|City/Town: • Pahokee|
|Location Class: • Educational|
|Built: • 1928 | Abandoned: • 1998|
|Status: • Abandoned|
|Photojournalist: • David Bulit|
Despite the massive destruction caused by the nameless but disastrous Hurricane of 1928, some buildings did manage to somehow withstand the winds and flooding. One of these buildings is the old Pahokee High School, constructed in early 1928, the same year as the deadly storm.
A similar comparison is Hurricane Irma which was also a Category 4 – even a Category 5 at one point, with winds of 185 MPH – but thanks to the mercy of Mother Nature or the Santeria of Hialeah (depending on who you talk to) it dodged us at the last minute. Pahokee was not so lucky in 1928 when they received a direct impact from the storm that made landfall in Palm Beach as a Category 4.
The old Pahokee High School officially opened for the 1930-31 school year. Though it had been built two years before, the school’s opening was likely delayed by the long and intensive cleanup efforts following the storm.
Until Belle Glade High School was built in 1941, Pahokee High School was the home of students from Port Mayaca, in western Martin County, all the way around Lake Okeechobee and nearby to Clewiston. At the time, Pahokee was the third most populous city in Palm Beach County and a lively urban center that shipped produce down canals to the coast. It was considered to be one of South Florida’s most important cities.
The old school, now shuttered with wooden boards and left abandoned, stands in stark contrast to the relative squalor of its surroundings. The ornate Mediterranean Revival style architecture and rich history even earned the school building a spot in the National Register of Historic Places in 1996. It’s beauty, even now, speaks to a time when Pahokee was more than an unfortunate and relatively unknown blip on the map.
The first floor is more or less open, the walls having been almost completely removed and with only the wooden framework left behind like someone had started the process of renovating or demolishing it but just gave up. Although the entire fancy outer facade of the building looks to be made of stone or concrete, the floors on the inside are made entirely of wood. Not the fancy wooden flooring you see today in Lowes, but thin, unpolished strips – no doubt the original flooring. According to the National Register of Historic Places, it is the oldest building in Pahokee and was officially closed in 1998 when the new school was built directly behind it.
On the inside, even though the floors are the original wood, they are surprisingly solid. Shout out to good old Florida architecture. It may be 2017 – almost a century later – and one would assume that we build things better and stronger these days, but let me tell you those houses out in Pines, Weston, and Parkland would be nothing but a pile of junk and weeds in less than a decade, let alone a nearly a century. No one builds like this anymore. My brother Kaine’s old house in Pembroke Pines that has been sitting empty for five years or so currently has a tree growing straight up through the floor of the kitchen. And not a little tree, mind you. The Everglades is persistent and for a building to survive that long in muck hell is truly impressive.
Situated against the walls of what was once each classroom are the old coiled steam radiators made from cast iron, still looking new and in perfect condition despite the fact that they’re outdated by 60 years or so. It’s hard to imagine needing a heater at all with how stiflingly hot it is most of the time when you go that far inland in Florida and no longer get the benefit of a cool sea breeze, but I suppose it does get colder out in the Everglades and in Pahokee than it does for the coast during the winter. The sea breeze that benefits us in the summer by slightly cooling the air near the coastline also makes any winter cold fronts we get milder as opposed to inland in the Everglades where it’s known to regularly freeze over.
Even though the floors are made of wood, luckily the staircase the leads to the second floor is made of metal. The rusty stairs remain stable enough to climb, as long as you skip over the broken one – if you’re even able to spot it in time – and dodge the piles of discarded bones from small animals that fell prey to the owls that inhabit the upper floor.
There are more windows blown out on the second floor, which still doesn’t offer much of a reprieve from the persistent heat of the Everglades, but does make the lighting inside the building really beautiful. The second floor contains even more classrooms, these with the walls intact and looking much more whole. There were even blank spots devoid of paint on the walls from where the blackboards once were.
In the main hallway, underneath a layer of poop from years of birds nesting in the rafters, ‘ENGLISH DEPARTMENT’ was painted on the wall. The bold, navy blue letters were illuminated by the light from a boarded up hole in the wall at the end of the hallway that had once led to a second-floor balcony.
Since its closure, ownership of the historic building was turned over to the city of Pahokee and the only thing people could agree on about its future was that it could not remain shuttered and derelict. Ideas for the now-abandoned school range from renovating the building using it as the new city hall, a museum, a mall, an adult living center, or simply demolishing it altogether.
Time has not been kind to the city of Pahokee but the school itself has remained standing throughout the decades just as it withstood the storm almost a century ago.
Written by Niesa Lenox