Rockdale Reporter, Thur., 8 July 2004
"Old school had colorful history - Litigation to get it built went all the way to the Texas Supreme Court"
by Mike Brown, Reporter Editor
The 82-year-old former Rockdale High School and Rockdale Junior-High School building, which fell Friday and Saturday to a demolition crew on the elementary campus, led a long, interesting and colorful life.
Construction of the building was delayed for years due to litigation which finally reached the Texas Supreme Court.
Slow construction forced the start of the 1922-23 school year to be delayed one week. When the building did finally open an outbreak of dengue fever pushed back its dedication ceremony.
Fifteen years later, in the depths of the depression, the building was almost condemned when a janitor discovered cracking in one of the concrete beams holding up the roof.
Oil-booming Rockdale was bursting at the seams in the years after World War I and the city-school government (they were together in those days) planned to construct a new high school building.
Students were going to school in a two-story brick building that was completed in 1885.
But for some reason the Texas Attorney General was determined Rockdale wasn’t going to have a new high school, or at least that the town wasn’t going to do it through its proposed bond sale.
An injunction against the bond sale was obtained by the state’s top lawyer. Rockdale decided to challenge that injunction in court and countered with the city attorney, a brilliant young lawyer named E. A. Camp.
The case dragged on for months, then years, as Camp argued in higher and higher courts. Finally, in mid-1921, the litigation reached the Texas Supreme Court.
To the surprise of virtually everyone who did not know him, and the surprise of virtually no one who did, Camp won.
By July of that year the bond package was done, architect C. H. Page of Austin was hired and bids were ready for opening.
On Sept. 27, with the county still drying out from the worst flood in its history (63 fatalities) just two weeks previously, Wattinger Bros. of Austin was hired on a low bid of $57,000.
Bids for plumbing, wiring and heating pushed the final total to $66,647. By project’s end, school officials were using the figure of $75,000.
In August, school officials had hoped the school would be complete in seven months. As it turned out, construction wouldn’t even begin for seven months.
It was well into 1922 when "all the little tangles vexing the school board and city council were worked out," wrote Reporter Editor John Esten Cooke, who was also a school board member.
Construction didn’t begin until a prolonged argument over what to do with the old building was worked out.
(Its top story was lopped off, the bottom was covered with stucco and painted white and it served as an elementary school for another 30 years. That building was located at the site of today’s elementary tennis/play courts.)
Opening of the 1922-23 school term was put back from Sept. 11 to Sept. 18. On Sept. 14 the school board toured the new building, concluded it was not ready and decided to open school in the 1885 building next door.
"School will be very badly crowded at the start," J. M. Hodges, Rockdale superintendent, said.
"Persons who have any criticism to offer should confine same to the contractor," Cooke wrote.
The contract had called for the building to be complete by Aug. 1. First day for students to occupy the building was Oct. 9.
Dedication ceremonies were scheduled but were delayed most of two weeks due to an outbreak of contagious dengue fever.
Finally, though, the building was dedicated in an Oct. 26 "housewarming" sponsored by the Rockdale PTA.
Speaker was legendary Rockdale businessman Ben Loewenstein Sr., one of the two surviving members from Rockdale’s first school board in 1883.
Fifteen years later "Uncle Tom" Ingram, Rockdale ISD custodian, was cleaning up a third-floor room on the building’s north end when he noticed what he thought was sand on the floor, looked up and found a crack in the ceiling.
Ingram and school officials later went up into the crawlspace above the third floor along with one Rockdale teenager.
The late John M. (Johnny) Weed, Jr. told The Reporter in 1992 about his experience. "My father was on the school board and he asked if I wanted to go up there," Weed said. "The concrete beam that held up that corner of the roof was cracked and sagging."
Weed recalled that trustees handled the matter realistically and secretly. "It was in the middle of the depression and they knew they weren’t going to get any outside money," he said. "So they fixed it the best way they could."
He said I-beams were installed on the roof with metal rods to take the weight off the sagging concrete beam.
"Nobody talked much about it," Weed recalled. "We got a couple of weeks off from school while they did it."
The building was used as a high school until 1956 and as a junior high until 1980.
Funds to demolish the building were approved in the 1978 bond issue which funded construction of a new junior high.
In 1986 a demolition contract was signed but the contractor backed out after airborne asbestos was found in the building.
Six years later contracts for asbestos abatement and demolition were signed but demolition was placed on hold after a group of local citizens organized a "Save Our School" movement.
School trustees decided to proceed with demolition last year after viewing a slide presentation that showed irreversible deterioration inside.
Rockdale,TX Class of 1965
Yearbook of the Rockdale, TX ISD
Misc Pictures from the 1961 Lair
Junior High Science Fair:
David Boyer, Rosemary Cumbie, Jimmy Keen, Judy Holmes, Walter Guillaume
Rockdale Junior High Twirlers
19601961 Rockdale Junior High School Band
"These students received the Red Cross Award for work in that field"
This building had been vacant for years and had deteriorated to the point of being unsafe. It has since been demolished