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Saddened Alumnae, Students, Staff Bid Farewell to Damaged Building

December 11, 1987|HUGO MARTIN | Times Staff Writer

ALHAMBRA — Mildred Harrigan, a 1938 graduate of Ramona Convent School, remembered rubbing green chalk around her finger and telling the sisters that her school ring had turned her finger green, a hoax the sisters didn't appreciate.

Anita Parker, a 1949 graduate, recalled that her senior prom was canceled because she and her friends had been caught smoking cigarettes behind the school gym.

Constance Lodell, a 1921 graduate and, at 85, one of the school's oldest living alumnae, fondly remembered taffy pulls and hayrides.

These and other memories were relived Sunday as more than 1,000 graduates, students and friends of the Ramona Convent School held a Mass "celebrating the past, the present and the future" of the 98-year-old school. The reunion came just a week before the school's earthquake-damaged administration building is slated to be demolished.

Mary La Haye, a 1939 graduate and past president of the alumnae association, said the crowd that packed the school's gym was "the largest ever assembled here." But it was no surprise to her. "The alumnae are very devoted to this school."

Chance to Reminisce

The Mass, celebrated by Father Bernard O'Conner of San Gabriel Mission, and reunion not only provided old friends with a chance to reminisce, but also gave them a final opportunity to bid farewell to the landmark building.

The school had planned to raze the 90,000-square-foot, four-story building and its twin towers over the summer because it did not meet seismic safety standards. But alumnae persuaded the Alhambra City Council to pass a temporary ordinance barring its demolition.

The city repealed the ordinance after the Oct. 1 earthquake severely damaged the building. The structure's walls, made of unreinforced brick covered with stucco, suffered numerous deep cracks.

Only the main building's first floor, which includes an auditorium, chapel and administrative offices, was being used at the time of the quake. The upper floors had not been used since the school stopped taking boarding students in 1983.

The building, which has been closed since the quake, will be replaced with a one-story, mission-style building expected to cost about $1.5 million. The new building will contain offices but not an auditorium, said Sister Annunciata Bussman, principal.

More Than 600 Students

The Roman Catholic girls' school, founded in 1889, has more than 600 students enrolled in grades seven through 12.

"It's really a shame," Alhambra City Councilwoman Barbara Messina said as she watched a slide presentation on the building after the Mass. "This building is part of the history of the San Gabriel Valley. It's unbelievable that they are tearing it down."

Messina, who sat with Mayor Mary Louise Bunker, City Manager Kevin Murphy and Councilman Talmage Burke, said she was also upset to learn that the school plans to sell much of the furniture in the building at a demolition sale Sunday. Antiques will be saved for possible use in the new building, school officials said.

The slide presentation, arranged by Terri Cardinali, a 1970 graduate who is a sculptor and photographer, brought cheers and sighs from the audience.

The slides showed some of the building's most treasured artifacts, as well as more mundane features, such as bathroom stalls.

Messages Scrawled

Others showed the graffiti-covered walls in the attic of the administration building. One graduate said it has been a longstanding tradition for members of the graduating class to sneak past the watchful sisters to scrawl messages on those walls.

One such message, scratched into a window sill, read: "Gina, Lisa, Eileen & Rena will meet in this spot 20 years from Feb. 1, 1983."

Cardinali said she plans to turn the 140 slides into a color photo album, which will be available to alumnae and students.

Mary Louise Ives, 84, who graduated in 1921, couldn't recall much from her school days except that they were "very happy times." Lodell, who attended Ramona with Ives for 11 years, still refers to herself and her friend as "the girls."

"Most of our class is gone now," said Lodell, who still enjoys visiting the campus.

'Center of School'

A younger participant in the Ramona tradition, 16-year-old Alina Preciado, expects to graduate in 1989, the school's 100th year. She said she will miss the building. "It's the center of the school."

Preciado, however, accepts its fate. "I know there is nothing we can do about it," she said.

Shirley Stanger, a 1949 graduate, is one of the few who believe that the building can be saved. "This town will never be the same," she said. "This building is a big part of my life. It is as much a parent to me as my own parents."

La Haye said Sunday's reunion and the planned destruction of the building have only strengthened the school's tradition. "This is never going to die," she said.

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