FAIRMOUNT – A portion of the Indiana high school where James Dean was first exposed to acting collapsed early Wednesday, dimming hopes of saving the long-shuttered brick schoolhouse in the actor’s hometown.
Dean grew up on his aunt and uncle’s farm near Fairmount in southern Grant County, about 50 miles northeast of Indianapolis, and performed in high school plays that fueled his interest in acting. Dean fans and local officials had tried for years to shore up the weathered, three-story red brick and limestone schoolhouse, which closed in 1986, and installed a rubber covering on its roof to keep out the elements.
But a southeast corner of Fairmount High School gave way about 3 a.m. Wednesday, Fairmount Clerk-treasurer Jo Ann Treon said, and officials are concerned one of the 115-year-old school’s exterior walls could collapse next.
After graduating from Fairmount High in 1949, Dean headed to California and then New York, before landing iconic roles in the movies Rebel Without a Cause, Giant and East of Eden. He died in 1955 at age 24 in a California car crash and is buried in Fairmount.
David Loehr, curator of the James Dean Gallery a few blocks from the school, said various proposals to restore the building and turn it into a library, museum or community center never came together.
There was a lot of interest, but the money didn’t come with it, he said.
Loehr said the third-story section of the school that collapsed was above the portion of the building that once housed the wooden stage where Dean performed in school plays.
The school was on the Indiana Landmarks’ list of the state’s 10 most endangered landmarks in 2001, 2002 and 2003.