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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.