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Loss of Sentimental Bell Takes Its Toll on School

August 28, 1988|CHRISTOPHER KRUEGER | Times Staff Writer

Once it was the centerpiece of Garfield Elementary School, a big, bronze bell that summoned local children to class. Later, when the one-story building housed Olympic Continuation High School, the bell was sounded by seniors as a graduation ritual.

But now, the bell tolls for no one.

The sentimental former centerpiece, saved when the old school building was razed two years ago, has been accidentally destroyed, according to officials of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

"Much to our regret, it is gone," said Rita Esquivel, assistant to the superintendent, "absolutely gone. My heart breaks. The bell had been here some time, and it's an emotional item for people."

4 Feet in Diameter

The bell, measuring about 4 feet in diameter and 3 feet in height, had been taken from its belfry when the old school at 1651 16th St. was removed and replaced with an administration building for the district.

Placed in storage, the bell disappeared three or four months ago during a routine cleaning of the school district warehouse, said Tim McNulty, district director of special education. After some searching, school officials realized the bell had been inadvertently sent with trash to a garbage dump, he said.

"The bottom line is that an error was made. There's nothing we can do about it," McNulty said. "The person who had ordered the cleaning of the shop feels real bad."

The bell dated to the opening of Garfield Elementary in 1933. "I imagine it was rung in the morning way back when to get kids from the fields because there were truck farms around here," McNulty said.

In 1963, the grammar school was displaced by Olympic Continuation High School, which moved to another location in Santa Monica when the building was razed two years ago. At the high school, students can earn their degrees if they can't attend the district's regular high schools for one reason or another. Because of the individualized academic programs, students graduate from Olympic throughout the school year.

"When a kid would graduate, the bell would be rung. Everybody would know someone had graduated and feel good about it," McNulty said.

The district had hoped to mount the bell as a monument in front of the administration building, McNulty said.

Bill Shea, principal of Olympic since 1975, said the bell was rung only at graduation--giving the rite of bell-ringing extra significance.

"It's kind of sad that tradition was put on hold for awhile and then trashed," Shea said.

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