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Mystery Picture: November 29, 2011

Mel Warren Knows Oyster Bay!

Melvin Warren called to identify the Mystery Picture in the Nov. 27 issue of the Enterprise Pilot. He said, “Holy mackerel. I haven’t seen it for such a long time. It’s Oyster Bay High School, vintage 1920. How do I know - I used to climb through that school and go up to that tower and watch for planes during the war – World War II.

“And there was a machine shop there, during the war. The school was located on School Street and Weeks Avenue, in back of the new church, on the corner of Anstice and Weeks. There is a school building behind the new church, the St. Dominic Elementary School. That was an elementary school when I went to school in the ’30s.

“There were two buildings on the property. The big building was Oyster Bay High School until 1928, when the present OBHS was opened. Before that grades one to three were held in the building up behind the old high school.

“Kindergarten was in the high school; then students went up to School Street for grades one to three; and back to the high school for four to 12.   Grades 4, 5 and 6 were located on the side of the high school that was on McCoun’s Lane. Grades 7 and 8 were in the middle of the school and grades 9 to 12 were on the west side, where the driveway was.
“They used to have gates to separate the grades so you couldn’t go from one to another school – that was before fire rules.

“People from 4, 5 and 6 couldn’t get into the high school. There were huge folding gates in the hallways. Now for safety evaluation they can’t be used. Back when I went to school things were different. It’s so complicated now. They put up a gate and it was there to keep you out and you stayed out. It worked. I never tried to go around them. If I got caught I’d be in trouble.

“If you got in the superintendent’s office the first thing you saw was the rubber hose hanging over a picture. It was very intimidating. It was a black rubber hose. Right in his office. The Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Deming, was a tough man. (I’m not sure of the spelling.)

“He used to live in a house right next to where the Catholic elementary school is now.

“They used to supply the house for the superintendent in those days and it is still there. It’s a private house on School Street and right next to the Catholic Elementary School - a big old 1920  house.

“The original Oyster Bay High School was stone. The old school was a piece of architecture.

“They converted most of the building during the war. There was big machinery in there and they were making parts for the military.

“The big tower in the middle of the roof was an observation tower for spotting planes. Every high piece of high ground was used for observation. You got trained for identifying airplanes and if spotted one you wrote it down in a book and called it in. That was how they tracked them then since there was no radar. It was eyeball to eyeball. When you called it in you had to tell them what make; where they were heading and where were they going and what time was it taking place.

“You also entered it into a log. There was a direct telephone line to wherever it went, 24 hours a day during the early 1940s. I had to be 16 or older. I was still in high school. Of course we couldn’t go at night. [That was when the adults took over. Dave Bernstein was one of the air raid wardens, said his son Jack Bernstein recently when talking about WWII.] There was a day shift. Every four hours there were always two people in the tower at the same time.

“My God. I haven’t seen a picture of the school for years. It’s unreal. I think my father went to that school for awhile. He never finished.

“When they built the new church after the war in the ’50s or ’60s that was when Norwich Greens opened up. My son Kenny was married in that church. His wife Patty was Catholic and the service was held in the church, not the chapel.  Forty years ago and now Kenny’s oldest son was 37 on Nov. 24. Brian has a car detailing business in East Norwich. He’s got a good business because he picks up and delivers the cars,” said Mel Warren, who you also know from his work chairing the Arts & Crafts tents at the annual Oyster Festival.

The photograph was shared by Oyster Bay Town Historian John Hammond when he gave his slide presentation for the 125th anniversary of the Oyster Bay Public Library. The slide show was of Oyster Bay in the 1920s. He said it was fine for the Enterprise Pilot to use the photographs from the show, for which we are grateful. We love a good story!

- DFK