Valley View Elementary turns 100, as will dozens of other LAUSD schools in the next five years
Mike Szymanski | March 24, 2017
Philip Skarin walked a mile and a half to his little school in the Cahuenga Pass in 1930 from Mulholland Drive when it was just a dirt road. There were 16 students in his class at the school that was called Hollywood Park Elementary and opened in 1917.
“I came to school barefoot because we didn’t have shoes, it was the Depression,” Skarin recalled. “I guess you could go to school barefoot back then. Things have changed.”
Changed indeed. Friday marked a celebration of Valley View Elementary School turning 100 years old, where 220 students now attend and there’s almost an equal balance of white, black, Asian and Latino students. Past teachers, principals, students, and parents attended the morning celebration to reminisce about the past and fill a time capsule for the future.
Nine schools at LA Unified are having their centennial celebrations this year, and 37 others will hit their 100-year mark in the next five years, according to Elvia Perez Caño, communications officer for LA Unified facilities. The 164-year-old district, founded in 1853 with a single school, won’t see another bubble of centennial celebrations until the mid-2020s when the district consolidated with other schools and a building boom occurred just before the Great Depression.
Now, nearly one out of every four district schools (23 percent, or 153 schools) are at least 100 years old, and more than half of them have buildings that existed when the schools were founded, Caño said.
“One of the two major joys I have in my job as a school board member is opening new schools and speaking at these centennial celebrations,” school board President Steve Zimmer told LA School Report as he looked through the yearbooks and displays in the auditorium. “Look at all the incredible people and dreams that have been started at this school. There are firefighters, doctors, EMTs. You really get a sense of the history of our district and all that has happened here with these incredible people.”
• Read more: Here’s a History of Schools used by the district showing the age of LA Unified schools.
Located between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, the school’s alum include Academy Award winner Helen Hunt (“As Good As it Gets”), Jennifer Love Hewitt (“Ghost Whisperer”), Jena Malone (“Hunger Games”) and Rita Wilson (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and Tom Hanks’ wife). Also, Danny Bonaduce (“Patridge Family”), Damon Wayans (“Lethal Weapon”), the model Twiggy and screenwriter Susan McMartin (“Moms,” “Two-and-a-Half Men.” “Mr. Church”) were active parents there, and singer Dee Snider (Twisted Sister) and David Carradine (“Kill Bill,” “Kung Fu”) were active grandparents at various times in the small school community, many of the teachers and faculty remember.
“This school was always a pleasure to be at and there was always such warmth from the parents and school community,” said Principal Harold Klein, 88, who was being forced to retire seven years ago but the parents, with the help of Zimmer at the time, managed to keep him for another year until a new principal was found. “That was a difficult time because I hated to leave, and I feel like I have so much more to give.”
Klein is still substituting throughout the district as an administrator where needed and worked at LA Unified more than 50 years. Another former principal who served before Klein, Linda Williams, joined Friday’s celebration and greeted many former students and teachers.
Retired teacher Vicki Nishimura, who started teaching at the school in 1968, still volunteers there and helped put together the centennial celebration. “It has been such a delight finding all this information, old photo albums, class projects that people have saved, and all these memories. We even had a former student draw the map of the school before any of these buildings existed.”
That former student, Muirl Johnstone, 88, attended the school from 1936 to 1944 and said the school had gravel floors and about 16 people in the classroom. He went on to become an orthopedic surgeon, graduated from USC medical school and is now retired.
“The friends I made at Valley View I have kept until now,” Johnstone said, sharing reunion photos of friends through the years. “It was really a great time of my life.”
LA Unified’s curator and collections manager is Michele Cairella Fillmore, who works one day a week but said she is getting more and more requests to be involved in centennial celebrations throughout the district.
“I seem to be asked constantly now for anything I can find on the schools turning 100,” said Fillmore, who is in charge of the district’s arts and artifacts collections. She managed to find overhead aerial shots of the school in 1920 and a map of the school grounds from 1918. She also found a 1951 photograph of children singing at the school. But, in this time of tight budgets, the district isn’t spending much on archiving historic materials.
“It is really up to the schools to keep their own historic records,” Fillmore said.
Under Friday morning’s bright sun and facing a sea of colorful paper crowns, Valley View students Rebecca Zeliniker and Emma Shannon were among those who read off stories and anecdotes from past alumni, followed by Principal Susan Kim who announced the contents of the time capsule.
“We decided we were going to open this in 25 years, and we’re not going to bury it because people forget where it is,” said Kim, who noted that a past time capsule from the school was lost and only recently recovered. Each class offered something important from this time period, including Pokemon, Lego, Minecraft, a SpongeBob SquarePants DVD and a giraffe doll stuffed with tools the kindergartners use every day, like pencils and crayons.
“Valley View is like returning back to college for me, there are always retired teachers, former students and parents coming in to say hello and that makes this school special,” Kim said. “When I came to this school as a teacher, Ms. Williams said I would be a principal someday, and I laughed, then I was under the mentorship of Vicki Nishimura, and here I am,” Kim added. Many of the teachers dropping by were way before Kim’s era.
“This has given me such great memories, it was a highlight in my 35 years of teaching,” said Sondie Tuttle, who flew in with her daughter from Colorado to attend the centennial at the school where she taught from 1996 to 2000. She left when the bungalows, which are supposed to be temporary classrooms, were added to the school and recalled, “Parents were always very involved at this school. It is small, and it has such personality.”
Former alum Brett Cook recalled in the late 1960s when he attended the school as a sixth-grader that there used to be a lot of bamboo behind the main building. “We used to call it the bamboo fort back there and it was a place where we went to make out,” Cook laughed. “I had my first kiss there. I see that the bamboo is not there anymore.”
Zimmer spoke directly to the students watching the centennial celebration and said, “This is a place where dreams start, and you have 220 beautiful dreams and the people here will help you achieve them.”