Moving Fred Rogers' neighborhood
Mister Rogers has left the building. And it is the very building that owes its existence to Fred Rogers, as does the community-owned public television station housed there that he also helped found and nurture.
Nonetheless, The Fred Rogers Company, the corporate face of the children's icon, has relocated, unable to reach an agreement for adequate space at WQED studios in Oakland.
The structure itself, a concrete monolith designed in an architectural style called brutalism, seems cold and ugly to many. Not unlike Victor Hugo's Quasimodo, its rough exterior cloaked an uncommon love as long as Fred Rogers and his company worked there, giving it a warm soul and heart of gold.
Although many never believed this day would come, it was really a long time coming. No longer a world leader in public television production, WQED has reduced local programming and leased office and studio space to private enterprises.
Even the renowned Fred Rogers studio, the Lourdes and Mecca and Ganges of children's television, is now available for banquets, weddings and private parties, like just another volunteer fire hall or country club. It all flies wide of Mister Rogers' lifelong message.
“I'm not that interested in ‘mass' communications. I'm much more interested in what happens between this person and the one person watching. The space between the television set and that person who's watching is very holy ground,” Fred said.
And while others have lost their way, The Fred Rogers Company remains true to the core beliefs of its founder. From the beginning, child development experts have worked alongside television production staff, serving children and their families, striving to ensure social and emotional health, never losing sight of the mission. That is still true.
As Fred said, “You rarely have time for everything you want in this life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are.”
It was that sense of who he was that carried the day in 1969, when Fred testified before a Senate committee debating the future of public television. He saved public television for our children on that day, speaking with gentle passion and quiet resolve.
As the movers shrink-wrapped X the Owl's big oak tree and any vestige of the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, some WQED staffers watched and shed a few tears. Many had worked with Fred and were missing their friend; others might have cried for their childhood and simpler times.
The last to leave was Fredosaurus Rex, who stood eight feet tall outside the building, greeting visitors to WQED and Mister Roger's neighborhood. In his signature sneakers and cardigan sweater, still holding Henrietta Pussycat and King Friday XIII, the old boy remained strong atop a flatbed trailer, smiling through his own tears.
And when that last truck pulled out of the driveway, all that was left behind was another office building, no different than the rest.
Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (SabinoMistick@aol.com).