Bonnie Parker’s Elementary School

Bonnie Parker's Elementary School

It’s all boarded up and gated, but the gate is less a bar to photography than the fire ants in the overgrown school yard.

Eagle Ford Elementary School was built in 1916, in unincorporated Cement City. The building is a good example of designing with the proudest local product available: cement, in this case. And not always a fine, smooth cement, but something more elemental, globby, and plastery. The school looks like it arose from the chalk bed composed of equal parts sand and pulverized seashells, only to be painted by Pompeians for use as a bawdy house. I really like it. A section just around the topmost arch of the doorway has chalky streaks of yellow and orange in it, the color of a ripe, if matte, tangerine. The door, with its jail house bars, has been embellished with cast-metal panels of oak leaves and acorns. The metalwork is fine, though evidently spray-painted. As decoration, it doesn’t seem to go with the rest of the building, or to have any reason for being there, other than that it is always good to have acorns on the door.

I can’t help wondering whether James Howard Kunstler would approve of Bonnie Parker’s school. My own taste in architecture is undependable. I can’t resist anything colorful. In Home from Nowhere, Kunstler takes a stand against concrete block boxes, strip malls, zoning codes written for cars, and the ugliness and isolation of modern American cities and suburbs in general:

” . . . Compare any richly embellished firehouse or post office built in 1904 with its dreary concrete-box counterpart today. Compare the home of a small-town bank president of the 1890s, with its massive masonry walls and complex roof articulation, with the flimsy home of a 1990s business leader, made of two-by-fours, Sheetrock, and fake fanlight windows. When we were a far less wealthy nation, we built things with the expectation that they would endure. To throw away money (painfully acquired) and effort (painfully expended) on something certain to fall apart in thirty years would have seemed immoral, if not insane, in our great-grandparents’ day.”

Eagle Ford School is a concrete box, but such a fine concrete box. It is one hundred years old, sitting on a plot of land ably contested by a few hundred thousand fire ants. If it isn’t absolutely solid, it looks solid. Somebody left something of themselves in the embellishments of oak leaves and acorns. I can’t remember when I’ve ever seen such flamboyance in a street address. The numbers 1601 are stuck within a dominating oval that bulges in the middle and stretches them with it. The central numbers ‘6’ and ‘0’ are as swollen as if somebody wrote them on the side of a balloon and blew it up, and it happened to bulge vertically in 2D. That treatment of numbers looks Deco to me. I like all the differences in texture. Maybe it was wise to build such massive walls; maybe it was almost cool in that cement fortress. The gigantic crack in the foreground stair-wall is irresistible; but it’s not easy to get your hand out again once you’ve tried to gauge just how thick this cement is. In listing this building as at risk of demolition, The Old Oak Oak Cliff Conservation League noted what an enormous amount of cement was used to build it.

Sources

Kunstler, James Howard. Home from Nowhere: Remaking Our Everyday World for the 21st Century. 1st Touchstone Ed Edition ed. Touchstone Press, 1998.

Old Oak Cliff Conservation League: Architecture at Risk List

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9 thoughts on “Bonnie Parker’s Elementary School

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