As part of our Mission to share the history of El Sereno with the community and public, we plan to present a new picture/historic document every month. This will allow us, the El Sereno Historical Society, to continue sharing recent historic discoveries.
But more importantly it will allow you, our readers and supporters, the chance to have any hidden or long-forgotten historic gems be shared with our great El Sereno community. Sharing and learning about our history is a community effort, and we thank all those who contribute and add to our growing historic community's website.
With the help of residents, community partners and the ESHS board, the Old Farmdale Schoolhouse in El Sereno has been officially added to the National Register of Historic Places.
We want to thank everyone who donated, our community partners ( CD14 Councilmember Kevin De Leon, LAUSD District 2 Boardmember Monica Garcia, Grifols Biologicals LLC, and USC Office of Community and Local Government Partnerships) for making this happen. It was through the combined effort that this community gem was officially recognized.
There will be an official recognition and plaque presentation early in the Fall. All of El Sereno will be welcomed to attend this historic celebration. We will keep you updated as dates are confirmed.
The Old Farmdale School, with a construction date of 1894, is located on the campus of El Sereno Middle School in northeastern Los Angeles. Local architects, Bradbeer and Ferris, designed the Queen Anne Revival-style schoolhouse to serve the small, rural community of Farmdale (later known as El Sereno). The area was historically part of Rancho Rosa Castilla, a large tract of land owned by Basque farmers. Significant architectural features of the Old Farmdale School include: its one-story height, irregular floor plan, two-room interior, side-gabled and hipped roofs, projecting bell tower, double-hung wood sash windows, horizontal wood clapboard and fishscale siding, and applied decoration. Its northfacing entry is recessed within a projecting belltower and features a double door and lunette window. Pin mounted signage along the primary façade reads, “Farmdale”; the letters, “P” and “S,” flank the entry. A four-sided open bell tower with arched openings contains the building’s original cast metal bell. Historically set within a bucolic nineteenth century agrarian community, the schoolhouse now occupies a small portion of a 27.7-acre middle school campus in a bustling twenty-first century city. While the setting has evolved, and the Los Angeles Unified School District moved the schoolhouse to its present location from elsewhere on the site in 1975, the Old Farmdale School retains all other aspects of integrity, including design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association. It is one of only three surviving nineteenth century schoolhouses in Los Angeles.
The Farmdale School District was in existence by 1889 and operated a schoolhouse that same year. Like most rural schoolhouses of the era, the Farmdale School (as it was originally known) was likely the first public building in town. Little is known about this first iteration of the schoolhouse, but it was likely intended to be temporary, as was customary in rural communities across the United States in the nineteenth century. In 1891, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors solicited bids for bonds to fund the purchase of land, and the construction of a new school building, for the Farmdale School District. Following "a meeting attended by a majority of the taxpayers of that district” and a subsequent election, voters overwhelmingly approved the bond measure. The strong voter support for establishing a public school for the first time, particularly in rural California during the late-nineteenth century, aligns with national trends in American education that promoted and valued schooling for all.
The Farmdale School District Board of Trustees had the responsibility to issue and sell bonds and move forward with the purchasing of a two-acre lot for the new schoolhouse. In violation of their public duty, however, the trustees delayed action. They waited months to transfer the bond proceeds to the county treasurer and waited even longer to purchase property for the future school. An article in the Los Angeles Evening Express captures voter frustration over the trustees’ inaction: “Their masterly inactivity in this regard became so tiresome to the enterprising citizens of Farmdale that the latter rose in arms, so to speak, and ordered the trustees to step down and out.” Town resident, Daniel Kevane, filed a lawsuit against the trustees, accusing them of malfeasance, corruption, and neglect, and called for their removal from office. Kevane won the lawsuit and the courts ousted all three trustees—H.P. Matthewson, B. Kujaneck, and H.I. Roper—from the board. In April of 1892, the Farmdale School District was back on track, purchasing property for the new school building and commissioning architects, Bradbeer and Ferris, to design it.
The new, one-story, two-room, wood-frame schoolhouse was completed in 1894. Its students, who ranged in age from five to 17, came from the surrounding areas as far away as the San Gabriel Valley. Many of its earliest pupils were descendants of the American Indian, Spanish, Californio, Basque, and Mexican American families mentioned earlier. Those who lived close by walked to school. Gregory Lifur, the grandchild of Basque immigrants, recalled walking past sheep and a nearby rancho on his way to school. Others, like Esperanza and Marguerite Batz, arrived via horse and buggy along a dirt trail (now Valley Boulevard) where they passed cattle fields. When the Batz and Lifur children attended Farmdale School, there was one teacher responsible for instructing 18 students in the first through the eighth grades. They learned “the basics, spelling, reading, writing, and arithmetic.” Many of the students were English-language learners whose first language was French or Spanish. Between 1894 and 1911, the Old Farmdale School was the only school in the district that served the area’s small but growing ranching communities.
Location and Setting
The Old Farmdale School sits at the northern end of El Sereno Middle School, located at 2839 North Eastern Avenue, occupying 27.7-acres in northeastern Los Angeles. The campus contains buildings dating to various periods, including the 1894 schoolhouse, a 1940 Italian Renaissance Revival Administration Building, 1930s bungalows, and several buildings dating to the postwar period.
The Old Farmdale School faces north to Gambier Street. It has small front, rear, and side yards and is enclosed with a metal fence. The area between the schoolhouse and Gambier Street contains several mature trees. To the west of the schoolhouse is a large, L-shaped, post-war classroom building at the corner of Gambier Street and Eastern Avenue. To the southeast of the schoolhouse is the campus’ 1940 Italian Renaissance Revival Administration Building, which faces Eastern Avenue. The Old Farmdale School was relocated to this location from elsewhere on the campus in 1975.
Originally, the Old Farmdale School sat southeast of its current location and faced Eastern Avenue. In the nineteenth century, the area immediately surrounding the schoolhouse was 1 bucolic. The building was located on a two-acre parcel in the rural community of Farmdale. In 1915, as the area’s population continued to grow, the Los Angeles City School District (later, the Los Angeles Unified School District [LAUSD]) annexed the Farmdale School District and expanded the campus by acquiring adjacent land. In 1923, the school district erected a new building for the Farmdale Elementary School, which is located south of the old schoolhouse. At that time, the earlier 1894 schoolhouse became known as the “Old Farmdale School.” In 1936, 2 the campus became El Sereno Area High School, changing names again the following year to become Woodrow Wilson High School. The school district conducted a major expansion and redesign of the campus in the 1930s, erecting many new buildings, including those now adjacent to the Old Farmdale School.
In 1970, the campus became known as El Sereno Middle School. Between 1974 and 1975, a local movement to preserve the Old Farmdale School coalesced into a major structural strengthening and restoration project for the building. In 1975, the Old Farmdale School was relocated to its present location at the northern part of the campus and its configuration changed to face Gambier Street, rather than Eastern Avenue as it originally had.
By Boardmember Kit McConnell
As part of our new series that will chronicle El Sereno’s local Legacy Businesses, those who have served our community for more than 25 years, we thought it necessary to start with the oldest—Newland Hardware Store, founded in 1926. The store, located at 4938 S. Huntington Drive holds the honor of being the longest running business in our community.
If you’ve ever walked through the door of Newland True Value Hardware store in El Sereno, you won’t get more than a few steps inside without an employee asking what they can help you find or what you need. Well, today all you need is a little bit of local history.
The narrative of Newland Hardware started all the way back in 1926 when Mr. Newland started a store which was originally located on the north side of Huntington Drive. Around that same time, all the way across the country in Laselle, Illinois, an Italian family, who like so many other immigrants from Europe had been processed through Ellis Island, started a store called Tri-City Hardware, run by patriarch Gaitano “Butch” Orlandini and sister Mary (shown on the right), and brother Louie (on the left).
Gaitano “Butch” ran the family shop where his son, Jimmy Orlandini Sr, was first exposed to the business of hardware. In 1951, When his first son, John, was born, Jimmy Orlandini Sr., a.k.a. “Vince”, came out to California as a journeyman plumber for Bob Hilton and Intermountain Plumbing installing the services and infrastructure of the Montrose area (photo below shows Vince on a job site).
After a back injury due to the strenuous nature of installing water heaters and bathtubs, Vince realized that his plumbing career may be coming to an end and sought out a business which might be less physically demanding. Orlandini bought the Newland hardware store in 1966 from its owner named Irv Margel. The store had been in the community, on the other side of Huntington Drive, since 1926. The founder of the business, Mr. Newland, tragically died due to an injury he sustained during a robbery at the store. Mr. Newland’s wife and her sister continued running the business which consisted mostly of kitchenware and giftware.
From the time Vince took over, the business flourished by selling plumbing supplies, electrical, cut glass, and screens. Mr. Orlandini was easily recognizable in town in his red 1954 red Chevy pickup which he was given by his former boss at Intermountain Plumbing to as pay after that company went under. Orlandini would travel around locally in the truck, equipped with a pipe cutter, which was a great source of revenue for the business. Initially sharing the building with Kaz Camera, the business expanded and Vince was able to convince the Carlson family, the property owner, to sell him the building to support his family and seven children in the early 1970’s.
The Orlandini family grew along with the store, as Vince’s daughter, Janet jokes, “Dad raised his own help.” Janet was responsible for maintaining the storefront “Kountry Kitchen” window displays that showcased the latest giftwares and trending kitchen items through the 1980’s. Her windows attracted shoppers as they drove or walked down Huntington Drive and she sold many pots, pans, and enameled ollas to the customers of El Sereno.
The Orlandini family were a constant presence in the El Sereno’s annual July 4th parade for decades, building an eye-catchingly unique three-wheeled golf cart to ride around on the drive. They also supported the annual Queen of El Sereno contest through their involvement with the Chamber of Commerce.
Newland Hardware also regularly advertised in and was featured in the local newspaper, the El Sereno Star. One of their more successful marketing campaigns, $0.49 keys, brought lines of customers to their store from throughout L.A. County like a gold rush.
Over the years, Vince and his son John Orlandini did their best to help keep local teens busy with clean-up jobs around the store, sometimes leading to employment and allowing them to provide mentorship and guidance. John recalls how he would refer to all the kids by the nickname “Ted” based on a character from the Mary-Tyler Moore show. John notes several of his former Teds have grown up to be police officers or clergy members in Los Angeles. Vince took pride in his company’s and his sons’ ability to support local youth. Guiding them away from trouble and towards promising careers thanks to their tutelage. Janet mentioned Terry Heygood and Clem Amanza who sold loads of screens between them. Another former employee Mark Trueblood went on to become a well known property manager in the area starting TruMark Real Estate.
John Orlandini was also involved in fixing up homes and selling them with Gene Sosa Realty throughout the 1980s. He notices the effects of gentrification and rapidly rising costs in the community and remembers the days when housing in the working class neighborhood was more affordable for young families. His daughter, Sara, runs the popular Sugar Mint Gallery in South Pasadena. Vince’s other children, Jeff and Joanne, are accomplished certified public accountants in their own right.
Newland Hardware has always been a community hub for creativity. In the early 2000’s, a teacher initiated an art project from Wilson Sr. High which was responsible for the mural of Vince Orlandini and his red truck on the west side of the store. The student artists also painted the back of the store which included the hilly El Sereno landscape and other local shops which was unfortunately defaced and needed to be painted over. Wilson’s woodshop class had a project to create axes like the iconic neon sign over the storefront; some are still in the store today.
In 2003, Vince Orlandini passed on, but his image still graces the building. His old red Chevy truck is currently being restored to its former glory by his grandson Jimmy.
Newland Hardware has weathered the pandemic well, and, as an essential business, were not subject to closures due to Covid-19. In fact, sales saw significant increases during the beginning of the citywide shutdowns. As Janet explained, when your water heater goes out or your plumbing breaks, you need the hardware store to be open.
As the family and company look ahead, the TrueValue brand has allowed them to stay competitive with corporate big-box stores by being part of a collective buying group and with pooled advertising. Jim Jr. has grown the family business to successfully run two additional locations– both Newhall Hardware and Altadena Hardware, which was ranked amongst the top 5 True Value locations in the country. The core of the business still rests in what Vince preached since he took the helm back in 1966: “Never let a customer walk out of the store without finding out what they want.”
If you’ve ever been through the doors of the store, you’ve likely been met by Libby, a Newland employee of 38 years, and longtime employees Diana and Tony—ready to meet your needs immediately. The caring, service-oriented approach is a hallmark of Newland Hardware’s business throughout the years and part of what makes this company such an asset to the community and worthy of their legacy status.
In Memory of Mary Newman Seberger
A few weeks ago we received the sad news of Mary Newman Severger’s passing. For those hearing the name for the first time, Mary was the wife of Dr. Donald Newman, long time leader in El Sereno and LAUSD in the 1960s and 70s.
Mary Alice Dinsmore was born on July 8, 1927, in Alhambra California, to Howard and Ann Dinsmore. After graduating from Huntington Park High School in 1945, Mary commuted by streetcar to her first job as a telephone operator. This job included shifts on the War Line, which was used for communication between military personnel. Mary took great pride in this work as she felt she was doing her part for the war effort. She often told the story about connecting a call from Frank Sinatra to his agent. Though her heart was a-flutter, she remained completely professional!
Later, Mary worked as a receptionist at Maywood Hospital. It was there that she met a young medical student, Donald Newman. Donald had recently returned from military duty during which, as Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class, he had participated in the landing on Saipan, treating wounded Marines, as well as Japanese civilians.
Mary and Donald fell in love and married on August 18, 1947. They moved into a home on Warwick Avenue, in El Sereno, which had been built by Donald’s father. In this home they raised a family of four children, Steve, Kathy, Mark and Patti. Donald built a family practice in nearby San Gabriel. As a homemaker, Mary was the center of a large clan that included her immediate family, sister, parents, grandparents and in-laws.
Mary was a founding member of the Sierra Park PTA, where she served as President. She also served as Cub Scout Den Mother, and as Brownie and Girl Scout Leader. She served as Precinct Leader during elections and opened her home as a neighborhood voting location when needed.
Mary and Donald enjoyed an active social life. This was centered around the American Medical Association, Boy Scouts, neighborhood and community improvement groups, and the San Gabriel Chamber of Commerce. It was at one of these events where Mary met Clark Gable and shook his hand. She said she never wanted to wash it again! But she was even more impressed at another event upon being introduced to Dr. Jonas Salk.
Donald was also active in community affairs in El Sereno and San Gabriel. He was elected to the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1969, where he served for six years, and as Board President for several terms. Sadly, Donald passed away in January, 1976, missing the El Sereno Bicentennial celebration that he had worked so hard to plan.
Mary stepped in to help develop one of Donald’s last projects - the restoration of the historic 1894 Farmdale School House. This original one-room schoolhouse was moved to the campus of El Sereno Junior High School and filled with antique school furniture, books and artifacts. Mary went back to work as a “school marm,” leading groups of children on history field trips. She was very grateful for this opportunity to participate in a project that was so personally rewarding.
Mary got a second chance for love when she met and married Robert Seberger, of Weldon, California. In Weldon, Mary was active in the Women’s Club and the Painting Guild. She painted, crocheted, knitted and quilted. She crafted beautiful rugs and stained-glass windows, and designed her new home in the high desert, a geodesic dome. Mary loved fishing on Lake Isabella and enjoyed camping trips with Bob to goldmining sites around the west. She served as secretary of the Weldon Property Owners’ Association. Their mini-ranch included an acre of pear trees, as well as apples, peaches, blackberries, strawberries, and a harem of kiwi fruit. Every year, Mary canned fruit and tomatoes for family and friends. She baked bread, grew flowers, and raised her beloved chocolate lab. Bob’s passing ended this dream in 2000.
The next chapter of her life began with a move to Redding, California, and a house beside the Sacramento River. Mary embraced her life in the North State. Every day she walked her dog on the Redding River Trail. She joined the Women’s Craft Circle at the Senior Center and served as secretary. She sewed hundreds of blankets for premature babies, crocheted helmet liners for soldiers, knitted slippers for senior care centers, and sewed period clothing for the Shasta Elementary and Stellar Charter School History Docents. She welcomed many family members and friends for visits in her comfortable home.
Healthy to the end of her life, Mary was preceded in death by her two beloved partners, Donald Newman and Bob Seberger, her brother, Robert Dinsmore, daughter-in law, Debra Newman, and grandson, Eric Newman. Mary is survived by her four children and their spouses: Steve Newman, Kathy Dichirico (Charlie), Mark Newman (Grecia) and Patti Furnari (Joe), and her sister, Sharon Harrant. She will be fondly remembered by her seven grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and many nieces, nephews and friends.
Mary passed away in Redding, California, surrounded by family. For those who may wish to honor her memory, Mary would have wanted us all to plant as many trees and flowers as we possibly can.