Read All About It While Getting Schooled with “The Siren,” the Hollenbeck Heights Middle School Newspaper, Boyle Heights, Los Angeles, 15 May 1924

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As has been mentioned here before, it can be challenging finding historic artifacts from our interpretive period of 1830 to 1930 dealing with young people and, typically, the most likely objects are those relating to education. So, this post’s featured item from the Museum’s collection is the 15 May 1924 issue of The Siren, the newspaper of Hollenbeck Heights Middle School, formerly Boyle Heights Middle School and now Hollenbeck Middle School, in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights, founded by William H. Workman and partners about a quarter century prior.

The campus opened in 1913 and, about a decade later, Theodore Roosevelt High School opened across 6th Street. Notably, there was a growing movement to rename parts of Boyle Heights (one story is that the name “Boyle” recognizing Workman’s father-in-law, Andrew Boyle, sounded too much like “boil”!) to Hollenbeck Heights. Just several blocks to the west of the school is Hollenbeck Park, named for early Boyle Heights resident John E. Hollenbeck, a capitalist of prominence in greater Los Angeles from 1875 until his death ten years later and two-third of which was given by Workman with the remainder donated by Hollenbeck’s widow Elizabeth Hatsfeldt.

So, in the middle Twenties a large swath of the community was known as Hollenbeck Heights, including a change to the name of the middle school. When Boyle Heights was soon recognized universally in the neighborhood, however, the middle school dropped “Heights” from its title and that name has remained in place for nearly a century.

As for this edition of the school paper, it was the twelfth number of the fourth volume and was published weekly by the journalism class. Among the officers of the publication were Editor-in-Chief Madge Hinman, associate editors Margaret Turpin and Luis Vega, literary editor Fannie Blank, advertising manager Will Reuben, circulation manager Morris Victor, staff photographer Denman Trout and staff artist Jacob Siegel. From these names, we can see some reflection of the diversity of the community, including Jews and Latinos along with whites, as Boyle Heights was one of the few areas of Los Angeles without race restrictions for property ownership.

The headline referred to an annual “Bundle Day” for Near East Relief, specifically providing assistance for survivors and refugees from the Armenian genocide carried out by the Turks from the decaying Ottoman Empire. The article stated that the 20th was a day for which

schools and colleges, Boy Scout troops, business firms, churches, lodges, clubs, etc., are all working together in a campaign for new or cast-off garments and non-perishable food stuffs to be sent to Greece, Syria and Palestine for the relief of poor, hungry sufferers.

It was added that “the need was great last year, but it is still greater this year” with warm clothing and shoes in particular need, so students were asked to bring such items in a bundle, while “other donations that are wanted are canned milk, dried fruits, dried beans and peas, rice and flour.” Moreover, the piece reminded readers that, in 1923, the school donated more than any school in California, so implored “let’s keep up our reputation and do the same this year.” Perhaps Boyle Heights’ diversity, working class demographics, and large proportion of Jews whose recent experiences with pogroms and centuries of persecution were always in mind were among the factors in the school’s success in generating assistance for this program.

The other main front-page article concerned the holding of “Parents’ Visiting Night” the following day, which was a Friday, and which was to last from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Informal visitations with teachers was to be take place at the cafeteria, the lunch room for instructors and the sewing room, while the last hour was held at the auditorium and comprised an address by the principal, B.W. Reed, a performance by the senior orchestra, Glee Club songs, reading, a Russian Dance, and a play by the Junior Dramatic Club.

With the celebration of Music Week in Los Angeles the previous week, the local Y.M.C.A. held programs each evening, including a Thursday performance by the Junior Boys’ Glee Club (filling in for the senior club, which could not make it) and those from other students. Highlighted was violinist Betty Moore who was projected “to be one of Los Angeles’ best musicians some day,” while pianist Helen Drum was rated as “very, very good. Also given kudos was violinist Leo Scheer, head of the Junior Symphony Orchestra, who performed in a trio with cellist Harry Glazer and pianist Marybelle Simpson, while other student performers included Samuel Brown, Samuel Levine, and Sarah Volman.

For female students, there was a third period discussion a week before on “that subject so dear to the feminine heart,” clothing. Featured speakers were a Mrs. Bromley and a Mr. Muster of the junior section of Bullock’s, the prominent Los Angeles department store. Bromley did not say much, but offered the advice, “Girls, be particular regarding the little details of your clothes. Dress very carefully and painstakingly, and then forget all about your appearance.” Muster demonstrated clothing types and styles and emphasized simplicity, naturalness and girlness, “rather than an attempt to imitate a movie queen,” while noting seasonal trends like lace, monograms and tucks.

Finally on the front page was a warning that “students who have no classes first period are to stay away from the building” because those hanging out in front were “very disturbing to classes in session.” Otherwise, they would be made to sit in the auditorium until their classes began. As for those who did not have a ninth period class, they were instructed “to GO HOME promptly” by putting books away and exiting the building, because “many students loiter in the locker rooms and halls, shouting, laughing, and creating general disturbance,” all of which was unfair to other students and to teachers in tenth period and this “MUST STOP.”

On page two, with respect to the school’s male population four female students were asked “What do you consider an ideal boy?” Mabel Simpson, a 9th grader, offered that he would be “one who has sportsmanship, and is businesslike, also is fill of fun.” Another 9th grader Winifred Bemont mused that it would be one “who is well up in his studies and can take a joke, play games, and work at the right time.” Sarah Manred, who was in the eighth grade, felt it was “one who does the duties which are expected of him, who does the right thing and also takes an interest in outdoor sports.” Finally, Mildred Irwin, a seventh-grader, stated he “is one who is obedient to his parents, courteous to everyone, and respects old age, and who does not use cigarettes.” While the youngest, Mildred may have been the wisest of the quartet!

Meanwhile, “A Boy” offered his view of “The Kind of Girl I Like Best” stating that she would be “courteous, silent in school, speak politely to pupils, and do not have be spoken to by the teacher much.” The unidentified student allowed that there were some girls at the school “who are very respectful and pleasant” and “don’t have to be either pretty or ugly, but should have polite manners and be neat.”

In the Book Lovers’ Corner, students offered views on several works, including Scaramouche about the French Revolution; Nobody’s Boy, concerning “how the peasant children are treated, beaten, sold and how their hearts ache; Real Americans, which concerned the fact that “birth, or whether one can trace one’s ancestors back to the Pilgrims does not always make a person a real American” as “it is the people that do the big, notable things or their country” that are such; and The Spanish in the Southwest, in which the student learned about Indians and “how they settled here and it also tells the things they ate,” such as frogs, grasshoppers, lizards and worms,” while the missions were also discussed. This student added “this kind of book never did interest me, but this book was put in such an interesting story form that I really enjoyed it.” Note the emphasis on the “story” in “history”!

A very interesting article concerned a first prize story by Agnes Budin, a seventh-grade student whose contribution was “The Autobiography of a Lion” about a creature taken from the jungles of Africa to be an exhibit in a circus and who found a little girl who was a dancer in the show and told the lion that she, too, was lonely and wanted to go home. The remarkable thing is the editor’s note, which stated:

Fifteen months ago Agnes Budin, the author of this story, could neither read not speak a word of English. This story shows just how much Agnes has been able to accomplish with the English language in that time.

Upon being congratulated on her success, she modestly replied, “Oh, I don’t deserve the credit. I have had wonderful teachers.”

Agnes migrated from Russia at the end of 1922 and went to graduate from Roosevelt High. Soon after, she married Gregory Ain, a University of Southern California School of Architecture dropout who disliked the classical emphasis of the program. He went to work for Richard Neutra, one of the great modern architects in Los Angeles and formed his own practice in 1935 and became a prominent figure in his field, though he and Agnes divorced in 1936. The following year, she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley and was a well-known psychiatric social worker, including work with young children, in the Bay Area.

Also of note on page four was the urging for voters to approve, on 3 June, a school bond issue of more than $36 million, with more than $19 million to go to elementary schools and the remainder to high schools. A $17.4 million bond approved two years earlier was quickly exhausted, but it was noted that many new schools, classrooms and buildings were constructed using those fund during a period of massive growth during yet another boom in Los Angeles.

It was noted, however, that “in spite of this extensive building program, there are approximately 750 half day sessions at the present time with more than 20,000 children out of school half the day” while classes were taking place in hallways, basements, tents and other totally unsuitable locations. With school attendance doubling since 1920 and an increase of 30,000 just during the 1923-1924 year (1923 was the peak of the boom), the article concluded, “it is to meet this increase in school population that the board needs the money it is asking for” and implored readers, “BOOST THE BONDS.” The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, with the final count being over 85,000 in support and about 4,000 against the issuance of the bonds.

The athletics page mainly concerned baseball action with a four-team league including Hollenbeck, as well as a classroom league ordered by grade level. The humor column, titled “Rib Tickers,” included gems like “Dad and I are great stockholders on a big cattle ranch,” to which a reply was “Is that so?” and the punchline was “Uh-huh, I hold the cattle while dad milks ’em” and “A Swedish man said to her mistress: ‘Ay vent to das movie las night,” and the latter asked if she saw Scaramouche, a 1923 action film starring Ramón Novarro, with the rejoinder being “No, no scare me mooch.”

Morris Victor offered a “History in Slang” based on Christopher Columbus and his telling some Italians that the world was round, to which “when the wise guys heard about it, they said it was bunk,” so “Chris” offered to demonstrate this by sailing westward and returning to the starting point. This lead to the fact that “everybody gave him the razz” so Columbus “hopped into his flivver and went around to the Kings of Europe asking for some dough to buy ships.”

When the Queen of Spain told him, “here’s my sparklers [jewelry]” he purchased his vessels and she ordered him to “go to it.” On arrival in the New World, he was met by “a delegation of redskins, headed by Chief-Oh-You-Jazz-Baby,” but, “on account of the prohibition law, Chris had to ditch his booze, but otherwise they had a keen time.” Finally, “after a few more trips, Chris was given the royal razz, and a few years later he croaked.”

More seriously literary were 7th grade prize poems, all written, perhaps not surprisingly, be female students. Juanita Wyatt, offered one on “Spring,” with the first stanza being “Oh, Spring is here! / As all doth know, / And every flower / Begins to grow” and for which she won third place. One of the second place winners was Zulene Hill for her versification on “Summer,” with the opening lines being “The birds sing sweetly in the trees, / For ’tis summer now, / The flowers swaying in the breeze / Send perfume through the bough.”

The winning work was by Lillian Wyllie, whose piece was on “Old Mount Lowe,” a famed local attraction for over 40 years:

Old Mount Lowe is capped with snow

And its neighbors are blanketed, too;

‘Tis a wonderful sight, in the Spring twilight

In the arc of the sky so blue.

I love the snow in the mountains

And the sun in the valleys below,

And the clouds that hand like curtains

On the brow of dear old Mount Lowe.

A “Girls Column” on the back page offered three recipes for desserts, including cocoanut cream candy, honey drop cakes, and brown sugar buns, while there was brief mention of an exhibit of baby clothing put on by chapters of the Girls’ Junior League. Notably, the students made these because they “are needed at the hospital for cases where mothers, whose babies are born at the hospital, are too poor to provide clothes for them.” This project was such that it was for “the girls of our league to find the enjoyment that such true service always brings.”

As we approach the end of our current school year, nearly a century later, and for general interest, this edition of The Siren is both entertaining and instructive and, with the Homestead’s holdings including almost thirty of the issues, we’ll be sure to share more of them in future posts.

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