Ask Me

Years ago, graduating seniors followed an unusual route – they walked out of second-story windows

Roosevelt high school graduates descend the outdoors stairs from the second floor, in a 1964 Nautilus yearbook supplement. The nearly four-decade tradition ended in 1971. Historical photo photographed on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at the Fresno County Public Library, in downtown Fresno.
Roosevelt high school graduates descend the outdoors stairs from the second floor, in a 1964 Nautilus yearbook supplement. The nearly four-decade tradition ended in 1971. Historical photo photographed on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at the Fresno County Public Library, in downtown Fresno. sflores@fresnobee.com

Q: I lived in Fresno from 1955 to 1994 and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1961. For years, RHS seniors graduated “out the windows” from the second story of the administration building. We entered a classroom on the second floor, walked to the window and stepped out onto the stairs. I wonder when the practice began, if they still do that and if not, why.

Jim Porter, Placerville

A: A letter sent in 1963 to about 5,000 Roosevelt High School graduates seeking donations to build steel staircases to bring graduating seniors from two second-story windows said it was a “three-decade tradition,” which would put the start of “going out the windows” in the early 1930s. Wooden stairs, plus a stage and seating, were put up every year for the commencement exercises.

In the letter, quoted in The Fresno Bee, fundraiser co-chairs Mrs. Lyle W. Glenn (class of 1939) and Brenton B. Bradford (class of 1934) asked graduates, “Do you remember your elation at viewing the sea of expectant friends and relatives when you walked through the ivy-covered windows and down the stairs?”

Graduates walking out the windows and down the stairs ended in 1971, according to Ed Mason of Fresno, who graduated from Roosevelt that year.

“They would build a large temporary stage, set up against the middle of the front of the old administration building, with two sets of stairs coming out and down to that stage, from two upper classroom windows. One window was located to each side of the stage,” Mason recalled.

“They had you come out in alphabetical order. Once you came out, you blended in with the line coming out the other window, they proceeded to a seating arrangement in front of the stage, facing the stage,” he said. “The old administration building was covered with growing ivy, which made it look a little Ivy League.”

Wooden bleachers were set up behind the graduates for parents, family and friends, Mason said. Class speakers addressed the crowd from the stage and graduates crossed the stage to receive their diplomas.

Graduation ceremonies were moved to the football field south of the campus in 1972, Mason said. “I believe they saved those window frames and might have used them again in 1972, but only as a ceremonial prop for graduation.”

“The old administration building was remodeled after 1971. Back then there was no outside balcony to get to the classrooms like there is now. You got to the classrooms by interior hallways,” Mason said.

Roosevelt High’s graduation ceremony moved to Selland Arena in 1979 due to “noise and crowd control problems,” according to The Bee.

Q: I am a member of the Fresno Lawn Bowls Club. We have been lawn bowling in Fresno for a long time, but we’re not sure how long. Can you give us details about the origin of the club?

Craig Bigham, Fresno

A: The Fresno Lawn Bowls Club was up and running by 1965 when it hosted a tournament against the Richmond Lawn Bowl Club in October. Twelve-member teams played from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on a bowling green at the North Wishon Avenue home of member Joseph L. Redo, according to The Fresno Bee.

The story said a perpetual trophy would be awarded to the winning team. It was apparently the first tournament between the two clubs. A 1970 Bee story said the Richmond club won its sixth annual match between the two clubs. But a 1971 story noted, “The six-year drought of the Fresno Lawn Bowls Club is over.”

A Feb. 27, 1966, Bee story said a lawn bowling green being installed at Holmes Playground was expected to open in March. The project was a joint effort of the Fig Garden Lawn Bowl Club and the Fresno City Recreation Department.

The “table-top smooth” turf would have seven lanes in the 125-square-foot green at the playground at 212 S. First St. Installing the green, benches and lighting would cost about $12,000.

Lawn bowling was popular in other areas and although the sport was “not new to Fresno,” the 22 members of the Fig Garden club had “high hopes it will catch on here.” The Holmes Playground green, which still exists, would be the first public green in the San Joaquin Valley.

The story described lawn bowling as similar to shuffleboard, but “instead of pushing a puck, eccentric unbalanced balls called bowls are rolled down a  grassy lane toward a ‘jack,’ a white ball about the size of a cue ball in billiards.”

Q: In the 1960s I used to go to Fresno Hobby on Tulare Street to buy hobby supplies. It moved to Cedar and Shields and later closed. I would appreciate any information about Fresno Hobby.

Tom Pflaum, Clovis

A: According to Nadine Promnitz of Fresno, her stepfather Howard Layton and uncle Bud Uggla opened the first Fresno Hobby and Craft Shop on Mariposa Street near Fresno Street in about the late 1940s. The men ran a similar store in Chicago before moving to Fresno, she said.

They moved the shop to a storefront on Tulare Street and later moved it down the street to 3033 E. Tulare St. “That’s where they had the big race track and little race cars,” Promnitz said.

The slot car track “brought in the kids. There were two beautiful wood tracks,” she said. Layton “went to the coast to see how others were built and built it.”

In the early days the shop sold crafts only targeted to men, her son Don Promnitz recalled. But by the 1960s the store began to stock craft items targeted to female shoppers, like crocheted pearl jewelry and plastic foam Easter eggs, Nadine Promnitz said.

Promnitz said her late husband, Don, a Fresno firefighter, worked at the store part-time until 1967 when she and Don bought out the store from her mother. They sold the business in 1972 and the new owners moved the store to Cedar Avenue.

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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