Charming country school a page out of the past

The following article first appeared on Page A-4 of the Sunday, December 7, 1969 edition of The Ojai Valley News. It is reprinted here with their permission.

Charming country school a page out of the past
Fred Volz

Once-upon-a-time there was this charming English cottage-style elementary school nestled securely under giant oaks. Four spacious classrooms with peekaboo windows looking out on an unmatched rural scene. The school was peopled by over one hundred happy children as was testified by the exuberant art work papering walls. There was even a pretty school teacher and a dashing young principal.

This once-upon-a-time is not a scene out of a Victorian novel. This once-upon-a-time is now – and the school is San Antonio, still operating gracefully in the orange groves on the corner of Grand and Carne roads in the east end of the Ojai Valley.

The Ojai Unified School board has been making their meetings a round robin of the eight schools in their district, primarily to survey maintenance problems. Last week it was San Antonio’s turn.

Of course, there were many things that needed fixing in a school built in 1927, but the school board didn’t dwell upon them. Their visit was pure nostalgia, perhaps for the scenes of their own childhood country school, or perhaps for the country school that never was.

School’s history

Wrote Ed Wenig in his newspaper column “The Intangible Spirit of Ojai” on October 12, 1961 . . . “when the so-called little Sagebrush Academy at the foot of Dennison Grade moved into a new school in the Upper Ojai Valley in the 1880’s to form the Ojai School District, the area in the east end of the valley was left without a school. The San Antonio School district, according to Dr. John Rogers, was formed in 1886 to fill the need.

“While the residents were waiting for an old granary to be moved into position, classes were held under the oaks. (They still are in nice weather). Shortly thereafter, a new school was built at the corner of Grand and Carne.

“In 1926, district parents wanted to bond themselves for a new school building. Not much opposition developed in the district, but W. W. Bristol, long identified with the Nordhoff School district, earnestly tried to convince San Antonio voters that their school district should consolidate with Nordhoff. He claimed that good roads spelled the doom of tiny schools.


“But residents were unconvinced. (They were still unconvinced in 1965 when they voted 2-1 against district unification.) The bonds passed and the present building was dedicated in 1927. Two classrooms were so arranged that the area could be converted into an auditorium. It was the largest in the valley. San Antonio school has now been enlarged to five rooms.

“When the school was built, among the trustees was an ardent Englishman, Fred Udall, Sr. According to Roy Wilson, Santa Paula architect who designed the school, this is why English cottage-type architecture was selected. The school was built for around $20,000.”

Lots of land

Outside of usual maintenance problems, San Antonio is as sound as the day it was built over 40 years ago. (Its 12 by 12 foot pillars are now supporting a new roof). However, its potential is yet to be realized.

Five acres of land in two soccer fields are largely unused and constitute an undeveloped recreation area for East-enders. The area could be converted into tennis courts, volleyball courts, a baseball diamond or a football field. The yard is now rough dirt, and water facilities would have to be installed. Barbecue pits and picnic areas would then be possibilities.

But the aura of another age slumbers under the oaks at Grand and Carne. Many pioneers in the valley fondly remember the school as a social center. In 1892 a reporter for “The Ojai” described such a social as “the most enjoyable gathering we have had the pleasure of attending. An admirable musicale and literary program was carried out. Social games were played and, of course, there were refreshments—coffee such as not every mother can make and palate-pleasing cake. The door receipts of $12 were turned over to the school as the beginning of a fund to buy either a piano or an organ.”

Now, 78 years later the coffee is still fresh and black, the cookies rich and tasty, the conversation neighborly.

In the library-classroom of the old school the board meeting was again a social occasion—for trustees, for parents, for the newspaper – just as it was 78 years ago in a happier, but less “enlightened,” year.








4 Replies to “Charming country school a page out of the past”

  1. I went 1st through 6th grades at San Antonio. No kindergarten, that was at Ojai Elementery. The first year I went there, they were still serving meals in the cafeteria, which was located in the main building. Then it was changed into the library. The kitchen became the teachers breakroom. I had 5th-6th grades in the classroom adjacent, which has a stage. The hitching post was still there to tie horses to, as was the old ball shed. We were taught to play soccer on the dirt and rock field by Martin Young’s dad. No shin guards lol We learned Spanish from Mrs. Olsen and our 4th or 5th (can’t remember which) Miss Evans, taught us French. We learned songs from the Singing Nun who was very popular at the time. Art was also incorporated into the school day and we did all of this without teacher aides/parents coming in to help. SRA was the reading program for quite a few years, reading color coded cards, to encourage reading. Every May Day we had May poles dances and jitney dinners (5 cents a scoop). Mrs. Berggren was our Principal and also my 3rd grade teacher. One year it rained so much we had a couple of inches of water come into our classroom. We shoved all the desks to the front of the classroom and sat on them for a while. Absolutely loved going to school there. It was like being in a private school.

  2. One of the best things to happen in my life was becoming the office manager at San Antonio School, a position I held for many years. Over that time, the principal (and the duties assigned to them by the district) changed often so there was always “new blood” at the helm while the teaching staff carried on with the important continuity of working together to create and sustain a wonderful school environment for the students. PTO parents worked hard to augment funding and make enrichment experiences available. Together, each administrator, each teacher and every involved parent brought their own set of strengths and skills to make it an excellent school for the children. The kids were a joy, as was seeing the incredible growth fostered between K-6! It’s true that the beautiful setting and unique architecture are a draw and a pleasure, and the sense of history there is definitely a nice addition to the school experience. But what makes a fine school is truly the people involved, and this small campus has it all.

  3. Years ago my friends went to an adorable tea room/gift shop there in Ojai. What was the name of that tea room? My sincere thanks for any info you can give me.

  4. Gail:

    I’ll bet you are referring to “Tottenham Court”. It’s no longer in business. It was about in the middle of the Arcade.

    — T. Drew Mashburn (“Ojai Valley Museum” volunteer)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.