The Mason Chronicles (2)

The San Antonio School

By David Mason

“Amid much rejoicing, San Antonio’s new school building was formally presented to the district last Friday night. The whole community has been watching with interest the erection of this attractive structure, which makes of the San Antonio corner another beauty spot for our valley.”

The Ojai, April 8, 1927

The year was 1887, and President Grover Cleveland, in his first of two terms as president, was still enjoying his honeymoon with the former Frances Folsom. The White House was a hub of social activities, while in a little valley in California, a new school was being formed. The importance of this rather small school may not have made the national news, as the White House wedding had, but to the people of Ojai, it was another step in the development of the valley.

The San Antonio School was established in 1887 and was formed as an independent school district. An even smaller school, The Sagebrush Academy at the foot of the grade road, had closed down because most of the students lived in the upper valley and they wanted a school closer to home, so they had created the Summit.

The few children living in the East End of the valley were then left without a school to attend, except for some small private schools that were scattered around the area.

At first, the students gathered and held their classes under a large oak tree. Then an old granary that was no longer in use on a nearby ranch was put into operation as a classroom. Finally, three acres on the southeast corner of Grand Avenue and CarneĀ Road were purchased from the Beers family for $25, and the first San Antonio schoolhouse was built. The schoolhouse was a lovely Victorian structure, put up in record time using volunteer carpenters, and when completed it was an impressive building, especially for such a small, rural community. It had a fancy bell tower and a flagpole with the American flag flying high in the sky.

Fred Udall Jr., an early student, wrote about his years in attendance at San Antonio School:

“Even the Pledge of Allegiance was simpler in those days, but we put a great deal of sincerity into saying it. As I recall, it went something like this: ‘I pledge allegiance to the flag, and to the republic for which it stands. One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’ Our teachers asked us to think about the words we were reciting as we faced the flag before starting the school day. We didn’t need to name the country in the pledge, we knew we were Americans.”

By the late 1920s, classes had outgrown the stately Victorian schoolhouse, so the school board commenced to make plans for building a new and larger school. The school board, wanting a special type of building, hired Roy Wilson, a Santa Paula architect.

Wilson came with his family to Los Angeles in 1902 and settled near the Arroyo Seco, in an area known today as Highland Park. Roy left school after the seventh grade and took various jobs to supplement the family’s income. One of those jobs was as a draftsman for local architect, Edwin Thorne, who inspired him to learn more about architecture, and Roy was persuaded to move to Berkeley to study at the university.

Upon his arrival in 1906, the great San Francisco Earthquake hit and destroyed much of the city. His formal education was abruptly cut short and through his help in the re-building of the city, practical experiences became his teacher.

In 1914, Wilson discovered the small town of Santa Paula, purchased 40 acres of land and planted a citrus orchard. He opened a small architectural office in Santa Paula, and in 1924 became the first licensed architect in the county of Ventura. Many of the outstanding buildings that add to the beauty of The Ojai are the creations of this talented man.

Among his structures are the Ojai Elementary School building; the Nordhoff High School campus, now Matilija Junior High School; Bill Baker’s Bakery; various buildings at Krotona; and the science building at The Thacher School. Many of our 1920s-style Spanish mansions are also the work of this great architect.

One of the San Antonio School trustees was originally from England, and he was in favor of the new building being built in the English Tudor style, because the style would then remind him of his homeland. The school board voted in favor of that style, so Wilson was instructed to design a building that would have the look of being English, in contrast to the more familiar Spanish style that was being used in
Ojai Valley.

When completed in 1927, the architecture was indeed unique, yet harmonizing with the surroundings, and would symbolize a school district within the community whose choice it was to preserve its own individuality, but whose earnest desire it was to work with the other buildings for the good of all. The interior of the building was roomy and pleasant and adequately equipped. The two classrooms, separated by a large folding divider, could be opened up to make an auditorium. The stage area was the largest in the valley at that time. The overall effect was delightful, and it served the East End of the valley well.

The school year of 1929 opened with an enrollment of 28 students in the entire school. When I went to school there, from 1949 to 1951, my class consisted of five students, two boys and three girls. My class, however, was not as small as my mother’s class. She attended San Antonio when it was still in the Victorian building, and she had two students in her class.

The little English Tudor school finally gave up its independence in 1965 and joined the Ojai Unified School District. The school building continues to bring a lot of joy to people in the Ojai Valley. The Ventura County Cultural Heritage Board wanted to declare this building a county landmark, but was turned down by the school board. Perhaps someday, this worthy building will have the honors bestowed upon it that it so rightfully deserves.



The above column originally appeared in The Ojai Valley News in 1999. Republished with permission.

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