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.