No, I’m not kidding – and then he turned it into an Antique mall. I told you my family was crazy.
In the mid-1980’s, my father learned that his high school was going to be demolished. It was no longer in use and I suppose the town figured that the land could be re-purposed and sold for higher, better use. Upon learning this, he then decided to buy the school. At this point, I don’t know what he was planning to do with the structure, but being the entrepreneur that he was, he decided to create a business. He started renting out classrooms to antique dealers and turned it into a mall. Think retro high school meets suburban mall that sells antiques and there you have it – an antique school mall!
In the end, it was a great solution to an issue of his – toy storage. He collected a multitude of items – antique cars, Cushman motor scooters, license plates, petrolenia memorabilia. You name it, he collected it, especially if it was dirty and old. A few years prior to purchasing the school, he’d purchased a trio of buildings in downtown Washingon, LA. The trio of buildings housed a video store, gift shop and collectible/museum/shop where he stored most of his toys, but he quickly outgrew the space. The automotive/shop area of the school provided ample space for his toys and many more to come.
The school came with three main structures: the classroom building, a full size gymnasium that featured a stage and a cafeteria (commercial kitchen) – there were also school offices in the back of this building. Lastly, there was the shop structure that was historically used to teach wood shop and automotive skills to high school students. This is where he housed his toys and workshop.
The school mall quickly became a part of our lives. My father saw some entrepreneurial spirit in me and offered to furnish me with the equipment and raw materials to have my own popcorn stand at the school mall. It was my job to run the popcorn stand on the weekends. He’d give me the equipment and supplies (oil, popcorn kernels and bags) and I would pop and sell the popcorn to patrons. My grandmother operated a snack bar/restaurant that offered sodas, nachos and other junk food, but I had a monopoly on the popcorn. He used to tell me how I didn’t even need to advertise my popcorn – the smell alone would attract patrons to the area – and he was right. I was often swamped with customers just after a fresh batch of popcorn was popped.
As a child, having a father that owned an entire school was pretty damn cool. I’d have friends over for the weekend and we’d play in the gym, explore parts of the school that were long forgotten and generally have a ball. My brother would enjoy working in the shop and tinkering with old stuff, just like my father. My sister even used the facility for a sorority retreat when she was in her college years. The school offered the perfect facility for hosting scooter meets and was a central point of gathering for many local festivals.
20 years later & still going strong
Just over a year ago, I was shocked to see the school mall mentioned in a book I was reading. The book was written by an author who lives in Louisiana – I’d picked it up in the “Local” section of the bookstore when I was down there visiting in 2010. I love to read books by local authors and seek them out when visiting various cities. The mention of the mall brought a smile to my face and tugged at my heart a bit.
I was also reminded of the mall when family friends of ours from our childhood bought my wedding gift at the school mall. When I opened it, they were there to tell me the story of how they went to the mall to purchase it just for me. I still treasure that wedding gift and the fact that our friends went to the mall to purchase it makes it extra special. It made the gift so much more personal for me – thoughtfulness in gift giving is always appreciated.
It still amazes me that the mall exists 20+ years after my father first crafted the vision in his head. It’s now one of the main attractions listed for the small town of Washington, Louisiana.
Even though we lived in Washington for a short time (about 5 years of my childhood), the time we lived there is forever etched into my memory and in my heart. The life we lead while living there was such a unique one – the details of which I will never forget. My only wish is that the rest of my life will be as memorable as those years in Washington.