Friday, January 28, 2011

The kerfuffle at Dwyer Middle School

This week, the students of Ethel Dwyer Middle School in Huntington Beach staged a protest, asking that huge banks of solar panels not be built (at a cost of millions of dollars) in the yard in front of their historic school. They would prefer the panels be placed around the back or side of the building or in the school district's bus parking lot. The image above shows how the panels would block the view of the front of the school. The image below, which came from Chevron, (the company building the panels), shows how they would NOT block the view of the school -- If you can magically hover 30 feet in the air.
Dwyer Middle School started out as Central Elementary School in 1933. It was the replacement for Central Grammar School, which was heavily damaged during the "Long Beach Quake" earlier that year. Luckily, the earthquake struck after school had let out. Otherwise, as Billie Kennedy (who saw the collapse with her own eyes) told me, many children and teachers would have been killed. The new Art Moderne school building was built on the same location as the earlier one.
This new structure was the work of the well-respected architectural firm of Allison & Allison, which also designed Huntington Beach High School, Newport Harbor High School, and many other significant buildings throughout Southern California. Next door to the school, at 1600 Palm Ave., is the wonderfully restored City Gym & Pool, which was built in 1931 and designed by Orange County's best known early architect, Frederick Eley.
People forget that Art Moderne/Art Deco was the signature architectural style of Huntington Beach from the 1930s well into the 1980s. This makes the few examples that have survived redevelopment especially important.
I took art and computer classes at Dwyer when I was a kid. It's a well-designed school with loads of character. And yes, I liked the sprawling front lawn.
The front of the school was once landscaped with gardens, as seen in the photo above. But for many decades now, that area has served as an athletic field, a place for the children to spend their lunch period, space for P.E. classes and 8th grade graduation ceremonies, and a de facto park.
Quick side note: In the photo below you see the older school (the one damaged in the quake) surrounded and obscured by the unsightly oil wells of the Standard Oil Company -- which later became Chevron. We improved the city by getting rid of the derricks half a century ago. Ironic, no? A hundred protesters marched around the school with signs on Wednesday, and more than 200 were there for an all-night protest on Thursday. I generally think protest marches are wasted energy, and I'm no fan of using children to fight battles for their parents (if that is, in fact, what happened here). Regardless, their cause is just.
The students rallying cry has been "We have a voice." Certainly that's what our schools teach kids about democracy. Let's see how well it works in practice.


doug macintosh said...

It seams as though this proposed project would have to go through a CEQA review or have an EIR.
The addition of huge solar panels along side the historic school complex, would truly have an "impact" to the character and "feel" of the property. There may also be the possibility of subsurface features under the location of the proposed panel complex. The school district needs to follow state & federal guidelines prior developing the site for solar energy.
Give me a ring if you need some contacts.
Beautiful structure. Great to see a building that has stood the test of time.

Jean Wheeler said...

Thanks, Chris, for your excellent photos and explanation of the history of Dwyer as well as the current disagreement regarding solar panels. I've been following the controversy in the Independent.

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