by Kevin Walsh

I’ve been impressed by the size and design of several high schools built in the early 20th Century. There’s Fort Hamilton High in Bay Ridge, Franklin K. Lane in Cypress Hills, John Adams in South Jamaica, and Dickinson High in Jersey City, perhaps the largest high school I’ve ever seen. And, there’s Jamaica High in Jamaica Hills, on Gothic Drive east of Captain Tilly Park.

Ground was broken for imposing Jamaica High on March 25, 1925; it was completed in 1927 (it resembles Fort Hamilton High in Bay Ridge and Franklin K. Lane in Cypress Hills, with all three hailing from the same decade).

Prominent Jamaica High graduates and attendees include filmmakers Josef von Sternberg and Francis Ford Coppola, science writer Stephen Jay Gould, humorist Art Buchwald, Brooklyn Dodgers owner and mover Walter O’Malley, Olympic long jumper Bob Beamon, Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee and John Mitchell, the Watergate-era US Attorney General.

Dear Old Jamaica High

by Harwood Hoadley

There is a certain High School out in old Jamaica Town

Of all the schools we’ve ever known she most deserves renown

Her boys are strong and manly and her girls are beyond compare

And Royal Red and Loyal Blue are the colors that they wear

In gym, on track, on diamond her honor we maintain

In oratory and debate for her fresh laurels gain

Her fame’s upheld by song and play, for loyal each and all

We rally to defend her name and gather at her call

Then cheer for old Jamaica High, the school without a peer

We’ll cherish long the memory of the days we’re spending here

Prosperity be always hers, courageous purpose high

And loyal love attend her and fame that shall not die

–from The Beaver Book, a fascinating history of Jamaica High School from 1892-1927. The book took its name from the now-filled-in Beaver Pond, just south of downtown Jamaica: the school mascot is a beaver. For those of you who read music, the song was written out in musical notation in The Beaver Book (sadly, no longer online), and you could plink it out on the piano. (It occurs to me that the Swingin’ Sixties killed school pride. I can imagine Jeff Spicoli or David Wooderson barely suppressing a snicker. Mr. Hand would love it, though.)

The original Dutch Colonial Jamaica High still stands, too, on Hillside Avenue and 163rd Street, home to the Jamaica Learning Center.

Jamaica High ended operations in 2014, but the building is still there and houses four separate schools: Jamaica Gateway to the Sciences, Queens Collegiate: A College Board School, Hillside Arts and Letters Academy and High School for Community Leadership.

Check out the ForgottenBook, take a look at the gift shop, and as always, “comment…as you see fit.”



Zalman Lev September 24, 2020 - 8:04 am

Ummmmm…John Adams High School is in South Ozone Park, not South Jamaica.

John Ulrich September 24, 2020 - 2:11 pm

Not mine at St Francis prep which I attended from 1965 to 1969..
School. Our motto is “high school is four years,the Prep is forever”
The Swinging 60’s was not my cup of tea
The culture changed ,yes,but not for the better

redstaterefugee September 26, 2020 - 9:14 am

Well said; I agree. Three cheers for you, John.

John September 24, 2020 - 2:25 pm

Putting my 2 cents in for Staten Island. Curtis H.S. was the first to be built after NYC consolidation. George W. Curtis was an abolitionist who lived on Bard Ave.

Manqueman September 27, 2020 - 11:18 am

JHS, 1970.
Undoubtedly later classes would make the adolescent wisecracks about a beaver as a mascot, but I never heard such a remark during my four years.

George Vecsey September 30, 2020 - 12:35 pm

Nice to see mention of JHS, closed by the boobs and flatheads of NYC who could not manage a grand old city school.
My mother was in the first class, late 20s. She was so proud of the school.
FYI: Francis Ford Coppola was not a graduate of JHS. He went as a sophomore but then transferred to to New York Military Academy.
I mete him when we entered Hofstra in 1956. He was clearly a star….has become exactly what we might have predicted for him.
After discovering one one year in common at JHS, we have compared notes about his one year at Jamaica — the girls, the teachers, etc.
There were over 5,000 students that year — some of them included: Letty Cottin (Pogrebin), Herb London, Sid Davidoff, The Cleftones, a physicist still working for NASA
Many dozens of us from class of 1956 still in touch and were getting together, until the pandemic.
One more JHS note: Jelani Cobb, writer for New Yorker, frequent guest on MSNBC, teacher at Columbia, wonderful guy, attended Jamaica many years later.
JHS goes onward, despite the incompetents who shut it down Building still beautiful.
George Vecsey, JHS Class of 1956

Kevin Walsh September 30, 2020 - 6:41 pm

Thx George, amended the text.

Marty Oppenheim October 2, 2020 - 11:07 am

Class of 1967.. In 2017, we had a 50th Anniversary Class Reunion and we got to tour the school. It is pretty much intact and still beautiful…

Bed-Stuy Guy October 4, 2020 - 2:30 am

1974 Jamaica High School graduate here. I’d never heard the park called Captain Tilly Park. We always knew it as Goose Pond Park. I got curious and looked it up. According to Wikipedia, it’s been named Captain Tilly Park since 1935! Goose Pond Park (not sure I can call it anything else almost half a century later) was where we went to cut class—and it was also where *some* students went to smoke pot. I lived across the street from the park for part of my time at JHS.

Eugene Murray October 4, 2020 - 4:14 pm

JHS Class of 1970. I recall wandering around the basement. There was a door whose jamb was raised from the floor level. I opened it and stepped into an air conditioned room with a raised floor. There stood an IBM System 360 along with punch-card machines and a green-bar paper line printer. I went to see Dr. Stephen Orphanos, Chair of Mathematics and signed up for Fortran IV programming. The rest is history. I went on to Queens College and the Johns Hopkins University. My first career was as a geophysicist for British Petroleum working various areas in North America including Alaska. Currently, I am a cloud engineer working for Zivaro, Inc, in Denver, Colorado. My late mother and some of her siblings also went to JHS. She and I were both Arista members and she was intensely proud of JHS for her entire life. I am eternally indebted to all my teachers there who profoundly shaped the person I have become.

chris brady October 6, 2020 - 8:30 pm

No more school pride.
There was that scene from Rebel without a Cause where James Dean unknowingly steps on the school seal thats set in the pavement in front of the school and promptly gets upbraided for it.And that was in the Juvenile Delinquent 1950s!
Drugs destroyed school pride.Stoners thought it was just so square and model citizen.


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