History of Berendo
In 1910, Berkeley and Los Angeles Boards of Education authorized the first middle schools in California. Many were established, but only one of these schools is still in operation, continuously, on the same site, with the same name, serving the same community… Berendo Middle School. Here, then, is the history and spirit that makes Berendo Middle School a unique institution of learning.
In February of 1911, Custer Intermediate School first opened its doors. In September of the same year, four other junior high schools were established. Berendo Street Intermediate School, Thirtieth Street, Twenty First Street and Fourteenth Street all accepted students at the same time. Custer and Fourteenth Street Intermediate Schools closed a few years later. Twenty First Street became Lincoln High School. It is fitting therefore, that Berendo Junior High School claim the title as the oldest intermediate school continuously in operation in Los Angeles and perhaps in the entire United States.
Even before that, however, a school was housed on Berendo’s present site. In 1880, Rosedale School District was born. The community was composed of 79 people, a few dogs and horses. The average daily attendance in the school was 19. The community the school served was called the Pico Union Heights Village. The first teacher was James M. Smith, who ran a tight ship, and served as administrator, teacher, custodian and gardener. For this, he was paid the huge sum of $14 a month. As the population grew, another teacher was added, Miss P.W. Howard, and the school term was lengthened to eight months. In 1896 the school became known as the Pico Heights Elementary School with Kindergarten through Eighth Grade. The building, which was the home of a very rich woman who had died, was officially turned over to the community. A picture hangs in the Berendo Library showing some of the students being delivered to the school in horse driven carriages fitting the youngsters of this very wealthy community. Mr. Joseph Yoder was the principal of the school which thrived briefly until a devastating fire burned the building to the ground in 1898. Mr. Yoder was something of a hero as he fought the blaze with his trusty garden hose and rescued some books and pictures from his office.
The school was rebuilt and in 1900 Miss Ella Dickson became principal serving until 1911. Miss Dickson established a reputation as a fine executive and very strict disciplinarian. Spilling ink and dropping some chalk dust on the floor were punished with a visit to Miss Dickson. It was customary to sit still in class with hands folded and to listen to every word the teacher had to say. Talking except when called upon or passing notes to friends were not tolerated. Slates were used instead of paper. Each desk had a slate attached to it with a strong string. Slates were cleaned with a damp sponge. Being sponge monitor was an important job and greatly sought after by all good pupils in the classroom. “It was a roomy building with a big balcony.” It was on this balcony that Miss Gould and Mrs. Wilson put on many plays as the children assembled on the yard below to watch because there was no auditorium at the time. May Day programs were staged on the front lawn where flowering eucalyptus trees formed a beautiful background setting. The building faced Berendo Street and stretched in the back to Catalina Street where large pepper trees grew. A high wooden fence separated the school on the north from the homes occupying the site which is now the lower yard. “It was during those days that Miss Ellsworth took her art classes out to sketch the lovely stream that ran near the north boundary of the school to Vermont Avenue.” The old building was heated by stoves in all of the rooms except for four northernmost rooms which were heated by a crude furnace in the unfinished basement.
The school grew to 360 students and eight teachers. The kindergarten was continued long after the school became a junior high school because the parents refused to send their children across 16th Street to the “Bad Neighborhood”. The Berendo area was quite affluent and the parents had a great deal of political clout. Their wishes were usually granted.
In 1906 the name of the school was changed to Berendo Street Elementary School. A detailed search revealed that the word “burned” referred to a graceful antelope which was once abundant in various parts of California. These small animals roamed freely in Griffith Park and as far south as the Pico Union area. It was generally accepted that Berendo was named for these animals. However, a letter from the graduates of the first Berendo Junior High School class discovered in 1961 that the word “berrendo” meant fields of waving grain or the color of a wheat field that is turning yellow.
1911 was a very important year for Berendo. The school officially became Berendo Junior High School and it marked the arrival of Miss Rose Hardenberg as principal, a position she would hold for the next 22 years. An auditorium was built with the home economics department housed above it. The only entrance was on 12th Street. Students had to go outside in the rain occasionally to get to the auditorium. Previously, teachers taught all subjects. Now the students moved from class to class and each teacher specialized in one or more subjects. There was no Head Counselor to prepare a master program so there was probably some confusion. In 1914 and again in 1915, shop buildings were added with some equipment. An art bungalow was placed in the upper yard in 1917. Five lots were purchased on the north end of the school for a girls’ playground.
In 1915, Thomas Alva Edison visited Berendo and a community celebration was held at the school when the Panama Canal was completed. The school annual of 1917 supplied much information regarding life at Berendo during this early period. The students were very well dressed and most indicated aspirations of entering professional fields after graduation from college. Some students were chauffeured to school each day. Departments included Art, Domestic Science, English, French, Spanish, Latin, History, Mathematics, Mechanical Drawing, Music, Physical Training, Science, Wicker Work, Wood Work, Bookkeeping, Penmanship, Stenography and Typing. Most departments consisted of one or two teachers. Popular clubs included Hall Committee, Lost and Found Committee, Orchestra, Glee Club, Cafeteria Staff and A9 Dramatics Club. The library contained 1500 volumes (mostly donated) and the cafeteria served 350 students daily. The other 300 students must have brought their own lunch or had it catered. All food was at cost. The Science Lab was well equipped with a “splendid collection of minerals and a large balopticon, a type of early movie projector.” The school colors were gold and white.
Properly trained teachers were hard to find during World War I years and appropriate buildings for the growing student body were slow in coming. However, in 1924 a new shop building was added and boys were expected to take an Industrial Arts program while girls were offered Homemaking courses. By 1925, a two story building featuring fine and practical arts was finished. Today, this building is known as the Guild Building. A copy of the Print Shop Bulletin still exists and one article reveals that “Cap Trotter”, physical education teacher, hosted a conference on the proper techniques for running track events which was for boys only and utilized movies and slides. Cap Trotter would go on to become track and football coach at UCLA where he became famous for training many world class and Olympic champions. Berendo’s “athletic field” was later named for him as was the track & field stadium at UCLA.
As the school plot was increased to 3.5 acres a huge chimney was built for the furnace providing heat to the classrooms. In 1933 there was a memorable earthquake in the Southern California area. The chimney collapsed, crushing two classrooms. Fortunately, this happened on a Saturday and no lives were lost. A major building program was begun in 1936. While the main building (Crusader Hall) was being completed, the school went on half-day sessions but finally, in September of 1937, students and teachers moved into the new building. Mr. Pollotshek was hired as custodian, gardener and general handyman. He was an artist in Europe and couldn’t make a living in the United States. He slept in the basement of the main building next to the new furnace. Mr. Pollotshek painted all the signs for the school and he hand printed all of the fire drill instructions for every classroom. He guarded the school during the evenings and on weekends and was truly Berendo’s first security guard. He died in his sleep, in his room, in the basement in the early 1960’s.
The Auditorium, Cafeteria, and Gymnasium were all built in 1937. The Music Bungalow was added in 1955. Additional land was purchased to the west and north and in 1974, Kennedy Manor was built, which featured a complete Homemaking Department with demonstration rooms, Science labs, Art and Craft rooms, Special Education classrooms with partitions and a Teachers’ Lounge. By 1980, Guild Hall was finished as a state of the arts Industrial Arts building including Metal Shop, Woodshop, Printshop, and Television Studio. Additional areas were set aside for parking, maintenance, and physical education. A number of attempts were made to provide a large grass field for soccer and baseball but all proved to be unsuccessful. In the early 1990′s, Jaffe Hall was dedicated and the acquisition of land on the west side of Berendo Middle School was completed.
Mr. Frederick W. Shoemaker was the principal from 1933 to 1942. The school grew in population and the character of the community changed dramatically with the onset of World War II. As Japanese-American, Berendo’s largest ethnic group, were herded away to internment camps, their homes were “ceded” to others as well as their businesses. The apartment buildings stretching from Olympic Boulevard to Wilshire Boulevard became the Mecca for families of men and women working in the defense industries. The Pico Union neighborhood became truly mixed with all races represented. Life was hectic, vegetable gardens began to spring up and students were heavily involved in the war effort. Gangs also began to spring up. They had always been on the periphery, but never in the school itself. Riots were to occur in Downtown Los Angeles that spread to nearby communities. In 1942, Ellis A. Jarvis became principal of Berendo and served until 1946. He was a well respected educator and ran a very tight ship. He kept a bed in his office and often slept there, patrolling the neighborhood for vandals as well as acting as local air-raid warden. He later would be appointed Superintendent of Los Angeles City School System.
Mrs. Francis Z. Foster was appointed principal in 1946 after the War and served for three years. She was followed by Mr. William Ferguson(1949-1954), Mr. Leslie Heald(1954-1955), and Ms. Eileen Woodburn(1955-1959). These were years marked by a return to “normalcy” in the world, but the Pico-Union area was suffering through a period of upheaval and change. Japanese-Americans returned in large numbers to reclaim their property, war industry workers were returning to their homes in other states, immigrants from all parts of the world flocked to the area’s apartment complexes and Berendo Junior High was experiencing a declining enrollment and drastic curriculum changes.
Berendo offered a full range of clubs and organizations during this period including Student Council, Bees and Beavers Service groups, and a fine Jr. and Sr. Orchestra. Students were active in school affairs and enjoyed the after school programs. Teenclockers were responsible for dances, G.A.C. was a girls’ athletic program, Religious Fellowship, Home Echo, Red Cross Juniors, UNESCO, Brush and Pallete, Stamp, Chess and Checkers were all attended. Stop and Go featured some of the biggest boys at Berendo and they controlled the crossing of the streets surrounding the school. Anyone crossing in the middle of the street was sure to visit the Vice Principal. The dress code included boys wearing slacks and clean shirts and girls wore blouses and long skirts well below the knee level.
In 1959 Norma B. Gibson became Principal of Berendo. By this time Berendo had begun to grow in population and problems. She was destined to serve as head of the school for eleven years. It was her misfortune and Berendo’s good fortune that she ran the school during one of our nation’s most disruptive periods. The country and Los Angeles in particular was experiencing a rise in crime, a war that divided the nation, gang activity, economical and political turmoil and a break down in established patterns in all schools. Demonstrations, gang warfare and demographic changes in our cities caused problems were prepared for. Gibson gained a reputation as a tough, no nonsense administrator. Even the gangs respected her as Berendo began to grow in numbers of students dramatically. A Foreign Adjustment program was initiated and grew rapidly. A student newspaper called the Berendo Banner was published through the Print Shop and won national acclaim. Creative Writing, Graphic Art for girls, Drama and Advanced Foods classes were added to the curriculum. Dance Band, Science Club, Future Homemakers of America, Typing Service and many other clubs and organizations kept the students busy.
But the most dramatic events to occur during Mrs. Gibson’s tenure were the 50th Anniversary Celebration and Berendo assuming the Middle Ages as its central theme. The 1961 celebration of 50 years of Berendo History far exceeded expectations. Over 1500 former Berendoites attended. Famous movie stars and musicians performed and a vault was installed in the Main Hall outside of the office filled with pictures and memorabilia to be sealed until 1986 when the 75th Anniversary would be celebrated.
Students, parents, teachers, administrators and the clerical staff voted for the Middle Ages to be Berendo’s central theme. All clubs, organizations and even some of Berendo’s buildings were renamed to fit the new theme. Students would henceforth be dubbed the Crusaders. The theme caught on and has flourished. The Crusader Handbook was distributed to all new students so that they could assimilate to Berendo. Parliament (Student Council), Golden Torch (Honor Society), Sentinels (Hall Guards), Lords and Ladies (Service Groups) and Round Table (Senior Class Representatives) were just a few of the organizations that recognized members with sashes students wore during the school day. Many of these names still remain to this day. The school enjoyed eleven wonderful years under Mrs. Gibson’s leadership. The school library, which she had personally donated hundreds of books, was named in her honor.
Mrs. Clarice Simon replaced Norma Gibson as principal of Berendo in 1970 and served until 1975. Education in general and Berendo in particular suffered through a disastrous period. The nation was in political upheaval, funding for schools was cut, race relations were anything but harmonious, teacher morale fell dramatically, student walkouts and strikes caused a great deal of discontent and gang activity increased in the central city. Berendo was no exception to the chaos that followed. This was the low point in the history of Berendo Junior High. The physical plant deteriorated rapidly with graffiti everywhere, gum and filth piled up as discipline eroded and teachers became disenchanted with working conditions. Test scores hit rock bottom and class sizes grew as the School Board seemed unable to stem the downward trend in Los Angeles. Many outstanding teachers left the District in disgust and others simply retired. Untrained personnel from other occupations began taking jobs as temporary teachers but they proved to be too little, too late. A bitter teachers strike divided those who struck and those who didn’t.
Rosalyn Heyam became principal in 1974. In 1982, when she became Assistant Superintendent for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the faculty and parents received permission from the Board of Education to name the school auditorium in her honor. Her tenure as principal and that of John Liechty who followed her, became know as the Golden Age of Berendo. The change was sudden, dramatic and long lasting. Teachers, administrators, parents and students joined together in an effort to turn the school around. The physical plant was painted, graffiti removed, gum removed as well and flowers planted. Callers were greeted with the now famous, “Thank you for calling Beautiful Berendo”. The school’s appearance improved to such a degree that it won the highest honors in the L.A. Beautification contests year after year. This educational program was enhanced through federal funding. A team of proposal writers was formed and Berendo soon was rewarded with funding for many special programs and projects. A career center was built and staffed that became the envy of every school in the District. The Career Program was designated the State of California Model for Public Schools and often visited by dignitaries. A Television Studio was opened rivaling the District’s own, a computer center added and a multitude of new programs started which promoted enthusiasm among students and lifted the morale of the entire staff. Probably the most important happening was the feeling of family that developed which healed the wounds suffered in previous years.
Berendo was the first school in the nation to have a computer lab to help students learn. During the 1979-1980 school year 400 students spent ten weeks each learning basic skills (mostly math) on twelve Control Data Computers. Berendo was featured in Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal and hosted visitors, mainly educators, from all over the nation.
The school population grew as students enrolled anxious to join the Berendo “Team”. An articulation program was developed spreading the word to feeder elementary schools that Berendo was a safe haven and “the place to be!” The Berendo Marching Band and Drill Team won top honors against all Junior and even Senior Highs Schools. The Academic Pentathlon Team placed first against all Junior High and Middle Schools in the Los Angeles area. The Berendo Banner, the school’s newspaper, received “Excellent” ratings in the national and State of California competitions. Students enrolled in the Berendo Art program garnered a number of awards and scholarships. The awards program at Berendo rivaled those of all other schools, public or private, with hundreds of trophies presented to deserving students in an annual highly anticipated assembly. Attendance everyday was outstanding because students did not want to miss even one day of the exciting activities and programs. School spirit was at an all-time high, especially when a flexible schedule was introduced which allowed students to elect to take a class each week designed by teachers with special talents, skills or interests. These “mini-courses” included a wide range of subjects from Drama to Advanced Experiments in Science.
Many famous people graduated from Berendo Jr. High School during its first 45 years making lasting contributions to our society. Just a few include:
Jack Scholz – Gold Medal Olympic Champion – 200 meters – run – 1924 in the time of 21.6 seconds.
Cornelius Johnson – Gold Medal Olympic Champion – running high jump – 1936-6’7″.
Dr. Clyde Emery – Early experiments with X-ray Therapy.
Kathleen Key – Silent Movie Star – featured in “Ben Hur”. Graduated in 1917.
Edward Sklar – many years as Mayor of Oceanside, California.
Gene Mauch – Met his wife Nina at Berendo. He became an outstanding baseball player and was manager of the California Angels baseball team, as well as many other teams.
Jimmy Doolittle – General and World War II hero, winner of highest honors our nation can bestow. Planned and led the famous Tokyo raid using land based bombers launched from air craft carriers.
Leonard Pennario – World Renowned Pianist playing often at the Hollywood Bowl.
Albert Ralphs – Member of the Ralphs family that opened a chain of food markets. The original Ralphs Market was located near Berendo on Olympic Blvd.
Edgar Bergen – Famous Ventriloquist.
Mary Teitsworth – Famous Opera Singer.
Jane Wyman – Movie Star – Academy Award winner for her portrayal of a handicapped girl in “Johnny Belinda”. Married briefly to Ronald Reagen.
Mamie Van Doren – Movie Star and Sex Symbol. Famous for her “Aqua Velva Girl” advertisements.
Winfrey Hill – Renowned Actor of the New York stage. Performed before royalty in Europe.
Anita Louise – Excellent Actress for both movies and stage.
Hugh Brundige – Sportscaster
Willard Mullen – Artist and Cartoonist for several New York papers.
Houston Peterson – Professor of Philosophy @ Rutgers University.
Ray Bradbury – Internationally known science fiction writer. Many of his books were made into movies.
After the War through the 1950′s and more recently, additional students from Berendo have made an impact on our lives.
Miiko Taka – Movie Star… Played lead role in “Sayonara”.
Helen Funai – Movie and stage performer in “Flower Drum Song”.
J.J. Higgins – Bass fiddle player in Duke Ellington’s Band and Craig Hundley’s Jazz Trio. Performed many years in Las Vegas and on Television.
Francis Nakano – Principal of Jefferson High School, winner of the Senior High Administrator of the Year Award 1985, Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent LAUSD.
Bob Young – Superior Court Judge in Northern California.
Irene Higuchi Yamahara – Associate Superintendent LAUSD in charge of personnel.
Victor Harris – Shortstop for the Montreal Expos and the San Francisco Giants.
Gilbert Ledesma – Place kicker for the Los Angeles Rams and professional soccer player for the Maccabeas Soccer Team.
Eugene Tanaka – Professional baseball player for the Chicago White Sox.
Hugo Perez – Outstanding soccer player with the U.S. Olympic team in 1984 and played professionally in Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Daniel Montoya II – Manager of the Pico-Union Redevelopment Agency in charge of one the largest housing projects in the nation.
Margie La Casella – Winner of the American Legion Award, Berendo’s highest honor, Student Body Officer, victim of “Cooley’s Anemia” a deadly disease that almost always claims its victims in their early teens but with her courage and determination she lived to 28 and was able to graduate from L.A. High and L.A. Community College. She was an inspiration to all Berendo students and teachers.
Ellen Misawa – National Junior Baton Twirling Champion.