Northwood High School faces a patch of untended woods in Silver Spring that Montgomery County developers once planned to raze for a multilane thoroughfare.
Now that the outward shift of the county's population has forced Northwood's closing, the dead-end view that was part of the school's quirky charm seems preordained: History, instead of highway, has passed Northwood by.
The silence is already gathering in the halls. The last senior class has graduated, and the 10th and 11th graders have been bent for several days in the grudging submissiveness of exams. After Tuesday, when the final grades are dealt and the last staff memos balled and bank-shot into the trash, Northwood will pass into the awkward poignance of yearbook photos and the piecemeal memories of its alumni.
"It wasn't the jock school in Montgomery County, it wasn't the freak school, it wasn't the brains school, it wasn't 'the' anything," recalled Carol Ostrinsky Krucoff, class of '72 and daughter of a longtime Northwood teacher. "It was just an ordinary, middle-of-the-road, B-plus school."
"We didn't even have graffiti at Northwood," echoed Sheryl Silverman Gold, class of '72, husband class of '71.
"Northwood was a great school, close-knit," according to Brady Straub, an alumnus and former coach. "I don't want to portray it as the all-American high school, because maybe it wasn't . . . but I loved it. It was a place much like home you didn't mind going to."
"Family" and "close-knit" and "community" are the kinds of words that come up in every discussion of Northwood, going back to its opening in September 1956.
In those days, Silver Spring was a postwar boom town. Scrambling to keep ahead of surging pupil enrollment, county executives plunked Northwood High down on University Boulevard -- which then had only two lanes -- in the midst of half-leveled pastures rapidly filling up with split-level developments.
"The building wasn't quite ready for us," recalled guidance counselor Sallie Scott, who calls herself Northwood's "only permanent fixture" and has decided to retire with the school.
"There were no lockers, just big holes in the wall. There was no floor in the gym and no cafeteria; everybody had to bring their lunch, and every day at lunch the milk truck would drive up to the front door . . . . And I taught typing for about three months with no typewriters.
"But in a funny way, I think it was the basis for a really strong school spirit," Scott said. "It brought the students and the staff closer together."
Part of the reason was homogeneity. Northwood served a solidly middle-class enclave, dominated by white-collar professionals and federal employes. "There were a handful of Orientals and a few blacks," according to 1970 graduate Bruce Genderson, "but they were as middle-class as everyone else."
The other reason was the stability of the neighborhoods. It wasn't uncommon for three or four members of the same family to work their way through Northwood. "We all grew up together," said Donna Nusbaum ('72). "Everybody knew everybody else."
"Most people went all the way from elementary school through junior high and high school with the same people," agreed Krucoff. That led to another Northwood tradition -- the vast majority of graduates who went to college attended the University of Maryland or Montgomery College.
And although it was traditional for Northwood students to date outside the school (the likely boys, according to one alumnus, came from High Point or Walt Whitman), the circle of friends was so established that there are dozens of Northwood marriages from virtually every class.
It was Montgomery County's own heartland high school, a little conservative, strong on discipline -- Northwooders looked askance at the open classrooms and experimental methods of nearby Kennedy High.
Its haphazard football teams were a county legend. Straub, now football coach at Kennedy High School, entered Northwood as a 10th-grader in the fall of 1962 and graduated with the class of '65. During his two years as quarterback of the varsity football game, Northwood never won a game. A few years later, when he was offered a job as Northwood's football coach, Straub said, his first thought was, "Well, I can't do any worse than anybody before me," so he accepted.
Most of Northwood's athletic power was in its wrestling teams, which sported Mohawk haircuts in the late '60s and early '70s. Northwood dominated area tournaments off and on for years, and sparked a craze for mat sports that penetrated down through the local junior high schools.
It was strong on tradition: bonfires, Sadie Hawkins dances, "Spirit Week" with a different costume theme every day. And it passed through virtually every trick and trial known to studentkind. Annual incarnations of pranksters ran panties up the flagpole, rolled oregano into a "joint" and left it for a Spanish teacher famous for forgetting her English under stress, performed impromptu stripteases on the banquet table, disassembled and rebuilt a Volkswagen on the school roof.
There were also occasional fiascos. The strangling of a pet peacock at the Peter Pan restaurant in Urbana led to Northwood's removal from the guest list there for a time; the senior banquet that collapsed into a food fight at a Holiday Inn had the same result.
But Northwood also has had its share of semicelebrities and personal successes, including photographer Annie Leibowitz, the enfant terrible of Rolling Stone, and sportscasters Harvey and Bernie (voted Best Personality, 1970) Smilovitz.
Three alumni have a successful off-Broadway musical (and the New York Times review to prove it). Former drama coach Steve Bauman is on Broadway in "A Chorus Line", and one of his former students appears in the movie version. A Northwood graduate was one of the 52 Americans held hostage in Iran. One alumnus edits Science '85 magazine, another the Harvard Business Review. Barry Weinberg is trainer of the Oakland A's; Luis Ruck plays pro soccer in Argentina.
Time and social tides have passed very gently through Northwood. The Class of 1970 graduated with black armbands and peace symbols on their robes; a decade later, Air Force ROTC was one of the most popular courses. Northwood's female students were prohibited from wearing jeans into the mid-'70s; a few years later, they began wearing bikinis under their graduation gowns to offset the stifling heat of Cole Field House at Maryland, where county high schools traditionally hold commencement exercises.
The Jewish student population was once so large that Northwood offered conversational Hebrew; last year, with minority students making up a third of the school, courses included French, Spanish, Latin, German, Japanese and Russian, as well as English as a second language.
And this year's winner of the Golden Hammer award for industrial arts is considered one of the prime punk dressers of the class.
"I was there a long time, and I saw a lot of changes," said Brady Straub. "When I first started going, they added the 'A' wing, then the girls' gym, 'E' hall and the music rooms and the new library, and then in the mid-'70s the new auditorium and the tennis courts . . . . What I really remember is this huge hill at the end of the field you had to run in football practice. I used to dread that hill."
Come August, Straub -- who used to hang around football practice in the late summer weeks before his college classes started -- will suit up for his 20th reunion. And maybe he'll go look at the hill.