Klinger is true to his school

By on March 7, 2018
Gary  Klinger  stands  in  front  of  Highland  Elementary,  his  former school which he celebrates in “School for the Ages,” published as the latest edition of the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley’s annual journal. Photo by Preston Whitcraft

Gary Klinger stands in front of Highland Elementary, his former school which he celebrates in “School for the Ages,” published as the latest edition of the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley’s annual journal. Photo by Preston Whitcraft

Historical Society’s journal chronicles Highland Elementary’s history

Highland Elementary School’s rich history is celebrated in “School for the Ages” by Gary Klinger. It’s published as the latest edition of the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley’s annual journal. The 78-page publication features nearly 80 photos.

“Each year we select a topic for the journal that focuses on something significant in the community. We like to have pieces that contain original content that expand our understanding of history of the area,” said historical society librarian Cynthia Marquette.

“It’s important to put this information together and give it to the community,” Klinger added.

Highland was designed by noted architect C. Emlen Urban and constructed in 1927 as a high school. (Urban also designed Ephrata National Bank’s main office on East Main Street, and the Weidman building, also on Main Street as well as a number of public buildings and private home in Lancaster including the Southern Market Center.) The building at 99 Highland Ave. served as the high school until the current building on Oak Boulevard opened in 1962. It was featured on the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County’s 2016 tour of historic places in Ephrata.

Klinger not only attended Highland Elementary, but all four of his children have gone there, including one who is currently a fourth grade student. He said as a parent, it’s pretty cool to visit the school and see the changes that have occurred since he went there.

“This is a school that has meant so much to me and my family,” he said. “I’m thankful that 90 years later the building is still standing and is still being used as a school. There are very few places in Ephrata that have touched so many lives.”

Those ties and an interest in history (for the past two years he served as president of the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County) led him to research the history of the building.

“Highland was built at the time the telephone system was in its infancy; in fact, in doing research I found that the school board took a special vote to have a phone installed at the school. Today, it’s wired for wireless computer access,” Klinger explained.

He said that the research, which has been done off and on over the past 10 years, has been like unraveling a mystery. What piqued his curiosity about the school was coming across old photos showing the exterior of the school and gym. They showed exterior doors leading from the gym, but when he went to school at Highland, there are no exterior doors in the gym.

“That area was the curtains to the stage leading out into the 996 seat auditorium,” he said.

There are no known photos of the building when it opened. He said that about 10 years ago the school district found some framed photos of graduating class members as well as the original watercolor rendering of the school made by Urban. The photos were in disrepair and have been restored and digitized. Klinger reported that the rendering and the photos were donated by the school district to the historical society.

An image of the rendering is on the cover of the journal. The rendering shows the original school as a P-shaped building. In 2016 a school district staff member found Urban’s 1927 blueprints for the building, and they’re also in the book.

“Finding the blueprints was pretty exciting” Klinger said. “They showed me that my research about the evolution of the building was correct.”

What about the mystery of the gym doors? Klinger explained that he found that in 1936 an auditorium and library were added to the school. The exterior doors to the gym and the wall that contained them were removed for the construction of the auditorium, which shared the stage with the gym.

“People could watch games in the gym from the auditorium,” he said.

The 1936 project also completed a hallway that loops around the upper level even today.

“Photos of the year’s graduating class were placed in that hallway until it stopped being used as a high school in the early 1960s. Those were the photos that were found about 10 years ago and restored,” Klinger said.

His research into the school’s history and evolution got a boost during the school’s 80th anniversary celebration in 2008. It was attended by former teachers, former staff, and former students, including a member of the very first graduating class.

“It was great to get their perspective and to find out where classrooms and the shop room was. What I learned is that the rooms currently being used as kindergarten classrooms had been the shop rooms,” he said.

Another renovation was done in 1986, which altered the appearance of the building, disappointing from a historical perspective.

“It totally desecrated the interior look of the building; the beautiful windows at the top of the gym were closed in,” said Klinger. “Very few of the original interior architectural details were left. I am particularly dismayed that the millwork, wooden doors and cabinetry was all mostly and needlessly destroyed with no regard to the historical importance of the building or it’s locally famous architect, C. Emlen Urban. What was demolished and removed can never really be replaced. It was as if there had been no regard given to the Urban’s excellent design, or Alexander Gerhart’s superb craftsmanship. However, despite these unfortunate changes, much the planners of the 1986 renovation do deserve much credit for their wisdom in saving the building rather than demolishing it. I have to think it was their way of acknowledging Urban’s reputation for building ‘strong and substantial’ and Gerhart’s considerable contribution to the architectural heritage of the Ephrata community.”

To learn more about the history of Highland Elementary, read “School for the Ages.” Marquette said the journal is a benefit of Historical Society membership and members should already have received their copy. The journal is also available to the public. It can be purchased for $15 at the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley, 237 W. Main St., Ephrata. It’s also available to purchase on the organization’s website: cocalicovalleyhs.org.

Rochelle Shenk is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review. She welcomes your comments and questions at RAASHENK@aol.com.

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