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.