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Putting Long Beach in Focus : Students Hike Into History on Museum's Building Tour

July 10, 1986|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A crowd of junior high school students, each with a Polaroid camera, formed a sprawling line along 1st Street.

"Look at the windows," said teacher Chris Brown, pointing to the beveled glass of a large, wood-paneled house. "Each pane is designed to reflect the light in a certain way."

A few shutters clicked. And within minutes, the students were comparing photographs of the historic Bluff Park home.

"I'm here because I like taking pictures and I like architecture," said Michael Holt, 11.

Added Todd Laulhere, 13: "We're learning about old and new Long Beach."

Three-Week Course

Indeed that's what seemed to be happening as the students hoofed their way along the sidewalks of the old residential area near the beach and later among the sparkling new buildings of the downtown redevelopment area.

The children are participants in a special three-week course offered by the University Art Museum at California State University, Long Beach. Its title: Get the Picture--Youth Focus on the Community. It's purpose: to acquaint junior high school students with their community, particularly its history and architecture.

"We want the kids to feel like a part of their community," said Brown, who during the regular school year teaches art at Hill Junior High School. "We want them to see where they fit in."

The course is also designed to help the students "develop an appreciation of the aesthetic values around them" and "keep an open mind to that kind of value," she said.

Initiated in 1983 by a $5,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the course--which meets four mornings a week--includes walking tours of such points of historic and architectural interest as Carroll Park and Rancho Los Cerritos, group interviews with longtime residents, visits with city officials and an array of lectures on Long Beach.

Exhibition Planned

At the end of the three weeks, according to Liz Chalfin, assistant curator of education for the museum, the students will put together an exhibition (scheduled for July 17 to Aug. 14) of their journals, photographs and art projects based on the course.

"When you take a picture, you spend a lot more time looking at something than if you just glance at it in passing," Chalfin said in explaining the course's emphasis on photography. "It's a very direct way for the kids to focus on sites and scenes."

While photographic and art supplies are paid for by the $75-per-student tuition, Chalfin said, the teacher's salary comes from the museum as part of its educational outreach program. "We'd like to make the connection with (the kids) that the museum is there for children too," Chalfin said. "We'd like to develop their sense of comfort in the museum and their understanding of how an exhibition is developed and presented."

Comfort seemed much in evidence on the third day of class last week as the eight students attending the course, accompanied by city planner Harold Simkins, strolled through the downtown area observing the mix of the old and the new.

Comfort seemed much in evidence on the third day of class last week as the eight students attending the course, accompanied by city planner Harold Simkins, strolled through the downtown area observing the mix of the old and the new.

"There's a good example of Art Deco," said Simkins, pointing to a building on Pine Avenue.

Lesson on Redevelopment

During an earlier meeting at City Hall, Planning Director Robert Paternoster outlined for the children the city's plans for redevelopment. "Maybe some of them will bring their parents down to see it," he said afterward, referring to the downtown area.

Not all the kids, however, were willing to devote all their attention to capturing interesting architectural examples on film. While classmates aimed their cameras at a historic residence on Ocean Boulevard, for instance, Holt squeezed off a shot of a cat lolling on the building's front lawn. And Laulhere at one point seemed more interested in shooting a passing bicyclist than listening to what his teacher had to say about old houses.

"Cycling's my favorite sport," he explained.

But for most of the students most of the time, the subject of buildings seemed sufficiently diverting. Holly Owens, 13, a resident of Pacific Grove in Northern California, who is spending the summer with her father in Whittier, said she found Long Beach fascinating. "(Back home) you have all these modern buildings," she said. "Here it's like you're somewhere else . . . every house is different."

And Sydney Gordon, also 13, said she was glad that her mother signed her up for the course. "It's gotten me out of the house," she said. "(Otherwise) I'd probably be watching television."

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