Chuck Oates
18 June 2008
Norman, Oklahoma, USA

Oh, Please! Say It Ain't So

The Amarillo High School building on Amarillo's Polk [Main] Street burned in 1970, shortly after I graduated in 1966. I was in college at OU at the time, so I didn't see the news videos of the disaster. I just discovered the news reels posted on the AHS Class of 1953 website. I almost wish I hadn't seen them. It still hurts 38 years later. :'^(

http://www.ahs53.org/FireHS55.htm

A spontaneous congregation of then-current and former AHS students, as well as a good many students from Amarillo's three other high schools, gathered and saved many of the trophies, books, and memorabilia from part of the AHS building that was not, at least for a while, endangered by the fire. Before long, fire department officials very correctly determined that the students were putting their lives in jeopardy and ordered everyone out of all parts of the very large building.

The fire, started in the wee hours of a Sunday morning by a malfunctioning boiler, burned for almost a whole day before it could be brought under control. False ceilings, installed during an extensive remodeling of the building in 1963-64 when I was a sophomore, gave the fire a path through the halls and into classrooms that made the presence of the fire hard to detect. By the time the fire was discovered, one side of the building was heavily involved, and finally most of the main building was destroyed.

Some of the peripheral buildings, as well as spaces loaned by several surrounding churches, were used to complete the school year and provide a home for the Golden Sandstorm ("Sandies") until a new facility could be completed in far southwest
Amarillo in 1973, where AHS is housed today.

When I visit the old downtown site, now a parking lot next to the Amarillo Senior Citizens center, I am still often moved to tears. A lot of my life's early history and that of thousands of other Amarilloans (since 1923) had been made in that beautiful building. And now it's gone forever.

Oh, please! Say it ain't so.

_________________________________________

 

 

Epilog

 

My spouse reminds me that there are worse ways to lose your school. Oklahoma City's stately Central High School building still stands near the Oklahoma City Murrah Building Memorial, but it is now (ignominiously) the headquarters building for the phone company, whatever its name is this week. Many other school buildings stand and still operate, but have become the victims of urban blight, violence, and gang activity. Sue, by the way, is a graduate of Oklahoma City's Capitol Hill H.S.

 

AHS has occupied its new location for 35 years. It now consistently receives, at minimum, four out of five stars on the Texas state high school rating system, and has high participation and achievement in its International Baccalaureate (IB) and Advanced Placement (AP) programs. (Alas, most Oklahoma schools do not have IB programs at all.) Its modern facility is located on a very spacious campus with athletic practice fields and practice facilities for most, if not all, of its sports teams, musical organizations, and other extracurricular activity groups. It is surrounded by moderately affluent to affluent neighborhoods, and has few problems with crime.

 

In its Sandie Hall of Fame you'll find Space Shuttle Columbia Commander LTC Rick Husband, oilman (energyman?) T. Boone Pickens, actor James Garner, and Pulitzer prize-winning political cartoonist Ben Sargent, among many others.  For whatever reason, they seemed to have overlooked me.  :^)    (For the complete listing, see http://www.amaisd.org/sites/ama/information/halloffamepage.htm , homepage: http://www.amaisd.org/sites/ama/index1.htm ).

 

As often happens, it appears that disaster has become the mother of later excellence.