Thursday, May 6, 2010

Why Grace Hall was important

The following was written by a Woodstock author and editor who followed closely the affairs affecting Grace Hall.

"This week's tragic demolition of a historic site associated with one of the greatest directors in world cinema, Orson Welles, merits wider attention because it underscores the continuing vulnerability of such sites to unthinking destruction.

"The Woodstock (IL) Historic Preservation Commission voted unanimously to propose that the City Council give landmark status to Grace Hall as a historic building, associated with such alumni of the Todd School for Boys as filmmaker Orson Welles and Robert Wilson, the founder of Fermilab and participant in the Manhattan Project. In addition, Grace Hall merited preservation as a structurally sound Prairie School building. Woodstock's Plan Commission also rejected demolition of this historic site with an unanimous vote. The Woodstock City Council nevertheless permitted demolition of Grace Hall, where Orson Welles lived, studied, and worked as a student at the Todd School for Boys that he always credited as the most important and lifelong influence on his creativity.

"Roger Hill, teacher and then headmaster at Todd School for Boys, provided the most important influence on Orson Welles's creativity throughout Welles's life. Even as a middleaged man, Welles said that he thought about Roger Hill every day. Welles's 1966 film Chimes at Midnight, as well as previous stage adaptations of Shakespeare's English history cycle, has its origins in his attempts to produce such an adaptation at Todd School when he was a student. This is only one example of the importance of this school to the career of Orson Welles. Think of it: one of the greatest film adaptations of Shakespeare had its genesis in Woodstock, Illinois. But the importance of Roger Hill extends far beyond his effect on Orson Welles.

"Usually, when people discuss Todd School, they mention its many physical attributes, among which were a film lab, radio studio, and recording studio. But these were only the outward manifestations of a remarkably insightful and effective approach to education--the most important point to make about the school.

"Hill educated many young men (and some young women) by following the philosophy that giving responsibility and power to students motivates them to display responsibility and develop creativity. Given both responsibility and power, expected to attain a professional standard, Todd students were not subordinates but, instead, collaborators in their own education.

"Roger Hill deserves wider appreciation of his accomplishment as an innovative educator. As editor of the catalog "Todd: A Community Devoted to Boys and their Interests," produced by the senior class in 1930-31, Welles explained, "The uniqueness of the school lies in the fact that boys do things here instead of just being told about them." Anyone who has ever hoped for more creativity and effectiveness in education would be fascinated by Roger Hill's achievements at the Todd School for Boys. His example should not be lost to time but preserved for emulation.

"Grace Hall, as the embodiment of Roger Hill's Todd School, was part of our common treasure as citizens of Woodstock, of Illinois, and of the United States. Part of transmitting the richness of American history is the necessary preservation of historic sites associated with significant cultural figures. If we fail to transmit our common American heritage, if we fail to preserve historic sites, we destroy our memory of the American experience, and we remain shallowly rooted in our own past. This can only harm our self-understanding, for we cannot comprehend our own actions and characters without reference to the past out of which we come."

1 comment:

tiredofthenonsense said...

I sure hope they don't decide to fill the 'Groundhog Day' pothole. Rioting in the streets!