Students at Tarzana Elementary School are getting back their pride and joy today.
The object of their passions is a 90-foot-long span of concrete and steel listed by the Los Angeles city Department of Public Works as the Wilbur Avenue bridge. But to students at Tarzana Elementary, the popular walkway will always be known as the "Snoopy" bridge after the colorful "Peanuts" characters painted on its side.
At 9:30 a.m. today, balloons will fly, children will march, and a politician will pontificate in celebration of the official reopening of the bridge, which crosses Wilbur Avenue just south of Collins Street.
To outsiders, the bridge is just a means for pedestrians to cross the street safely. But to students at the school, the bridge was a friend they were cut off from in January when the city closed it because of quake damage to its support columns.
At the urging of City Councilwoman Laura Chick, the Department of Public Works accelerated the repair schedule, and the bridge was back in business May 6.
When the bridge was built in 1971, it became a symbol for the school, according to Mendie Koenig, the school's principal from 1972 to 1987. Constructed to help schoolchildren cross the street during periodic flooding at the intersection, the bridge received its cartoon embellishments when a member of the school's PTA convinced cartoonist Charles Schultz, an acquaintance, to donate drawings of Charlie Brown and his friends.
The school came to be known as the Snoopy School, the PTA's newsletter had "Snoopy" in the title, and the much-beloved canine became an informal trademark for the school. When the PTA distributed prizes to the student who lugged in the most paper in a paper drive or read the most books in a designated month, the child often received a Snoopy doll or other "Peanuts" award.
"We talked about it a lot at assemblies," Koenig said. "This was our bridge--no other school had a bridge that had cartoon characters on it. So we were unique, and consequently we were the best school in the world."
The earthquake is only the latest in a series of glitches the bridge has weathered. In the early '80s, the city removed the metal plates on which the characters are painted for bridge repair and repainting but failed to set aside money to reinstall the plates. Koenig spent long hours on the phone with city engineering officials to correct the problem. After they did, the school threw a party and organized a parade to celebrate.
"Because otherwise, the bridge would be sterile," Koenig said. "It would just be a bridge with no personality."
In the mid-'70s, a political party plastered pictures of its candidate over those of Linus, Peppermint Patty and the rest of the gang, sending waves of outrage through the school community. After a call by Koenig to the party, which he declined to identify, the mugs were quickly whisked away.
Such stories are ancient history to the Tarzana Elementary students of today, who say they are just glad that it's back.
"You get to be way up, like a mountain," said Setareh Lari, 8, explaining why she liked the bridge. "I like the pictures on it because some of them are pretty, and there is a place for the handicapped."
Matthew Malinsky, 9, said he enjoys picking out his favorite characters when he is riding past the bridge in a car.
"It's like, 'Oh, I remember that show, when they showed when Snoopy and Charlie Brown were doing this and that.' "