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NORTHRIDGE : Historian Takes Pupils on Trip to Past

May 20, 1995|ANTONIO OLIVO

The maps, photographs and newspaper clippings were nearly a century older than they were, but the Calahan Street School students had some of their own details to add Friday to a slide presentation by a local historian on Northridge's largely undocumented history.

"My grandfather lives near that church!" a boy exclaimed at one slide. "It's only a few blocks away from our school."

"That's the Norwegian Lutheran Church," said historian Paul Dentzel. "It was built in 1917."

Dentzel's visit capped a week of local-history discussions held at Calahan to give the students a sense of perspective on their immediate surroundings.

With his slides, Dentzel conjured up images of walnut and citrus groves and horse ranches covering the entire Northridge area, formerly known as "North Los Angeles."

In a map detailing one of the many citrus orchards in the area owned by Sunkist Growers, the historian pointed out the spot where Calahan now stands.

"Not too far away from you is where the old Northridge Elementary School used to be," he said.

"That was the first elementary school in the area."

Though most of the Calahan students reacted to Dentzel's slide show with wonder, one group of students regarded the historian's retelling of a simpler and much different Northridge as old news.

For about a month, the 13 student staff reporters for The Calahan Chronicle conducted interviews with some older Northridge residents and combed through community archives to shed their own light on the area's past.

They revisited their school's 1957 grand opening, highlighted the role women have played in shaping Northridge and pointed out some mistakes made by the school in documenting its history. For example, a plaque made to accompany the school's 500-pound stone frieze of a Spanish conquistador incorrectly listed the Northridge Cultural Arts Assn. as its donor.

According to fifth-grade reporters William Bleiweiss and James Fiszer, the frieze was actually donated by Jack Flynn, a former Calahan principal.

"He told us that he bought it at a junkyard for $25," said William. "It came from Northridge Elementary. There used to be more, but this is the only one left."

Added James: "You'd never think a plain school like this would have so much history."

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