many years to do something with this building," says Bailey, who notes that several public meetings and newspaper articles described the impending demolition. "We had decided that a library or community center would be the best use of the site and that there was no money for preservation. I guess they came to the scene too late. We were committed to a path, and they didn't have enough time at the eleventh hour."
The school had been closed since 1986. A nonprofit, Denison History Inc., bought it in 1999 but gave the building back to the city in March, stipulating that the site be used for public purposes.
Although the grassroots group secured an injunction last month to stop the demolition, a judge later retracted her signature, allowing the process to continue.
All that remains of the building this week is a section with a 30-foot-clock tower, which Bailey says the town wants to salvage, along with marble lintels and other architectural elements for a possible commemorative garden.
"Even though the building is gone, people in this town have realized that they do need to give their opinion and not be silent," Castle says. "The more you tear down, the less there is to revitalize."