Summary

The Glassell Park Elementary School building is a significant historic property in the neighborhood of Glassell Park and it meets Criteria A and C of the National Register of Historic Places at the local level of significance. The Glassell Park Elementary School building is eligible under Criteria A because of its association with the Reconstruction Program of the Los Angeles City Schools from 1933-35. The Glassell Park Elementary School building is also eligible under Criteria C because it is one of the best examples of a 1930s rehabilitated Los Angeles school building exhibiting features of both its time of construction and of 1930s earthquake safety alterations, and is the work of regionally prominent master architect, Edward Cray Taylor of Beverly Hills, California. The Glassell Park Elementary School building was built in 1924, and is a product of the dissemination of philosophies and aesthetics of school building safety and design on a local level after the Long Beach earthquake in 1933, and is an exceptional example of the work of a regionally prominent master architect, clearly demonstrating two distinct eras of his work. Contextually it relates to the influence of California’s Field Act and the Los Angeles Reconstruction Program on all Los Angeles Unified School District buildings from 1933 to 1935.

Historic Context

The Glassell Park Elementary School building was completed in 1924 to serve as the primary elementary school for the Glassell Park area in Northeast Los Angeles, California. Glassell Park is a 4.2 square-mile neighborhood located six miles from downtown Los Angeles, and is bordered by Atwater Village and Silver Lake on the west, the City of Glendale on the northeast, Echo Park on the southwest, Cypress Park on the southeast, Mount Washington on the east, and Eagle Rock on the northeast. Glassell Park is one of Los Angeles’ older neighborhoods, having been developed in the late nineteenth century along the Pacific Electric Railway track that formally ran in the median of Eagle Rock Boulevard and the adjoining hills.

Glassell Park was named after Andrew Glassell (1827-1901) who had relocated to California from Virginia in 1865 after refusing to pledge his loyalty to the Union during the Civil War. After arriving in Los Angeles, he formed a law partnership with Alfred Chapman and Colonel George H. Smith and was named the first President of the Los Angeles Bar Association. Their law practice was confined chiefly to real estate transactions and they made their fortunes by being retailed in the large partition suits. They would take their compensation in land, which many times allotted Glassell and Chapman quite a large amount of acreage. One such settlement afforded Chapman and Glassell with a few thousand acres of land on which Glassell and his younger brother, William, founded the City of Orange, California in 1872. Andrew Glassell was one of the incorporators of the Farmers and Merchants’ Bank. He also incorporated the Los Angeles and San Pedro Railroad, and was prominent in its management until it was absorbed by the Southern Pacific Railroad. When this transfer was made he became chief counsel of the railroad company in Southern California.

Although Glassell had obtained quite a bit of land by the late nineteenth century, he choose to build a stately Victorian-era home for his family in 1889 on the land he purchased from the Rancho San Rafael tract. This land tract had been created in 1784 when Jose Maria Verdugo, a corporal in the Spanish Army, received a land grant from Governor Pedro Fages to settle what he called the Rancho San Rafael. The tract was 36,403 acres in size, including much of Northeast Los Angeles. After Glassel’s death in 1901, the Glassell family began selling off some of their property to the Gilchrist Investment Company who began creating subdivisions in the area. Around 1907, one of the first housing tracts created was called the Torthorwald Tract and it was located between what is now Verdugo and San Fernando Roads. Lots ranged in price from $500 and $1,350. Los Angeles Times newspaper clippings contain advertisements for Glassell Park tracts on a regular basis throughout the early 1900s, which also illustrated how fast existing tracts were developing to entice buyers.

The first elementary school building to serve the growing and prospering Glassell Park community was built in 1912, it was a wood framed one-story schoolhouse called Washington Park School. This building was one of many schools being erected by the Los Angeles Unified School District between 1900 and 1920 to accommodate the rapid expansion of the district and Los Angeles’s consistently growing population. Wood frame construction was typical of the school buildings being constructed until 1916. In that year, the Advisory Committee report to the Board of Education outlined the fire dangers of frame construction and promoted masonry construction as the preferred method of construction for the school district.

By the early 1920s, it was becoming apparent that the Washington Park School was no longer adequate in size for the community, now officially named Glassell Park. In 1924, a two-story brick Spanish Colonial Revival schoolhouse replaced the Washington Park School and it was renamed Glassell Park Elementary School. The construction of this building was announced in a Los Angeles Times article in 1923, which discussed an extensive development program “of considerable magnitude” being initiated by the Los Angeles City Board of Education to build fifty new elementary schools, three junior high schools and four new high schools. The article stated that, ‘The Glassell Park elementary school site is on San Fernando Boulevard and Verdugo Road. It will cost $140,000. Edward Cray Taylor is the architect.”

Edward Cray Taylor (1893-1946) was a prominent Los Angeles architect, trained at Columbia University’s School of Architecture. He worked closely with his brother, Ellis Wing Taylor, who served as structural engineer on many of his projects. Edward Cray Taylor’s career began in the Los Angeles area immediately upon graduation. By 1914, Taylor was receiving recognition in the Los Angeles Times for his large scale projects. Early in his career Taylor seemed to specialize in designing multiple unit apartment housing of masonry construction, usually in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. He continued to design these large residences throughout his career and also designed private residences in such elite neighborhoods as Hancock Park. By 1917, Taylor was receiving commissions such as film plants for the motion picture industry, retail shopping centers and churches. And by 1920, he was designing iarge industrial plants. A few of Taylor’s most well-known buildings include; the Vegetable Oil Products Company building in Wilmington, the N. Julian hotel and retail store building at the Los Angeles Harbor, the Woifer Printing Company Building in Los Angeles, the Masons of Yuma, Arizona building, the Alta Loma Sanatorium and the Douglas Aircraft Company plant buildings in Santa Monica.

Taylor also designed various schools throughout the Los Angeles area including the Hoover Avenue School in 1925, the Southgate Home and Gardens School in 1929, the Berondo Middle School in 1930, the West Vernon Avenue School in 1936 and he built the auditorium and arcade for the Horace Mann School in Severly Hills in 1937. Glassell Park Elementary School appears to be one of the first if not the first, schools designed by Taylor. The Spanish Colonial Revival style of the building was very reminiscent of the apartment housing Taylor had been designing since 1914 and the masonry construction was a perfect fit for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s ideas on fire safety for school buildings at the time. At that time, masonry’s vulnerability to earthquakes was not a consideration as the risk had not yet been recognized.

In 1925, the Santa Barbara earthquake hit and California adopted building codes recognizing earthquake hazards. Two years later, the City of Los Angeles revised its City Building Ordinance and adopted additional requirements for schoolhouse construction. Accordingly, the district implemented the required construction improvements and techniques in its schools built after 1927. Improvements included fire resistant corridors, stairs and exterior walls, and reinforced concrete beams within the floors and roofs. Schools built with these features proved more resilient dunng one of the most devastating earthquakes in Los Angeles’ history, the Long Beach earthquake of March 1933.

The Long Beach earthquake caused significant loses to the Los Angeles Unified School District and made evident the structural inadequacies of many of its buildings. According to a report prepared in 1935 by the Board of Education entitled “The Reconstruction Program of the Los Angeles City Schools. 1933-1935 (Inclusive),” of the 1,691 buildings on 395 campuses, 40 masonry buildings were so damaged that they required condemnation and demolition. Following a preliminary survey of the schools by structural engineers within ten days of the earthquake, all damaged or “precariously placed” chimneys, parapets, fire walls and ornamentation were removed. The district planned and implemented a phased school building reconstruction program immediately following the earthquake. The district already possessed $5.3 million in unsold bonds that had been recently voted for school building purposes. The federal Public Works Administration (P.W.A.) purchased the bonds in response to the earthquake and granted additional matching funds of up to thirty percent of money raised by the district for construction. The district set aside other funds as they became available, and a total of $12.1 million was ultimately raised for the 1933-35 reconstruction program. Approximately $250,000 of this sum was immediately used to create temporary classroom housing for displaced students in order to minimize the interruption of the school year. An estimated 879 tents and 139 bungalows were initially erected to house the district’s 300,000 students. The Los Angeles City Board of Education also instituted earthquake drills on a regular basis and created publicity stills to promote public relations with the Los Angeles community by photographing children participating in the drills, watching soil tests and learning about cement drilling and lab testing.

In 1933, California passed the Field Act in response to public outcry over the vulnerability of school buildings to earthquake-related damage. The Act directed the State Division of Architecture to develop and enforce regulations to ensure earthquake resistant buildings; this led to State oversight of school construction activities through establishment of a building code and construction inspection for schools. The City of Los Angeles Board of Education further decreed that elementary school buildings were not to exceed one-story in height and high school buildings were to be limited to two-stories. Rehabilitation of schools was undertaken where economically feasible; rehabilitation methods typically included the installation of reinforcing steel columns, beams and diagonal bracing, exterior refacing with reinforced gunite, and the installation of reinforced concrete walls. New buildings similarly incorporated recent construction advances and prominently featured the use of structural steel and reinforced concrete. On sites where soil load-bearing properties were found to be low, demolished schools were replaced with earthquake-resistant wood frame buildings.

Los Angeles architects were also extremely concerned about the safety of school buildings they and others had designed. One week after the earthquake, architect Frank D. Hudson, who designed the much damaged Seventy ninth Street Elementary School, began speaking publicly to push for the rehabilitation of all school buildings, As quoted in the Los Angeles Times, “[Hudson] emphasized the failure of ordinary brick and frame construction and urged, as a safety measure, a new standard of building by the Los Angeles Board of Education.” As part of the Rehabilitation Program, the City of Los Angeles Board of Education hired many of the most experienced and prominent architects in Southern California to reconstruct and rehabilitate all of the schools throughout the district. Some of the most recognizable were John C. Austin, Myron Hunt, Gene Verge, Walker and Eisen, George M. Lindsey, and Edward Cray Taylor.

By the time the Los Angeles City Board of Education rehired Taylor in 1933, he had transitioned from designing buildings in revival styles into designing buildings in the Modern style. His designs were being called some of the most “modern of their day” and many were of reinforced concrete construction. The design for the Aita Loma Sanatorium building was even touted as being of “a unique futuristic motif” design. This new era in Taylor’s work worked well with the design philosophies being implemented by the state and Los Angeles Unified School District. According to an announcement in April of 1934 in the Los Angeles limes, “Funds received…will give safe and modern school housing for some 15,000 school children now in temporary housing, according to Vierling Kersey, head of the State Department of Education.” The article went on to state that, “Eleven architectural concerns in the Los Angeles area are drawing the plans for the buildings.

Taylor was commissioned to reconstruct the Glassell Park Elementary School building in 1934 at an estimated cost of $50,400. The building had suffered minor damage during the earthquake, such as destroyed masonry sections and cracked plaster. Adhering to new state and local laws for earthquake safety in building design, and drawing from his own ideas of modern architecture, Taylor reconstructed the elementary school to resemble a newly designed 1930s P.W.A. style public building. This style was popular in the United States during the 1930s under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” administration. The Public Works Administration (P.W.A.) provided construction jobs involving government and public buildings. More than any other New Deal program, the P.W.A. encouraged the most economic growth during the Great Depression. Between July 1933 and March 1939, the P.W.A. funded and administered the construction of more than 34,000 projects. This style tended to be a combination of Art Deco proper, which stylized classical forms into straight lines, zigzags, and vertical accents, and the Streamline Moderne style, which emphasized round shapes and horizontal accents.8 The Los Angeles Unified School District encouraged their employed architects to alter existing school buildings from 1933 to 1935 in the P.W.A. Moderne style to adhere to new state and local earthquake safety laws, creating a new building style for Los Angeles schools. Many of the architects hired were already working in the modern styles of the era. Most reconstructed schools exhibited not only P.W.A. Moderne, but also a mix of classicism and Art Deco.9 This new building style consisted of altered buildings which appeared modern, but in many cases still retained recognizable features of their original architectural style. To modernize the schools, architects stripped the school buildings of any structural protrusions such as gables, firewalls and parapets. The removal or abrasion of exterior brick or masonry surfaces, and application of gunite was required. Roofs were made low-pitched or flattened, and foundations were strengthened. Also, decorative elements were added to the exterior of the buildings to create a more Deco or Moderne appearance. Some of these included vertical pilasters, horizontal and/or vertical moldings, and rounded corners.

Glassell Park Elementary School is an excellent example of this building style created by the Los Angeles Unified School District. When first constructed, the building had three intersecting gables on the west slope of the roof; one was on both the north and south ends of the building and the third was in the center. In 1934-35, Taylor removed these gables and leveled out the roof, although he put back the original clay tile roof. He also removed the brick veneer of the building and replaced it with a stucco surface in a smooth finish. Taylor also added monumental two-story piers designed in the P.W.A. Moderne style to flank the main entrance. One-story piers were added to flank the auditorium entrance and the northwestern and southeastern elevation entrances. He also added horizontal and vertical plaster moldings on the southwest, northwest and southeast elevations, The only remaining elements visible of the building’s Spanish Colonial Revival original design were its clay tile roof, row of arched windows on the first floor of the facade and various arched windows throughout the building’s exterior, It is not documented whether it was a lack of budget funds to also replace the roof in a more appropriate modern style or if it was Taylor’s intent to keep a few elements of his original design intact. However, the end result was a beautifully designed building clearly exhibiting two eras of work from a regionally prominent master architect while also modernizing the elementary school during the period of the 1930s Los Angeles School Rehabilitation Program, And due to these alterations, Glassell Park Elementary School became a product of two distinct eras in school building philosophy.

Conclusion

Giasseil Park Elementary School is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places under Criteria A because of its association with the Reconstruction Program of the Los Angeles City Schools from 1933 3.5. After the devastation of the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, some 400 schools were “transformed” by Southern California architects into what the State of California and Los Angeles Unified School District considered to be safe and modern school buildings that adhered to new earthquake safety laws. To create safer buildings, any protruding architectural features (such as gables, parapets and firewalls) were removed, and the P.W.A. Moderne style was incorporated, This clean and streamlined style fit in perfectly with this new initiative and was a perfect collaboration between the Public Works Administration (P.W A.), which had purchased the bonds in response to the earthquake and granted additional matching funds of up to thirty percent of money raised by the district for construction, architects who were favoring the modern architecture of the 1930s, and the Los Angeles Unified Schoo! District who had to create safe building style for all students.

Schools such as Glassell Park Elementary School, helped to create a new architectural style, which was the result of a large and important movement of school building design happening throughout Southern California. The earthquake safety alterations by Edward Cray Taylor on Glassell Park Elementary School created a new architectural style for the building, which made it a part of this large movement. This initiative in school building philosophy, to create earthquake safe school buildings, has impacted all existing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District built prior to, during and after the 1930s, and has become extremely important to all school building design within the state of California since earthquakes are one of the state’s most devastating natural disasters.