By Katherine Hon | Past Matters
Does preserving our community’s historical landmarks and buildings matter? Or are those old, rusty, outdated structures just in the way?
North Park Historical Society (NPHS) member Pat Taylor thought some good answers could come from the fifth-graders at McKinley Elementary School, a place where she has spent countless volunteer hours since 2001 as tutor, mentor and friend. And she was right. The essays written in April 2016 by the students in classes taught by Ms. Phillips, Cheesman and Knox are thoughtful, touching, inspirational, and simply “terrific,” as Taylor would say.
Much tougher than the writing assignment for these engaged students was NPHS’s task of choosing three “Gold Star” essays from more than 60 excellent submittals. Each of these winners received a copy of “Images of America: San Diego’s North Park” written by NPHS and published by Arcadia Publishing Co. in 2014. In preparing for their essays, the students viewed photos in this book, including historical photos of McKinley Elementary, which was built in 1924 and replaced in 1973. Purchase your own copy of this important North Park history book with more than 200 vintage photos at Paras News on 30th Street, North Park Hardware on University Avenue, or the West Grove Collective on Juniper Street in South Park.
NPHS also picked seven honorable mention essays. Each of these students received a gift certificate to Verbatim Books, a rare and used bookstore newly arrived in the heart of North Park at 3793 30th St.
The essays were part of a pro-con reasoning exercise, and the students overwhelmingly took the pro position in favor of historical preservation. Let’s listen to what they had to say.
In the Gold Star essays, Marlo made the point that having historical buildings “helps us understand how people built things in the past” and “shows that they used a very different style of buildings than we do today.” Katie said “Landmarks from the past are important. They could be part of other people’s religion or culture … By tearing down an old landmark, you are taking away a piece of the history of your city and of other people.” Nemesia said that historical preservation “provides a way of saving history for others to enjoy. It provides a sense of community, and it also provides us with information.” She noted that the cave dwellings she had seen travelling in New Mexico “are perfect examples of how historic preservation is a benefit. If we hadn’t saved these we wouldn’t have a clue how they lived back then.”
In the honorable mention essays, Chris reminded us that “we shouldn’t just get rid of things because they are old. We should still use them in some way.” Kira emphatically stated, “There is no reason why we should destroy important historical structures!” Sail pointed out that “we can always learn from what we did well and not well at all. We can learn what to do and what not to do!” Miles noted that historical places “give us our memories … these great things took time to make and most of the time still have use.”
NPHS likes Charlie’s point that historical preservation “reminds us of our past, helps us with the present, and gives us great ideas for the future.” And NPHS strongly agrees with Marley, who said, “both the Georgia Street Bridge and the North Park Water Tower should stay up for people to see them … They are very old, special and beautiful.” We hope everyone can agree with Amandy, who ended her essay with the plea, “So please don’t destroy historical places because like I said, once it’s gone, it’s gone.”
All 10 of the winning essays will be displayed at the upcoming historical presentation NPHS is sponsoring to celebrate May being National Preservation Month. The free presentation by author and historian Chris Wray is a photographic journey along “Historic Highway 80 across California.” The free event will be held on Thursday, May 19, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the second floor Fellowship Room at Grace Lutheran Church, 3967 Park Blvd.
NPHS thanks Taylor; teachers Phillips, Knox and Cheesman; and all of their students at McKinley Elementary School for their well-reasoned essays about why historical preservation matters. Until these motivated students are in positions of authority to protect the historical resources of our community, we should keep in mind what the National Trust for Historic Preservation said: “The past matters. Pass it on. The next generation will only inherit what we choose to save.”
—Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619-294-8990.