Fortress of Shame on Third Street
When I attended John Burroughs Jr. High School, I would walk home from school, taking a different route each time. I lived three miles from school, so it was a great way to exercise my adolescent body. I wasn’t even concerned about physical fitness; I was worried about my safety! Once after school, some bullies caught up with me and beat the living shit out of me! I got kicked in the belly after being knocked to the ground. It happened in front of Chuck’s Liquor store. Afterward, I took the fatal walk through the alley behind a used car lot on Beverly Boulevard. There was one bully waiting for me, so I ran in the opposite direction. I was not fast enough, for a big rock hit the back of my head and I started to bleed! I should have gone to the ER, but I just went home. I didn’t tell my parents because my dad would have said something like, “Next time, you break his head!” My mom would have simply stood next to him, silent. There were five guys in total looking for me, but by my last semester at John Burroughs, the bullies had given up on me.
One of my favorite routes home from school, I took on Fridays. I would walk up McCadden Place to 3rd Street, and then proceed westward. On the northeast corner was a supermarket, which later became a “Ralphs.” Across the street, on the northwest corner, was a piano store. It had been there for years. For some reason, there were lots of piano stores in my neighborhood.
After walking past the store, I’d come upon it: Daniel Murphy High School. There it stood, ugly and big, it’s name in bold letters on the side of the monolith. Who was this Murphy guy anyway? Well, he was a rich, white Catholic who had been an oil tycoon in the 19th Century. This was a rarity because the majority of oil tycoons were white Protestants. The irony here was that the land the school was on used to be the Salt Lake Oil Field, originally owned by rich Protestants, including the likes of the Gilmore and the Hancock families. Daniel Murphy’s oil fields were in El Segundo. Oh, did I mention that Murphy owned the Portland Cement Company? So, an all boys’ Catholic school gets named after an oil magnate. My school, John Burroughs, was named after a 19th Century poet. The oil well became a phallic symbol of capitalism.
I hated the building’s architectural design. Constructed in 1966, it looked like a fortress. I never trusted buildings without windows. Also, it was surrounded with a wrought iron fence, topped with sharp pointed arrows. The place resembled a penitentiary.
The original structure had been constructed in 1926, when most of the neighborhood consisted of empty lots. Facing Detroit Street, it was a three-story, red brick building that kind of resembled John Burroughs Junior High. On the far left side of the building was the John Vianney Chapel. I used to ride past on my bicycle. Back in the 1920’s, it was called The Los Angeles College, a Junior Seminary, and a much nicer looking place. In 1954, it was reopened as St. John Vianney High School and then renamed Daniel Murphy High School in 1956. The chapel remains, but the red-brick building was demolished in 1966.
The place consisted of only 2 ½ acres of land. With no space for a football field, the school had to use off-site locations so their football team, the Nobles, could practice. When I used to walk by the school, the football team, in full uniform, would jog in a military procession to West Wilshire Park, with the coach shouting at them as they’d pass. It was quite a sight! Sometimes, the regular gym class would take laps around the block.
Now, I ask you, what is it with gym teachers calling their male students “ladies” or “girls”? When I’d see these kids run around the block, I’d hear the gym teacher yell, “Come on, ladies! Pick up the pace!”
All of the students looked as though they’d come straight out of the 1950’s, with their clean-cut hairstyles! The place gave me the creeps! There was something wrong about that place.
After I’d walk past the school, my route took me to Distributing Power Station #55. This place looked like a tomb! It was a structure absent of windows, with just a door in front. Next to it was a 1926 fire station, which used to hold an annual open house. I loved going there as a child! After that was Chuck’s Liquor Store, which to me, had the best selection of candy, comic books, booze, and girlie magazines! I used to sneak peeks at “Gent Magazine” and “Penthouse.” I never got caught. The owners were middle aged Italians from the east coast. I remember one of them saying to the other, “Don’t send your kid to Daniel Murphy! He’ll become a fairy! Send him to Fairfax! My son did all right there!” This belied a deep secret about the place!
I had a Catholic friend who lived on my block. He went to Daniel Murphy. He would tell me about strange things going on there. I didn’t believe anything he told me because I knew kids liked to exaggerate. If a kid misbehaved, he’d say, that kid would be made to stand in the corner with no pants on; I mean bear assed, wearing a dunce cap!
As the years went on, I read many accounts of child molestation in Catholic institutions. Daniel Murphy’s name would come up. After a while, I started to believe it.
It was in October that I heard an announcement the school would close at the end of the 2007/2008 semester. The Catholic big wigs said the closure had nothing to do with the $660 million of sexual abuse lawsuits. They were closing because of low enrollment. Sure. In the 21st Century, they started to enroll inner city Blacks in the school and that’s when the molestations escalated.
Daniel Murphy was a Gentile oasis in a Jewish neighborhood. Its presence was an incongruity. Now, some Orthodox Jewish sect wants the property to make it Yeshiva (a Hebrew School). Oh the irony!
What’s the moral here? Don’t send your boy to a military school or all boys’ private school. He might grow up to commit sex crimes!
Poetry 90's style..