It’s been almost 40 years, but Deborah Betz can still remember the grief she felt when she heard Lincoln High School would close two years before her graduation.
She sat and moped on the steps of the school’s historic, wrought-iron staircase the day she found out. Later on, she would be one of dozens of students who took signs to Seattle School Board meetings to protest the decision to shutter the school in 1981 due to falling enrollment.
“No place was (like) Lincoln,” Betz said — a school whose student traditions became a refuge for her. Assemblies had “thunderous enthusiasm.” She piled into friends’ cars to watch football games at Memorial Stadium, then grab pizza at a joint located off of Aurora Avenue. She kept tokens of these memories, including some of the white chrysanthemums she received from close friends during spirit weeks, for decades.
Betz and her classmates scattered to surrounding high schools to finish their education. But they and hundreds of alumni, former staff members and other Seattlelites never shed their memories of the school.
More than a hundred of them responded to a Seattle Times call for stories about the school to commemorate its reopening last month. Their reflections date as far back as the late 1940s, encompassing periods of enormous change. Many recalled the school’s fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, teachers and changing demographics and tension after the district began its busing integration program.
One former student from the 1970s, Christian Holtz, recalled his brief foray into modeling when he appeared in the centerfold image of the student literary magazine, which he also happened to edit. He was photographed in a swimsuit while eating a Hostess cupcake, a decision they determined would help drive profits.
“I don’t remember how many copies we printed, but we did sell out of all of them,” he said.
Here are more highlights:
On the historic school building
“Something about the physical structure of that grand 1906 building spoke to the seriousness of the whole educational enterprise. The vision of the stately wrought iron railings on the terrazzo staircase is imprinted on my memory. In addition the faculty dressed professionally which in those days meant tailored apparel for women and suits and ties for the men. The entire atmosphere seemed to demand respect. Behavior did not seem to be much of an issue although there were consequences for infractions. “Making up time” was one and it entailed sitting after school in study hall. I heard that boys could opt to run around Green Lake.”
— Sylvia Haven, class of 1951
On the lessons they learned
“My best memories from school in 1977 grew from an elective course titled ‘Urban Survival.’ Byron Stevenson led the class of mostly awkward teenagers soul-searching for their independence … He would give us assignments to learn about different social programs offered in the community, gather information, then report back when we were finished. We went to places like Planned Parenthood and WIC. I ‘got’ to go to the VD clinic … I had to swear multiple times I wasn’t there for personal medical issues. After I took the class … I felt knowledgeable and aware. I guess that’s what steered me towards my career today. I’m an academic adviser and I thoroughly enjoy working with the college students.”
— Lorna Tampico Hamill, class of 1977
On culture and traditions
“We had good school spirit — there were students that excelled in all kinds of areas from track and field to art to news reporting to student government. Lots of diversity – there was a Filipino Club and instead of bake sales they would have lumpia sales … The school closed in 1981 and I remember the president of the Black Student Union had to decide what to do with the funds they had raised. He decided to have an all-school party at Gas Works Park complete with a barbecue ribs lunch — it was super fun. I still remember that day.”
— Sylvia Schweinberger, student at Lincoln when it closed, Garfield High School class of 1982
On Lincoln’s tough guys
“Some boys at Lincoln greased their hair and rolled up the sleeves of their short-sleeved shirts. They also rolled up the cuffs of their jeans and flicked their cigarette ashes into the cuffs.”
— Maggie Hawkinson, Ingraham High School, class of 1962
On the teaching environment, and the new school
“… We had strong leadership who helped us develop the skills and sensitivity necessary to be effective. The school was not afraid to try new structural approaches to accomplish the goals of both being relevant in content and welcoming in character to our diverse population of learners.
The closure of Lincoln was a loss for our community. Schools provide an important means for people to come together around a shared common cause, the growth of children. As a community and faculty member, I was saddened by the closure of our school in 1981.”
— Lee Bassett, taught at Lincoln from 1971 to 1981