I'm really not trying to start something with this column. But maybe I am. In 2007, when the old Denison High School in the 700 block West Main was demolished, I watched with interest at almost every brick that was removed.
When the gymnasium and the auditorium were removed, exposing what some are now calling “the amphitheater,” I joined many more fans of the school with a loud “Wow.” The cry at that time was to “Save the outdoor stage.” Well it disappeared just like the rest of the school, including the beautiful clock atop the school where the bell chimed the time for so many years.
For some reason, I suspect Jim Sears, posted a picture on Facebook's “Denison, Texas and its History” page of the old elm tree, a snow scene taken from the 1923 Yellow Jacket annual for Denison High. But the icicles on the tree and the snow on the ground were not what caught the eyes of so many who loved the school. If you haven't seen the picture, you can see it on Facebook and look closely at the 1923 school, where you will see what now is being called the amphitheater.
What a beautiful jewel it was and could be for Denison; it had been kept and something for a “new beginning” had been added.
Discussions got pretty active for a few days after the picture reached social media and got my thinking juices going again. I haven't forgotten the clock either though and still get questions about where it might be. During the demolition operation, it was said the clock would be saved and later installed in some sort of memorial.
As it turned out, most of the clock was beyond repair but the memorial did take place in front of our beautiful inside and out new high school on Highway 91. The bell that everyone was concerned about now hangs in a place of honor with a plaque giving it full credit.
Nothing can be done to replace the outdoor stage and according to many on social media, they didn't realize that such a beautiful structure existed because it was hidden by the two wings that were added in 1927, many years after the school was built in 1914.
One suggestion for a memorial to the theater was to rebuild the amphitheater and create a beautiful “alumni park” to host Music on Main and other concerts or programs. Does that suggestion get any amens?
One participant said she spent three fun years, 1957 to 1960, at the school when it was a junior high school and the last time she had an opportunity to go inside was about 13 years ago when this writer led a tour for those who wanted to go in when we had a “Draggin Main Street” event in downtown. She said she got as far as the door on the south entrance and turned around almost in tears when she saw the condition of the interior. She said she wished she could have gone into the school when it looked like the picture, but that was 22 years or more before she was born.
Jim Sears said the old elm tree was removed when the north wing and auditorium were added in 1939. Another 15 years passed before the building changed from a high school to a junior high.
In 2007, Mavis Anne Bryant and I jointly produced a book named “Two Schools on Main Street; The Pride of Denison, Texas, 1873-2007” in which we talk about the building of the first school known as the Educational Institute/ Washington School through the planning of the 1914 structure and its construction, the addition of the two wings and the demise of the building.
In the book, one picture shows a large crowd gathered to celebrate on Nov. 11, 1918, (Armistice Day) at the old DHS amphitheater on the school's west side that Billy Holcomb allowed us to run. We talked about planning for the school's main entrance to be facing east with its back side containing a striking amphitheater facing a large open area to the west of the structure. This allowed room for large crowds to gather, facing the outdoor stage, as took place that 1918 day as well as on many other important civic occasions. It was said that the design also allowed room for future expansion.
The amphitheater, with a stage that faced both inward and outward toward Armstrong Avenue, was in the possible plan for restoration of the school long before it was demolished. The original stage had been bricked up on the inside and most people could not see the outside. As time passed, people forgot about the intriguing detail and the dramatic arch and stage of the amphitheater.
In the book, Melinda Mayes Penn who graduated with the DHS class of 1961 talked about how she took a tour of the building when she was about 10 years old and had always wondered about the building that seemed like a castle to her. She expanded on one passageway that had been created by the two large newer additions to the school. Once inside the passageway that was still outdoors, she was stunned by what she saw. She remembered that it was possibly the amphitheater that she had never before seen because of the obstructions. She said she was fascinated and that it seemed like an enchanted place. She said the building had magic. She still remembered the efforts of everyone involved in building that part of the school that could knock the socks off even a little kid.
It's too late to “save” the amphitheater and my thoughts are just a suggestion that would make that vacant block up there on Main Street more attractive and useful to the people of Denison.
These are my thoughts only except for the two people we quoted in our book. If anyone is interested, please give it some thought.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her column. The views and opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.