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It started out as a one-room country schoolhouse, but the city grew up around it

The front of Lafayette Elementary School, pictured in 1965. Lafayette, located at 1606 Princeton Ave. west of Blackstone Avenue, was originally named the Poppy School. It closed in 1975.
The front of Lafayette Elementary School, pictured in 1965. Lafayette, located at 1606 Princeton Ave. west of Blackstone Avenue, was originally named the Poppy School. It closed in 1975.

Q: I went to Lafayette Elementary School at Princeton and Blackstone avenues in the early 1960s. The school was later torn down. Do any photos of the school exist?

Ruben Marez, Fresno

A: Lafayette Elementary School at 1606 Princeton Ave. was originally named the Poppy School, which took its name from the Poppy Colony located south of Shields Avenue and west of First Street.

According to a history of Lafayette School compiled by the Fresno chapter of the American Association of University Women, the date Poppy School was built could not be found. The history was planned to be included in a subsequent volume of the AAUW’s “Public Schools of Fresno County.” Research notes for the second and third unpublished volumes were donated to the Heritage and Genealogy Center in the downtown Fresno County Library.

The history notes that Poppy School was annexed into the then-Fresno Public Schools district soon after it was built. The history says that exact date could not be verified, but Poppy School shows up in the 1905-1906 annual report of Fresno Public Schools.

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Paula Lloyd

Poppy School was a one-room wood-frame building on a 1-acre parcel. The history says the school room had seating for 30 students. The school was remodeled into two classrooms in 1910, with room for 60 students, and expanded again in 1918 to accommodate 80 students.

The school was renamed Lafayette about 1921, and the campus was enlarged with a 4-acre addition purchased from the Maxwell family for about $8,000. “The old building was completely remodeled, three modern portable buildings were added and a permanent brick lavatory building was added,” the history said.

A new main building was built in 1927. By 1928 Lafayette was a kindergarten through sixth grade school. Isaphine Elder, who taught the fourth- and fifth-grade class then, “continued her long teaching career in Fresno public schools,” the history said. “In 1986 she was named California State University, Fresno’s, distinguished alumni, the first woman to receive that honor.”

A multipurpose room used as the auditorium and cafeteria was built in 1940. Another parcel of land bounded by Brown, Blackstone, Harvard and Glenn avenues was purchased from the Maxwell family in 1946, creating an L-shaped campus. The additional space was used for playing fields.

By 1956 the campus included a main building with classrooms and the principal’s office, a second classroom wing, the multipurpose room, which also housed the kindergarten classroom, and a field house.

Lafayette classroom
A classroom at Lafayette Elementary School, pictured in 1965. Lafayette, located at 1606 Princeton Ave. west of Blackstone Avenue, was originally named the Poppy School. It closed in 1975. FRESNO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT

In 1970 a new main building was built for $265,000 to replace the one built in 1927 that did not meet earthquake safety standards, according to the history. The old main building was demolished, but the new building had a modular design so it could be moved. According to the history the new main building was soon moved to the Figarden School.

Lafayette School closed in June 1975, mainly due to declining enrollment and noise from Blackstone Avenue, according to a Bee story. The campus was torn down in 1978 except for the multipurpose building, which was moved to the California Christian College at 4881 University Ave. Workers cut the 400-seat building into two pieces to move it.

According to an entry about Lafayette in Fresno Sketchbook by Doug Hansen, “Students who attended the school in the 1950s and 1960s remember the long bike shed, school carnivals and folk dancing in the cafeteria.”

More about: After a call for memories about the Shady Rest café and rest stop on Highway 168 northeast of Academy was published on Jan. 28, readers shared information, which led to more discoveries.

A brief family history posted on National Geographic’s Sierra Nevada Geotourism website notes that Eloise Chadwick Whiton opened Shady Rest on Tollhouse Road to support herself and her children, Marilyn and Vernon, sometime after her husband Frank E. Whiton died.

His 1945 obituary in The Clovis Independent says Whiton was a native of Missouri who came to California about 1904.

The family history says Whiton “owned a pony ranch” on Copper Avenue in the early 1930s. He “won a house in a poker game in 1934 and moved (it) by team of horses up the old Tollhouse grade. It was the old Friant Bar and Dance Hall,” the history said. He lived on Tollhouse Road after about 1941 and “was engaged in the cattle business and farming.”

Whiton died of a heart attack at age 52. The history doesn’t say when Eloise Whiton opened Shady Rest or when it closed, but it notes she ran it for 25 years. She later married a man whose last name was Cole.

In 2016 when granddaughter Julie Handley posted the history written by Eloise Cole, she wondered, “Does anyone recall stopping by?”

Two readers emailed Ask Me with recollections of time spent at Shady Rest.

James Moore of Fresno recalled, “We would stop at Shady Rest on our way to the mountains and on the way home.”

Cathy Cossey of Clovis wrote that she and her parents stopped at Shady Rest often on their way to Shaver Lake and back. “Shady Rest was a very welcome oasis, especially for me. I was not a good mountain road traveler and was very glad to stop and get out of the car,” she said. “Eloise always had a refreshing cool drink for us.”

Cossey recalls that Eloise’s husband’s name was Bob and they “owned many acres of land and had cattle. Eloise ran the snack stand. She made delicious hamburgers.”

Eloise died in 1992 in San Bernardino County, according to internet records.

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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