Getting Schooled at Belvedere School, East Los Angeles, 25 September 1911

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

In the frenzy of the famous Boom of the 1880s which erupted throughout greater Los Angeles at the end of that decade, one of the many new subdivisions that arose was the Belvedere Tract, developed just over the eastern city limits of Los Angeles, though the area was called Boyle Heights (which is technically within the city).  The initial offering of sales for the tract took place in summer 1887 when the boom was its busiest.

First ad _Herald_Jun_17__1887_
Los Angeles Herald, 17 June 1887.

Very quickly, a Belvedere School District was organized, with an election of trustees held in late June 1888 and plans to open a school by the end of the month in the buildings of the original Occidental College, which had just opened the prior fall on Rowan Street.

Auction _Herald_Jun_27__1887_
Herald, 27 June 1887.  Notice the reference to Boyle Heights, though the parcel was outside Los Angeles’ eastern city limits.  The Presbyterian college site was the original location of Occidental College, now in Eagle Rock.

By early 1889, construction started on a dedicated elementary school building, designed by W.R. Norton of Los Angeles, though there was some early controversy. A resident of the district sued to halt the work because he claimed cronyism among the district’s trustees as to the location for the school and profiteering of trustees.

School first mention Times_Jun_24__1888_
First mention of Belvedere School, including the intention to open at the Occidental College site by the end of the month, from the Los Angeles Times, 24 June 1888.

The problem appeared to have been solved and work continued, with ads taken out for contractors in the summer.  By the time the school was completed, presumably in the last part of 1889, the great boom was going bust and times got tough economically.  A possible example of the fallout for the district was an advertisement taken out by district trustees calling for an election for a school tax on local residents to pay for the operation of the school.

School started Herald_Jan_1__1889_
A statement that the school, designed by W.R. Norton of Los Angeles, had “commenced,” Herald, 1 January 1889.


As Los Angeles grew dramatically in the first years of the 20th century, annexation was a common way for that to take place.  In early 1904, there was an effort to get areas around the school to be added to the city, including where the school was, but Belvedere remained in county territory.

School site lawsuit Herald_Mar_24__1889_
A lawsuit alleging fraud in selecting the school site was filed by a resident of the district, Herald, 24 March 1889.  

Meanwhile, the growth in population in the area led trustees to seek additions to the school on a few occasions, including in 1895, 1906 and 1908.  In the latter attempt, bonds were sold to pay for the project and, by 1910, the money was there to build a new campus.

Ad for contractors Times_Jul_21__1889_
This ad seeking bids from contractors appears to show the suit was resolved, Times, 21 July 1889.

The new school was dedicated at the very end of 1910, but, by then, it became obvious that a small district was not sustainable.  Talks were held to discuss having the area transferred to the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles Unified School District, even though the neighborhood was outside city limits.  The transfer took place early in 1912, but the existing bonds had to be paid off first before the LAUSD would agree to the transaction.

New bldg architect Times_Feb_13__1910_
A new school site, of brick and replacing the ca. 1889 frame one, was selected and architect John C. Smith hired to design a $35,000 campus, Times, 13 February 1910.

Today’s highlighted artifact in the “Getting Schooled” series is an excellent photograph of 4th and 5th graders in classroom 8 of the new Belvedere School (well, not quite a year old) taken by D.B. Hogan, a photographer who lived just a short distance from the campus.

New school Herald_Dec_30__1910_.jpg
The new campus opened at the end of the year, Herald, 30 December 1910.

On the reverse is a label by Hogan stating that he was sending sample photos to the school for distribution to teachers so they could be given to students to take home for their parents to review.  If families wanted prints, the cost was a quarter.  Hogan was sure, however, to caution staff “do not urge them, nor take their orders unless they bring their 25 cents, so you are sure their parents want them.”

Annexation headline Times_Jan_15__1904_
During an era of intense annexation by the City of Los Angeles, efforts were made to include the area around the school in the city, though this did not succeed there. Times, 15 January 1904.

The image shows the thirty-five students seated at their desks, while the female teacher stands at the back near a blackboard that identifies the grade levels, the classroom and the date.  What really stands out to this observer is that, all but two of the students and the teacher are white.  One girl and one boy look to be Latino.

Annexation map Times_Jan_15__1904_
A map from the same article as above showing proposed annexed areas.

Today, the student body is almost completely Latino and Belvedere Elementary is still on 1st Street and Rowan.  The school, in at least three forms, has been continuously operating since 1889, which has to make it one of the oldest schools in the LAUSD.

4th and 5th Grades School 25 Sep11
This cabinet card photograph from the Homestead’s collection, taken by D.B. Hogan on 25 September 1911, shows 4th and 5th graders in room 8 of the new Belvedere School campus.

As for the area, the name Belvedere remained for some years.  When the original East Los Angeles, the first east side subdivision when it was created in 1873, changed its name to Lincoln Heights, Belvedere and surrounding unincorporated county areas were given the moniker of East Los Angeles, which remains today.


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