Some in A.C. see memories crumbling with demolition

Staff Writer
(609) 272-7215
Published: Friday, February 3, 2006
Updated: Friday, February 3, 2006

Bob Hancock's face wore a somber expression Thursday afternoon, as he watched two large excavators take the old Ohio Avenue School apart, practically brick by brick.

“I used to go to this school in 1973,” when it was Central Junior High School, said Hancock, an Atlantic City firefighter. “And every night, I come back to get bricks” to keep as souvenirs. The inside of the school was nice.

There were ceramic bricks and a gym where students could run laps or climb ropes, Hancock said. Indeed, as the demolition crew did its work, passersby could see a set of sturdy oak cabinets, a blackboard and other reminders of the school's former glory.

The Ohio Avenue School is the latest casualty in a list of historic buildings to have a date with the wrecking ball to make way for new development in Atlantic City.

The All Wars Memorial Building on Pacific Avenue, the Friends School on South Carolina and Pacific avenues, the Atlantic City High School on Albany Avenue and the Schiff-Charney office building near Michigan Avenue are some of the city's historic landmarks to be demolished in recent years, said long-time resident Robert Ruffolo, owner of Princeton Antiques & Books.

The post office at Pacific Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard recently got a reprieve, when the Sands Casino Hotel acquired the nearby site of the old Traymore Hotel for its expansion plans.

While he's saddened to see the city lose pieces of its past, progress is a good thing for Atlantic City, Ruffolo said. “The true signs of progress are starting to show when the private sector starts investing in Atlantic City,” something that was nonexistent a decade ago, Ruffolo said.

But not everyone feels the same way.

Preservationist Gwen Goodwin was angry as she watched the wrecking crew work on the 105-year-old school Thursday afternoon, and she took photographs as a keepsake of the building she came to love.

Her Committee to Save the Ohio Avenue School worked long and hard to prevent this from happening.

Goodwin said she and her committee did all they could to stop the destruction of what she said was a beautiful building that served the city's children well.

She wrote to Sen. (now Gov.) Jon Corzine, met with officials from Preservation New Jersey and went to the press. But in the end, she said the big money won out over historic preservation.

“This is a public building. It belonged to all of us. It didn't just belong to the casino industry,” said Goodwin, who has homes in New York City and West Cape May. “Schools are so inspirational.”

Now that the building is coming down, Goodwin said she is not abandoning the cause. She plans to ask the state attorney general to investigate the deal that allowed the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to buy the school for much less than its assessed value.

But Ruffolo said Goodwin's goal is admirable, but not always practical. He, too, would love to save historic buildings, but it is important to examine how the structure would be put to use and the cost of maintaining it.

“The school was designed when heating oil was 8 cents a gallon. Those buildings were just not efficient to heat,” Ruffolo said. “Why should we preserve it? Just because it's old?”

But that is often reason enough, Goodwin said.

She has scheduled a meeting with Mayor Bob Levy about prospects of forming a historic preservation commission in Atlantic City.

The commission can catalogue every building in town that has historic value.

“We have got to preserve what's left of this city or we won't have any history at all,” Goodwin said.