Farmdale Schoolhouse brings history to life in El Sereno

Residents are working to have the building added to the National Register of Historic Places

+The+group+pictured+in+front+of+the+old+schoolhouse+includes+Esperanza+and+Marguerite+Batz%2C+from+a+family+of+early+farmers.+Photo+hangs+inside+the+Farmdale+Schoolhouse+Museum.

El Sereno Historical Society

The group pictured in front of the old schoolhouse includes Esperanza and Marguerite Batz, from a family of early farmers. Photo hangs inside the Farmdale Schoolhouse Museum.

Evelyn Contreras, Community News reporter

When Jorge Garcia attended El Sereno Middle School, he always wondered about the old wood-framed schoolhouse on the campus site but never heard much about it.

More recently, when his kids started attending, he learned about the history of the 133-year-old Farmdale Schoolhouse. He grew enamored with it and joined forces with other residents to preserve the history of what is one of the oldest school buildings in Los Angeles. 

“Now that I know more about it, I think, ‘Wow. What a beautiful building, It’s too bad others don’t know about it,’” he said. “It’s important to know where we come from and the schoolhouse represents this connection to our past.”

So in February 2021, Garcia and other El Sereno residents started the process of trying to get it registered in the National Register of Historical Landmarks.

Many would prefer to raze old buildings for new housing and other uses. But advocates of  preservation believe that neighborhoods such as El Sereno are rich with buildings and spaces that are worth preserving for the memories, moments, and changes they represent.

While preservation opponents say that historical buildings should be razed to make way for other community needs such as high-density housing, advocates believe that Los Angeles neighborhoods like El Sereno are rich with historical buildings and spaces and the memories, moments and changes they symbolize. Little by little, these memories fade but preserving landmarks protects that history, ensuring it’s not forgotten.

Historical significance of Farmdale Schoolhouse

The 1889 wood-framed schoolhouse has architectural significance as a Victorian-era building in the Queen Anne Revival style. It is also one of just three remaining schoolhouses from that era in the Los Angeles Unified School District, according to historical society co-founder Jorge Garcia, who co-founded the historical society. There is another one in southeast L.A. and one in the valley.

Farmdale represents an important transition in U.S. history: The shift from homeschooling to students attending class taught by a teacher.  The shift of the era of homeschooling to students being in classrooms together, taught by a teacher.

 The old schoolhouse pictured in the 1920s after new school buildings were constructed. (El Sereno Historical Society)

Over time, elementary school education became required, and by 1918 it became mandatory in all U.S. states.

Local history buffs also appreciate Farmdale because its layout sets it apart from other schoolhouses of that time: It is a two-classroom building. As you walk through the entryway, the smaller classroom was on the left and the larger one on the right. Over time, the smaller classroom became the teacher’s or principal’s office, Garcia said.

Farmdale appears to be the only LAUSD schoolhouse to still have its original bell, Garcia said. Preservationists found the bell but not its original ringer.  With the help of a janitor, they discovered the ringer  “had just been sitting in some closet all those years,” Garcia said.

The roots of the schoolhouse preservation

The late Donald D. Newman initially proposed restorating the schoolhouse in 1960 and it was restored as a local museum in 1976 with the help of residents and Cal State LA’s education school, according to the historical society.

“Unfortunately, Dr. Newman passed away right before it became a museum so he never saw his work come to fruition,” Garcia said.

The effort to recognize the schoolhouse as a historic landmark after the historical society asked residents to rank the top five neighborhood places that should be preserved. The schoolhouse came out on top, Garcia said.

Originally, organizers proposed a larger preservation district that would include El Sereno Middle School, which had served as  Woodrow Wilson High School until a new campus was built.

“The student walkouts from 1968 happened at Wilson High School…and so we wanted to have a preservation district: The schoolhouse, the middle school and also the auditorium where the student walkouts started,” Garcia said.

Preservation process kicked off

Unfortunately, for preservationists, LAUSD officials weren’t on-board with the idea of a preservation district. But they would support the landmark nomination preservation of the schoolhouse. The historical society organizers hope that by April, they will receive confirmation that the schoolhouse has been accepted to the National Register of Historic Places.

The landmark nomination is now being reviewed by state historic officials before it’s forwarded to the “keeper” of the National Register of Historic Places for final approval and listing.

A picture of the farmsdale place
A picture of Farmsdale that is still there today (El Sereno Historical Society)

This story was cross-published on TheEastsiderLA.com.