Question: I recently read an article about the city of Fresno that mentioned Hawthorne Elementary School. Where was the school located and what was its history?
— Phil Tavlian, Fresno
Answer: Completed in 1879, the Hawthorne School was initially called the Central School. Built on a parcel bounded by Fresno, O, Merced and N streets, it was only the second school building in Fresno, but soon became the city’s first permanent school. The first school, a single-story building with two classrooms on Tulare Street, opened in 1875 but closed four years later when the Central School opened.
The two-story wood frame Central School was painted white and was commonly known as the White School. Construction was financed by $15,000 in bonds. Designed by contractors Frank Peck and C.P. Peck, the building had almost identical entrances facing O and N streets and featured a tower.
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By 1885, the Central School was filled to capacity with 400 students, according to late historian and author Catherine M. Rehart.
Within 20 years of its opening, the school building had fallen into disrepair. At the 1899 Fresno High School graduation, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction said the school was in a disgraceful condition and was an eyesore. Plaster was falling from the ceiling and walls, floor boards were nearly worn through and window sashes were sagging. Nevertheless, Fresno High School held classes there as debate over the building’s future raged. Eventually the school was repaired.
In 1902 the school was moved to the Merced Street side of the parcel, a third story was built and the name was changed to Hawthorne School.
A brick school building was built at the Fresno and O streets corner and named the Washington Grammar School. A 1913 photograph in one of Rehart’s books shows students sitting on the steps of the brick schoolhouse.
An engine room was built between the old white wood building and the new brick school. According to a history of the school on file in the Heritage Center in the downtown Fresno County Library, “a double-decker metal lined tunnel was constructed from the engine room to each school building to convey hot and cold air for the schools.”
In 1913 the Washington School moved into a new building on Glenn Avenue and the Hawthorne School moved into the brick building. The old Central building became the Luther Burbank School.
The original wooden Central School was torn down at some point. In 1935 the brick building that had housed the Hawthorne School was demolished to make way for the Memorial Auditorium.
More about: After a question about the circular office building at Tuolumne and O streets was published on Jan. 11, several readers shared more information about the building’s origins.
A Fresno Bee photograph from July 3, 1966, shows the groundbreaking ceremony. The photo caption says 40 “wives with pink-handled shovels” broke ground for the $600,000 Equitable Life Assurance Society building. The company is different from the Equitable Life Insurance firm.
The photo also identifies then-Fresno Mayor Floyd Hyde “with a gold-plated shovel,” builder Atwood Grove and other dignitaries. “The building will be circular in design and three stories tall,” the caption also said.
A July 24, 1966 story said construction was scheduled to begin within days. The owners and developers were listed as Gene Ford, Frank Sanders, Robert Klein and Grove. The designer was listed as Robert Stevens and Associates.
Reader Eddie Lanfranco of Fresno said the building was designed by the late Robin Gay McCline, who worked for the Stevens firm. McCline also was a renowned water color artist who taught painting and engineering at Fresno City College.
The Equitable Life Assurance firm would occupy the entire second floor, the story said. The building was finished in March 1967 at a final cost of $750,000. Lee Taggart was manager of the Equitable company, which had 45 employees. Other tenants included Robert Klein & Associates, accounting firm L.H. Penney and Co., attorney Charles Perry, James Walter Insurance and Transamerica Title.
An April 1967 Fresno Bee advertisement called the building “an entirely new concept in modern office convenience” that was “easily accessible to downtown or business interests to the North, South, East and West. Design and décor services available to assist you in an eye pleasing, efficiently run office.”
The Equitable Life Assurance firm sold the building in 1971.
Reader Dan Waterhouse of Fresno said, “The building sticks out now because its context has been heavily altered.” The circular office building is an example of mid-modern architecture, he said, as were the nearby former Frontier Chevrolet building, where Cesar E. Chavez Adult School now stands, and a former motel near the Memorial Auditorium, which was remodeled.