Read All About It While Getting Schooled with The Siren, Boyle Heights Junior High School, 30 November 1922

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As yesterday’s post noted, the “Read All About It” series on this blog features newspapers from the Homestead’s holdings and, while many of them are from the 19th century, specifically the first half of the 1870s, we have a good number that go through 1930, the end of our interpretive area. One of the specialty areas concerns school newspapers and, while there aren’t a great many of these in the collection, we have at least two groups of note: one called The Poly Optimist from Los Angeles Polytechnic High School (now the John H. Francis Polytechnic in Sun Valley in eastern San Fernando Valley) and dating to the mid-1910s and another under the banner of The Siren from Boyle Heights Junior High School (now Hollenbeck Middle School) and spanning the early 1920s. A post earlier this year covered a 1924 issue of this latter publication.

Here we look at the seventh issue of the first volume of The Siren, published on 30 November 1922 and, given that it is not very easy to find historic artifacts from the era related to young people of the junior high school age, it is quite interesting to read the pages of the journal. it should also be noted that Boyle Heights, established in 1875 by William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William Workman and Nicolasa Urioste, and partners Isaias W. Hellman (a Bavarian-born Jewish banker of great prominence) and John Lazzarovich (a merchant who hailed from Croatia and married into the well-known López family which settled in the 1830s in what became Boyle Heights, was becoming increasingly ethnically diverse.

The eastside neighborhood was predominantly white in the last quarter of the 19th century and in the early years of the 20th, but its proximity to a growing industrial core in downtown meant that more working-class people settled there, but there was also the matter of “restrictive covenants” in which most areas of the Angel City banned minority groups from buying property, excluding areas south and east of downtown, including Boyle Heights. This is why there was an expanding population of Latinos, Asians and Blacks in the community along with Jews, Italians, Russians and others, making the neighborhood a remarkably diverse one for much of the 20th century.

As noted in the prior post sharing that later issue of The Siren, the school opened in 1913, but it was not until 1923 that Theodore Roosevelt High School, located across 6th Street from Boyle Heights Junior High opened. During that decade, students from the latter went to Lincoln High in what was known as East Los Angeles until that neighborhood (which predated Boyle Heights by just about two years) was rechristened Lincoln Heights and the community east of Boyle Heights, previously known as Belvedere Gardens, was renamed East Los Angeles.

So, as an example of the transition period involved here, the headline for the front page noted that Kenneth Rundquist, who was the joke editor for the newspaper, secured election in a close contest to win the presidency of the A9 class, while the subheading announced that Evelyn Ballman was chosen vice-president (the offices of secretary and treasurer were subject to run-offs at an undetermined date.) Sam Balter, the features editor, had a byline for the piece, which opened with his observation that,

Such is life. While the issue is at hand, there is excitement, bewildering noise, hubbub, and a general air of wild disorder. After the die is cast, there is nothing save perhaps a disappointed young fellow. There we have the election predicament among the A9’s in a nutshell.

Balter went on to offer a quote from one of the girls in the class, who expressed enthusiasm about the proceedings and then recorded that, following the vote, stated, “I’m sorry he didn’t get it. Did you do your algebra?” He went on to ask, “but why all the nonsense?” and added that “you are probably dying to know the results of the election,” following this with, “do not die. you have much to live for” when offering the results. After noting the tallies, he inquired, “Is your thirst quenched? Or are you hungry for more information? You are? All right, let’s go!”

The further details noted the Rundquist barely defeated Maurice Nathan (the editor-in-chief of The Siren who went on to graduate from Occidental College and then worked as a salesman for the American Chicle Company, which established the chewing gum industry with products like the Adams and Beeman brands), while Ballman “simply ran away from her other competitors.” The article ended with the note that principal Burt W. Reed, whose nearly half century of teaching in Los Angeles began in a two-room schoolhouse at San Pedro and included a tenure as assistant superintendent of city schools as well as nearly two decades at Boyle Heights/Hollenbeck, telling the A9 class that he hoped they’d be the best yet, to which the reply “to all concerned [was] that there will be no doubt but that they will be.”

As for Balter (1909-1998), he went to attend UCLA where, as a sophomore and as the smallest player on the roster, he played on the varsity basketball team. While working for Universal Pictures, he played on the studio’s AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) squad and, in 1936, the team defeated a Kansas outfit (there were no professional leagues yet, with the NBA not formed until after the Second World War—one of the Kansas players, guard John Gibbons, was actually from La Habra in Orange County) and players from both teams formed the roster to represent the United States in the first basketball tournament in the Olympics, held that year in Berlin.

Balter was the only Jew on the squad, with a Long Island team boycotting the games because of the virulent anti-Semitism of Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and the guard-forward averaged 8.5 points for the team, which won the first contest against Spain by forfeit and then rampaged past Estonia (52-28) and the Philippines (56-23) before cranking out low-scoring victories against México (25-10, with Balter leading all scores with 10 points) and Canada (19-8) to win the gold medal. It should be noted that games were played outdoors on a sand-and-clay court and that heavy rain meant that scoring in the final was very limited! Not only that, but there was a international rule limiting teams to seven players, so the U.S. squad was divided into two and played alternating games, which meant Balter sat out the final with his Universal teammates.

Already a local sports legend, Balter became a well-known announcer for the Cincinnati Reds major league baseball team, as well as the Los Angeles Angels and Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League circuit and did commentary for the first televised football game in the area, a 1948 contest between USC and Utah (who are meeting for the Pac-12 title on Saturday with the Utes edging the Trojans at home 43-42 earlier in the season, making that SC’s only loss on the season.) Balter was sports director at KLAC from 1946 to 1962 and was also with KABC, while he was a columnist for the sports page of the Los Angeles Herald-Express.

Speaking of radio, it so happens that the student body president Rundquist (1905-1990) developed a career that was tied to local broadcasting. A native of Astoria, Oregon, he lived just outside Boyle Heights limits in what became East Los Angeles, but, after graduating from the junior high school, he went to Lincoln High, where he was involved in music and theater. From his freshman year, he gained attention for his rich baritone voice and frequently appeared on radio programs over close to two decades, along with many live appearances.

One of the stranger aspects of Rundquist’s life was that, while he was married to actor Charlotte Thompson, she was working as a stand-in for Evelyn Keyes (probably best known for playing Scarlett O’Hara’s sister in Gone With the Wind) in a May 1943 film shoot when she was toppled by a chimpanzee and filed suit against its owner and trainer claiming adverse psychological effects and won a small judgment of over $1,500. As for Rundquist, he continued to perform locally until at least the mid-1950s, but lived in obscurity in a Huntington Beach mobile home park until his death.

Ballman (1908-1993), too, had an interesting life. She went to Roosevelt High when it opened and was on the yearbook staff there. Treasurer of a Camp Fire Girls troop (the organization was established in 1910) when she was attending Boyle Heights Junior High, she continued her involvement with the organization for roughly a half-century. Married and the mother of a daughter, Ballman, known as Evelyn Donker, was a pianist for the Los Angeles City playgrounds department through much of the later 1920s and then was a paid field leader and council executive director for the Camp Fire Girls, first in the San Fernando Valley while she and her family resided in North Hollywood and then in Orange County.

Another front-page article concerned a visit to the school by Marcus C. Bettinger (1855-1935), a member of the Board of Education and a native of New York who came, as so many people did, to Los Angeles in 1885 because of his wife’s poor health. Like principal Reed, Bettinger started off in a small school in the Angel City and worked his way up to principal of the 30th Street School, south of downtown and east of USC, holding that position for fifteen years. This was followed by the same length of time, 1903-1918, as assistant superintendent (as Reed was), after which he retired and he also long operated a dairy at Artesia. Yet, he served on the school board from 1921 to 1923, following this with service on the Municipal League and five years (1924-1929) on the Social Service Commission. One of his three sons, George, a graduate of LA Poly and who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at USC, was a long-time teacher and principal at Alhambra High School and then superintendent of that city’s schools.

Bettinger joked that “I can’t see the school because of the pupils,” noting that there were 1,650 students, but only 950 seats, which obviously explains the need for A and B divisions for the classes. He told the assemblage that “the most important point . . . was that it’s not schools, books, or teachers that really make the person, but the person makes himself.” Th idea was to “think clean, wholesome, worthwhile thoughts” to act in those ways. After the oration, the students sang the national anthem and one of the school songs. The article noted that “it was the first time in the term that we had songs in the auditorium” so it was suggested that “now that we’ve made a start let’s keep it up.”

Another article on the front page concerned an address given to the “A9’s” by Thomas H. Elson, the newly appointed principal of Roosevelt High, coming from a tenure as principal at San Pedro High School. Elson, the unidentified writer noted, “impressed us all as one of the most wonderful that we have ever seen,” but adding that Mr. Reed was also quite wonderful. Moreover, the piece went on, “Mr. Elson is one that is interested in children, and one that will do and is going to do all that is in his power to make our high school the best possible.”

In fact, it was said that once he described the campus and explained the coursework, “many of the A9’s have changed their minds and are now planning to go to Roosevelt.” It was further stated that “the school, when completed, will consist of three buildings, a good-sized athletic field, and one of the largest school auditoriums in the city.” Though it was averred that more details could not be shared, the article ended with the observation that “the school will have just about everything that any other high schools have and in some cases more things.”

The “Editorial Comment” page continued with “The Code of the Good American” with discussion on workmanship and teamwork, while a “Faculty Comment” section concerned courtesy. Because of the recent Thanksgiving holiday, there was a short origin of the day, compiled from material in the Los Angeles Record newspaper and concerning the harvest festival of the 55 surviving of the 101 Pilgrims in 1621, with the addition that the group saw a Thanksgiving Day observance among the Dutch in the Netherlands before coming to America. Not mentioned at all, however, in the short piece were the native Americans.

Elsewhere, four students and a teacher were asked what they were thankful for with two students expressing gratitude for their family, one saying that she was grateful “my body and soul run in rhythm,” the fourth noting “that we have something to eat, a roof over our heads, and peace in our land.” The teacher added he was thankful for his health, which was more important than anything else.

“Ye Classroome Gossipe” included notes from the many rooms in the school, while the Athletics page included news on soccer, football and volleyball games, as well as boxing matches, along with some discussion of college gridiron contests, but from outside the region. The Rib Ticklers humor page included such choice jokes as “Why do the wild waves continually moan and sob? / Because every time they go up against the bank they go broke,” while Balter had his “Smart Crax” feature with a football related poem:

He made a run around the end, was

tackled in the tear,

The right guard sat upon his neck,

the fullback on his ear.

The center sat upon his legs, two ends

sat on his chest,

The quarter and the halfbacks then

sat down on him to rest.

The left guard sat upon his head, a

tackle on his face.

The coroner was next called in to sit

upon the case.

Other small features included a “Puzzle Box” word game, a poem by Mary Pollock about the first Thanksgiving (“From far across the sea they came / That little Pilgrim band, / That they might workshop as they would / Not at a king’s command” with the only reference to the indigenous people being “The governor then proclaimed a day / To thank the Lord above; / The Indians for guests they bade / To show the white man’s love,” though what resulted over the centuries that followed was generally anything but that), an part of a serial called “Treasure Mountain” by Melvin Allison.

A Thanksgiving-themed cartoon tied to the student council election was drawn by Murray J. McClellan (1907-1994), who was an insurance agent at times, but also had a long career as an animator at Walt Disney Studios, where he worked on such classics as Snow White, Fantasia, Song of the South and many others. Finally, advertisements are always interesting to see and there are plenty of local ones of note, as well as one of interest for Christmas from the well-known Silverwoods men’s clothing emporium.

Check back from time to time for other school newspaper entries in the “Read All About It” series, including more issues of The Siren.

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