HAMMOND — The storied halls of Hammond High School were brought to life once more as hundreds gathered Saturday to bid the historic building farewell.
Under dim lights and settled in chartreuse seats, alumni from the 1940s to the 2000s gathered in the Hammond High auditorium before setting off to see the building, including the pool, one last time.
Before the festivities began, the school was gifted with an American flag that was flown over the United States Capitol in commemoration of the 105th anniversary of Hammond High, which opened in 1917 at its present location, 5926 Calumet Ave.
After this school year, the building is set to be razed and turned into a parking lot for the School City of Hammond’s new high school, Hammond Central, which is located right next door to Hammond High.
The new high school will house 1,820 students from Hammond High, Clark Middle/High School and Gavit Middle/High School. Clark and Gavit also are set to close at the end of the school year.
"Our last commencement ceremony will be June 10 at Wolf Lake Pavilion. It will be a bittersweet time, but it's going to be a grand time," Hammond High School Principal Johnny Goodlow Jr. told the crowd. "We will always let them know that Wildcats matter, and once a Wildcat, you're always a Wildcat."
The Wildcat spirit was alive Saturday, as alumni roamed the halls and reminisced on old classes, teachers and memories.
“I can’t believe they can’t find a good use for this place,” one alumnus said in the halls.
A few paces down the hallway, just outside of the auditorium, another alumnus commented, “I feel bad that this building is going away.”
Marie Jennings Hagler, a 1944 alumna, told The Times she has great memories of Hammond High, but hadn’t visited the building in some time, noting as the building stands today, she cannot identify anything.
Though different, Jennings Hagler said she hates to see the school come down.
"I remember sitting in the auditorium the day after Pearl Harbor. We were in the auditorium listening to Roosevelt's speech declaring war. Dec. 7 was Sunday. Monday we were in the auditorium, and we listened to Roosevelt declare war," Jennings Hagler said.
After visiting Hammond High, alumni toured Hammond Central, which is set to open this fall.
Although Hammond High in its present location opened in 1917, the school was first established in September 1884 in the Central School Building, a two-story, wood-frame building with six rooms on the southeast corner of Hohman Avenue, according to a centennial commemorative chronicle for the school.
As Hammond grew over the years, a bigger school was needed, said Bill Hutton, whose great-grandfather Joseph T. “JT” Hutton was the architect of Hammond High.
"In 1912, Joseph Hutton, well-known architect, Thirty-Third Degree Scottish Rite Mason, the highest degree possible, was hired to design this building. This building that has been standing for 105 years, unbelievable," Hutton said. "In 1917, the school was open, the public was given the opportunity to walk around just as you're going to get to walk around for the last time.”
Hutton’s grandfather and father were the architects and engineers of Clark, and Hutton’s father later determined Hammond High could be saved following the 1967 fire — which Hutton referred to as Hammond High’s “biggest test of all for surviving.”
"Hammond High survived two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf Wars, which some of you served. If you did, thank you," Hutton said. "In addition, we survived the great economic depression, numerous recessions. I remember the flu epidemic — 100,000 or a million people died. Well, that doesn't hold a candle to the COVID-19 epidemic. You have all stood strong.”
Hutton & Hutton Architects & Engineers is now 126 years old, Hutton said, and has seen five generations in the firm.
"It's our job as architects to take your vision and turn it into reality. That's what my great-grandfather did. That's what my dad did when he saved this building for all of us,” Hutton said in closing.
Jean Smith, a 1963 alumna and a coordinator of the alumni weekend, said she and others began planning the gathering about two years ago and worked with Hammond High School parent community liaison Rocharda Moore-Morris.
Smith said at least 700 people were set to visit Hammond High Saturday, with another few hundred expressing interest in touring the school one last time.
"Here we are. Ready to say goodbye. Ready to walk the halls and keep the memories,” said Smith, who traveled from Colorado for the tour.
Gallery: A look into Hammond High School before it is razed
Hammond High School, which opened in 1884, is set to close at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year to make way for a new high school. The building at 5926 Calumet Ave., which was built in the 1910s, it set to be razed in early June.