by Paul R. Spitzzeri
At last Wednesday’s early morning live broadcast of ABC7’s “In the Neighborhood” segment highlighting La Puente, I was interviewed by general assignment reporter Sid Garcia, who grew up in the area. I brought with me three artifacts from the Homestead’s collection to share, thinking that one from each of our focus decades from our interpretive period—the 1840s, 1870s, and 1920s—would be a good approach.
Because there was so much going on and so many community elements to touch upon, I only had time to discuss the first two objects, an 1842 amendment to the grant to Rancho La Puente giving William Workman the privileges of (if not the actual title of) ownership and an 1870 “Map of Puente Valley” Workman had drawn up to account for grants of land to his son, two grandsons and his ranch foreman.
When it came time for the third artifact, however, it was time to move on to hearing from the excellent marching band at Bassett High School, so I was left holding today’s featured artifact in my hand, while rushing to get the grant document and the map back from the Bassett students who held them on-camera.
It’s too bad we didn’t get to it, because this student memory book, titled “Happy School Days” from Puente Union High School (now La Puente High), dating to 1925, is a great piece of early La Puente memorabilia. The book was kept by Esther M. Schultz (1907-1976), whose father George owned an orange grove on Del Valle Avenue between Temple Street and Amar Road.
Esther was born in Fullerton, where her father lived for many years after migrating with his family from Nebraska and where he worked as a carpenter. Her mother, Rosa Lenton, was from a small town near Birmingham, England, but migrated to the United States as a small child, living on the east coast for some years before coming to Long Beach, where her father ran a nursery. Rosa had a first marriage before her nuptial with George Schultz. By the outbreak of World War I, the Schultz family, which also included younger daughter Eleanor, moved to Puente and took up raising citrus.
As to the memory book, it is filled with great photographs of Esther, her classmates, and some of the faculty, including class advisor Harris Winters standing in what looks like a tennis court and music teacher Benedict Bantly standing near a pillar of a building. Bantly, two of whose children I did an oral history with back in the 1990s, was also the music teacher for the Temple children when they were at the Homestead outside of school.
One of the pages has photographs of “The Bunch,” presumably Esther’s closest classmates, with one of these being her cousin, Elsie Lenton. Elsie’s father, Albert, a dary farmer was the brother of Esther’s mother Rosa and the two families lived adjacent to each other for a period before the Lentons took over running a boarding hotel in Puente.
Also notable among the photographs in the book are a few featuring Nellie Didier, who married Walter P. Temple, Jr. in 1934. A senior portrait of Nellie was in a group under “The Bunch” with another snapshot shows her behind the chain-link fence of what appears to be a tennis court and a third in a group of about two-dozen students and Mr. Winters near a recently planted class tree. She was also listed among class officers, serving as secretary-treausrer the first semester and class president during the second. There are three images with Nellie in them.
It’d be almost too obvious to say that Esther was friends with Nellie, but that’s because, unlike our modern suburban schools, Puente Union High was a rural school, with a grand total of 38 graduating seniors in Esther’s Class of 1925. Of these, four were Latinos and one was Japanese, with almost all of them apparently represented in several pages of the book. One of these, Roy Corwin, married Esther’s cousin, Elsie Lenton.
A few of the photographs also show elements of the school, including nice view of the campus with its attractive Mission Revival architecture (evidenly, one building from the era remains), including ivy growing on the walls of the main structure, and another showing what looks like a girls’ home economics class in one of the classrooms.
Other pages have photos of Esther and fellow students at on-campus events and off-site ones, such as a convention in the local mountains, while a graduation page has a full-length image of her, as well as pasted-down material swatches and her dried corsage. Another page has clippings from the school newspaper and there is one with a pasted-down program for a Valley League Field Meet for track and field events held at PUHS in spring 1924.
As for Esther Schultz, she remained in Puente for many years after her high school graduation, working for a time as a music and vocal instructor out of the family home on Del Valle Street (this probably explains why her high school music teacher, Mr. Bantly, was featured in the book). She never married and stayed in the area, dying just after her 69th birthday in 1976.
Her memory book of “Happy School Days” is a rare personalized item from a time when the town of Puente was the center of an agricultural region dominated by walnut and cirtus farming. It is an excellent document, along with the fourteen Puente High yearbooks, dating from 1920 to 1932, the Homestead has in its collection of teenage life and secondary education in the region and can provide compelling comparisons and contrasts with how teens and high schools are today.