When you meet a child, you might ask them what school they attend. There are several elementary schools in the area, so you’d have no way of knowing unless you asked.
But if you lived in Lutz around 80 years ago, you’d never have to ask that question. You’d know exactly what school they attended, and you’d know exactly where it was. That’s because there was just one school and everyone went there.
The Old Lutz School was a two-story brick structure on North U.S. 41 — and actually, it still is. You’ve probably driven by it at some point, and it might even be part of the view on your daily commute.
It’s kind of hard to miss, since it doesn’t look like anything else. It’s not a school anymore, of course. But it is in the National Register of Historic Places, and it looks awfully good for a building that’s older than FM radio and the ballpoint pen.
OK, it was built in the 1920s, so you know it’s old. For decades it was where local children went until they grew up and went to work, or war, or wherever life sent them.
They all had that one building in common. But when does a location go from just being some old building to a community treasure? For the Old Lutz School, it was around 1977.
A couple years earlier, it had stopped functioning as an actual school after nearly 50 years in service, and was a candidate to be torn down. The school board saw an old building: Something that required maintenance and resources when money was tight and actual schools (and their students) needed those funds.
But longtime residents — Lutz is still one of those places where you can actually find longtime residents — saw a community treasure, and stepped up to save it. They worked out an arrangement where the building would stay, but the maintenance and upkeep wouldn’t burden the county.
Today, the county owns the building, but leases it to a group called Citizens for the Old Lutz School Building for a token sum, and they keep it looking pretty much the way it’s always looked.
It does have an unusual look. Its architecture is textbook Georgian Revival. If that doesn’t mean much to you, don’t feel bad. I had to look it up myself.
Back when the school was built, it was popular to emulate the American Colonial style that was used often back in the 1700s. So, this historic school was actually designed as a “modern” tribute to an even older style.
Typically, that means a two-story building with evenly spaced windows in the front. And if you drive by the Old Lutz School today, that’s exactly what you’ll see.
And when it was built, the school was pretty modern. It has indoor plumbing, after all. And there were no water pumps; it had a fancy water tower instead. There wasn’t any air conditioning, of course, but it had a prime location right by the dirt road that we now know as North U.S. 41.
That is a state-of-the-art facility, my friends.
Or it was, anyway. We know all that sounds quaint by today’s standards. So why go to the trouble of saving an old school, anyway? Schools pop up all the time. What’s one more or less?
Well, it has to do with the school, but also the people who live here. Lutz is proud of its heritage. Its history means something, and it’s important to protect it. So with some effort and community support, that’s what they did.
By the way, the Citizens for the Old Lutz School Building really is just that: A small group of citizens who care about the school and the area’s history. It’s not a well-funded organization with a large staff dedicated to overseeing this historical landmark.
In reality, it’s maybe 10 regular volunteers who find creative ways of keeping this building looking nice. And it’s not cheap, either. Utilities can run in the hundreds per month, insurance in the thousands each year, and larger maintenance tasks can only be done in sections. But they do a great job.
If you look at an older photo and compare it to a modern one (like, say, the photos that accompany this story), you’ll see many more similarities than differences. That’s pretty impressive.
Usually you have to seek out local history, and spend a few hours in a museum or go out of your way to see a historic building. But not this one. You can see it every day.
You could get in your car and go there right now if you wanted. I’d prefer you finish reading this story first, though, because I spent a lot of time on it. I even stood in the median to take the photo, and I’m still not completely sure that’s legal.
But the school is probably just minutes away from you. Lutz history is right there, not far from a cellular phone store and right in front of three lanes of paved asphalt going in either direction.
Maybe you’ve seen it, but didn’t know what it was. Or maybe you know all about it, but you’re busy and don’t really notice it anymore. My advice is to pay attention to it when you can. And when they have events, attend them and support the school’s maintenance. They just had one last weekend, but they’ll have more.
Help your neighbors keep it looking nice. And if you have a skill or some time to donate, give them a call. They’re not picky, and they could use the help.
You can reach them by calling Suzin Carr (our current Guv’na) at (813) 453-5256. They also have a Facebook page (after all, what self-respecting historical landmark built in the 1920s doesn’t have a healthy social media presence?). Just look up the group’s name.
So reach out and help if you can, but either way, you should take note of it as you drive by. Even though it hasn’t been an actual school for nearly 40 years, there’s a history lesson waiting for you there.
Published April 23, 2014