We Tried to Save the Murals
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Written by SeacoastNH Archive

325_00SeacoastNH.com Presents
Historic Portsmouth #325  

According to Harold “Whitey” Whitehouse, Jr. a Portsmouth resident since 1928, the four lost WPA-era murals at the Middle School were destroyed in the mid-1970s. As a member of the school board, Whitehouse was on the Joint Building Committee that elected, after much deliberation, to demolish the 1930s auditorium to make way for 13 new classrooms. )Continued below with photos) 


READ ALL ABOUT the historic murals

“We were upset, but there was no way we could save them,” Whitehouse says about the murals today. “We had to do something. The building was bulging at the seams.” John Sullivan, who was on the school board for 20 years, says that the pictures by Gladys Brannigan were painted on the wall, not on canvas as her WPA commission states. Although neither Sullivan nor Whitehouse actually witnessed the demolition, they remain certain that the murals could not have been salvaged. Readers who believe they have seen the murals in recent years, they say, must be mistaken. “I assure you that, being on the school board, if there was any way of storing or preserving those murals, we would have done it,” Sullivan says. Both men attended the Middle School in the 1930s and remember the murals vividly. Whitehouse was a boy scout at the time as shown in the Depression-era photo above. The second photo shows Whitehouse as a baby with his mother and grandmother. These photos appear in his 2008 memoir of growing up in Portsmouth entitled “Home by Nine: The Real South End.” Whitehouse joined the Navy at 17, worked 25 years at the Portsmouth Herald and served 12 years on the city council. According to Whitehouse, only 75 copies of his book remain on sale in local bookstores, and he currently has no plans to reprint. (Photos courtesy Harold Whitehouse)