Lessons are still being taught at Los Angeles' last one-room schoolhouse.
Civic leaders intent on converting the ground beneath it into a slick gateway to the "new" Los Angeles are learning that there's considerable appreciation for things old behind the school's 127-year-old clapboard walls.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 05, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
One-room school -- An article about a one-room schoolhouse in Thursday's California section misspelled a 1970s-era school superintendent's name. He is William J. Johnston, not Johnson.
Which means that a team of Austrian architects designing futuristic high-tech buildings to go next to the schoolhouse are finding they must blend oak-floored 19th century Americana with 21st century European steel-and-glass glitz.
And burly demolition company workers clearing the way for the new construction are discovering how to swing their wrecking ball around the tiny classroom without knocking its antique belfry off its shingled roof.
Yes, the curriculum these days at the little yellow schoolhouse on Grand Avenue includes instruction in physics, civics, math and history.
Called the Heritage School by local educators, the modest, wood-framed classroom was built in 1876 for children in what is now the Vernon area. Over the years it was variously known as Vernon School, Vernon Avenue School and Ascot Avenue Elementary School.
After the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, it was moved to Huntington Park, where it was used first as a replacement classroom for quake-damaged high school buildings and later for storage.
On its 100th anniversary, the little building was refurbished and relocated downtown, where it sat for a quarter of a century outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters at 450 N. Grand Ave. and used as a mini-museum and teacher recruitment center.
That changed last year when officials moved their administrative offices to a nearby high-rise so they could convert the headquarters property into a new high school to help solve a classroom shortage.
Demolition of more than half a dozen old administrative buildings got underway in March. But workers have been careful to spare the yellow schoolhouse. That's because school officials say they are intent on saving it.
At first that seemed like an easy goal. The new campus, whose working name is "Central Los Angeles Area New High School #9," would be a relatively small and modest 1,585-student neighborhood school.
A local architectural firm was hired to draw up plans. The preliminary proposal called for 64 classrooms in modern-styled buildings lined up along the periphery of the 10-acre site. There would be room in the middle of the campus for the little schoolhouse.
But then civic leaders got involved.
They pointed across the Hollywood Freeway from the future New High School #9 -- toward the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the Music Center, the new Disney Concert Hall and the Colburn School of Music.
Something grander was needed at the Grand Avenue school site, they decided.
School officials jettisoned their local architect and hired a high-profile, Vienna-based design firm. They set aside plans for a traditional high school and agreed instead to build a performing and visual arts academy.
The cost of the new school has since ballooned by a purported $20 million, to $87 million. And officials are still awaiting final design plans from the Austrian firm of Coop Himmelblau, according to Shannon Johnson, a spokeswoman for the school district's facilities services division.
They're confident that a way will be found to integrate the one-room school into the new arts academy, however.
"The idea is to make it a community information center for schools in the area," said Edmundo Rodriguez, an instructional coordinator for the district. "It could be the informational nerve center."
But it may be difficult to make the old building blend with the new ones -- depicted in preliminary sketches as including a sleek cone-shaped library building, a glassy main building and a tower-topped 900-seat performance theater.
"That's the kind of challenge the architect and we at the school district face: a classic old school building surrounded by these new buildings -- a contrast of the old and new," Rodriguez said.
Heritage School might be placed in a garden setting, or near Grand Avenue's busy intersection with Cesar Chavez Avenue, he suggested. "We want it to be very prominent."
Other suggestions have come from those familiar with the old schoolhouse.
Architectural historian Robert Chattel, who prepared the environmental impact report for New High School #9, said the schoolhouse would make a nice ticket office for the arts academy's performance and rehearsal halls.
Former district administrator Bill Rivera, who was there when the schoolhouse was trucked to Grand Avenue in 1976, said it might be appropriate to move it to Heritage Square, a display area next to the Pasadena Freeway for other historic buildings.
Rivera credited former district Supt. William Johnson for saving the schoolhouse, which was slated for demolition in the mid-1970s.
"Bill had a great feel for old things. He had district maintenance people fix it up," Rivera said.