1.) Lindsay High School takes up an entire block on the east side of town.
The campus is bordered by Harvard Avenue on the west, Hermosa Street on the north, Cambridge Avenue on the east and Samoa Street on the south.
The west and east sides of the campus measure 604 feet each. The north and south sides measure 598 feet 10 inches each.
The campus is 8.3 acres in size, smallest among Lindsay’s four public schools (the others being Lindsay Junior High School plus Washington and Jefferson elementary schools).
A grocery store – George’s Market – sits on the northwest corner of Hermosa and Harvard. Business is brisk before and after school.
Santa Fe has a rail line two blocks to the west. Orange-packing houses line one side of the line.
The junior high is across the street (Hermosa) from the high school. This site was home to Lindsay’s first high school. The campus we’re talking about is Lindsay’s second high school.
For the most part, the high school is surrounded by houses and orange trees. Two hills – Elephant’s Back and Lindsay Peak – serve as dramatic backdrops. Well, there’s the Sierra Nevada, too.
Construction on the high school’s main building began in 1921. The Great War ended in 1918. The Spanish flu pandemic had run its course by 1920. Warren G. Harding succeeded Woodrow Wilson to the White House in 1921. America was in a hurry to return to “normalcy.”
School boards in cities and towns throughout America were busy building new schools fit for a new era.
“Now that our thoughts are being directed to the construction of the much needed new school buildings, let us give a little more thought to the style of architecture to be used on the exterior of the buildings,” said an article in the April 1919 edition of “The American School Board Journal.”
“Only in this way can we hope to improve upon the commonplace buildings which are now so plentiful throughout the country.”
In other words, no one was in the mood for boring high school architecture.
2.) O.O. Cowles, president of Lindsay’s school board in 1921, certainly wasn’t.
He and his fellow trustees hired the company of architect Ernest J. Kump Sr. to design the new Lindsay High. The result was a school in the Mission (sometimes called Spanish) Style.
This style, said the 1919 School Board Journal, features “white stucco walls, low pitched tile roofs, southern atmosphere….”
That’s pretty much what Cowles and his constituents got when the new Lindsay High opened in 1922.
Lindsay High’s two-story main building is long and looks onto Harvard Avenue. There is a wing of classrooms at the north end and another wing of classrooms at the south end.
A covered hallway connects the main building to the gymnasium, located at the corner of Harvard and Hermosa. A covered hallway connects the main building to the vocational arts building at the corner of Harvard and Samoa.
The front of the school features a big lawn, bisected by a wide walkway leading to double front doors.
On the east side of the main building, you find outdoor basketball courts with wood backboards, the band room, the home economics classroom (a freestanding building), the lightweight football team’s practice field and tennis courts.
Seniors in our modern era park their cars along Harvard, in front of the high school. The heart of front lawn belongs to the seniors, as well.
It’s not an exaggeration to say most of Lindsay High’s 450 students recognize the beauty of their school.
The place isn’t perfect, of course.
The gym isn’t fit for interscholastic competition. The basketball teams play their home games in the Strathmore High School gym, four miles to the south.
There’s no cafeteria. The high school and the junior high share the cafeteria in the junior high’s main building.
The underclassmen park their cars on a dirt lot on the junior high campus. The track and junior varsity baseball teams use facilities on the junior high campus. The typing/business machines teacher and the arts/crafts teacher have classrooms on the junior high campus.
Nobody seems to mind.
Two other details are important to note.
In the very center of the high school’s main building is the 500-seat auditorium. The stage might have been built for Broadway.
One of the classrooms is home to an English teacher named Mary Koehler. She came to America from her native England. Mary arrived at Lindsay High the year before. Three of the classrooms are home to arts/crafts teacher Lois Sheesley and English teachers Joe Ippolito and Orrie Feitsma. They arrived at Lindsay High in the fall.
As Robert Frost said, their presence at Lindsay High “has made all the difference.”
3.) I know what Lindsay old-timers are saying: Why is Hostetter using the present tense to describe this particular high school?
It’s my way of introducing the story.
There is a Lindsay High School currently in full operation on the far east side of town. The campus, only about five years old, is impressive. But that’s not what this story is about, at least not the whole story.
The Lindsay High I have described is from November 1962. That high school no longer exists. Many of the people who filled that school with life are now dead.
What’s my story? “Bye Bye Birdie” is my story.
Lindsay High in April 1965 put on a production of “Birdie.” There were three performances, each delivering a standing-room-only audience.
Lindsay had a population of 5,000 people at the time. Granting that some people attended more than once, it’s still a safe bet that 25% of the town’s residents saw “Birdie.”
We all know the plot. It’s the late 1950s. An Elvis Presley-like figure, Conrad Birdie, has been drafted into the army. His manager, ever on the prowl for publicity, arranges to have Conrad give a lucky teenage girl “one last kiss” on TV before donning his combat boots.
Lots of misunderstandings, lots of music, lots of roles. No wonder “Birdie” is a staple among high school theatrical troupes.
Seniors filled many of the starring roles in that 1965 “Birdie.” Their 50-year class reunion is in mid-October. I was a freshman at the time, and operated the spotlight during the three-show run.
I had often wondered if others enjoyed working on “Birdie” as much I did. I called Tommy Wollenman, who played Conrad. He said the show is chewed on at every reunion of the Class of ’65.
I had my hook.
But as we will see, there’s much more to this story than just the fading high school memories (sincere as they are) of a bunch of Medicare card-carrying theater buffs.
4.) It was in November 1962 that pressure in Lindsay began to mount for a new high school. The post-World War II Baby Boomers were about to hit Ninth Grade. An educational plant designed in the pre-television era for 300 students was obsolete.
The same pressures were bearing down on school boards and taxpayers throughout our Valley.
The obvious solution was to ask the voters to pass a bond measure to build something new. That’s what Lindsay’s civic leaders did, and with success.
The first classes in the new high school came in April 1966. Then Lindsay tore down the beautiful old high school on Harvard.
Why did Lindsay do that? Why did towns throughout the Valley tear down beautiful old schools and beautiful old buildings in the 1960s?
That’s our story, too.
But there’s more.
The Class of 1965 was the last class to spend all four years at the old high school. It’s a badge of honor for those men and women. “Bye Bye Birdie,” a Tony-winning Broadway play only a few years earlier, was the memorable farewell to that memorable campus.
But how did tiny Lindsay High pull off such a big production?
That’s where we tell the tale of Joe Ippolito, Mary Koehler, Orrie Feitsma and Lois Sheesley. The only spoiler alert I’ll give is this: Lindsay in 1962 wasn’t as provincial as you might expect.
This is very much a Valley story. We’ll visit places other than the east side of Lindsay. Fresno City College and Lemoore, in their own ways, cherish the past more than my hometown.
I tell the story in short bursts, averaging about 390 words each. There are 70 such episodes.
Keep the following theme in mind as you read.
I was at a wedding reception several years ago. A friend, a lawyer with the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, said: “Where I come from, when people talk about their school, they’re talking about their college. In the Valley, they’re talking about their high school.”
Those elites in government would give their eyeteeth to bottle what Lindsay had in April 1965 when “Bye Bye Birdie” hit the floorboards.
5.) My sources asked two questions when I called for an interview.
What’s the story about?
Why write it?
To the first question, I would say: “High school architecture and ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’”
Strange as it seems, the answer (with a bit of explanation) was almost always met with interest.
To the second, I would begin by explaining what I do for a living: “I’m a reporter for The Fresno Bee. I cover Fresno City Hall. This story is about government policy in Fresno. It will be posted on my online column, ‘City Beat.’”
This, too, required more explanation. I don’t know if I ever fully connected with my sources. They were generous, and pretended to understand. None declined to talk.
Fresno is a city of 515,000 people. It faces huge challenges: Crime, despair and neighborhood disintegration on a scale that consistently attracts national attention.
Those of us attending the first day of school at Lindsay High on Sept. 8, 1964 couldn’t imagine that the Fresno of 2015 would be such a mess.
City Hall, and especially the office of Mayor Ashley Swearengin, is the control center for all sorts of federal, state and local programs designed to turn every corner of Fresno into a thriving, self-sustaining society.
Vast swaths of Fresno live in poverty or extreme poverty despite systematic and expensive government intervention.
“That happened over a long period of time,” Swearengin said on May 13 while announcing yet another initiative to turn things around, this one called Restore Fresno. “Changing those conditions will take deliberate action and a strong partnership between the community, property owners, businesses and local government.”
I didn’t burden my sources will all this. I simply said: “Fresno is desperate to have what Lindsay had in April 1965.”
My sources understood.
The Lindsay Gazette in July 1965 reported what the police department had faced in the previous 12 months. There were isolated incidents of violence – one murder, two rapes. Some people drank too much – the town averaged five arrests per week for public intoxication.
For the most part, though, Lindsay was a peaceful place. Gangs of the type that plague now Fresno and many Valley towns were unheard of.
Lindsay police in the 1964-1965 fiscal year gave out curfew warnings to 200 youths under age 18. There were 256 bicycle warnings given to youths under 18.
Lindsay cops on their nightly rounds found 440 unlocked doors.
6.) I wondered while researching this story if I might have been an unwitting laboratory rat back in my Lindsay High School days.
Maybe the voters of Lindsay and the five school board trustees in 1963 looked at me and said: “There’s Hostetter – let’s use him to see if there’s something to this notion called ‘architectural determinism.’”
Architectural determinism says the built environment influences human behavior. I don’t claim to know anything about the concept.
I asked members of the City of Fresno Historic Preservation Commission if there’s anything to architectural determinism. They essentially said: Sure, you’ll find a bit of truth in there somewhere.
The idea seems common sense. Buildings, of course, serve a function. But men and women over the centuries have also gone to a lot of effort to make them beautiful.
That I’m writing this story is proof that I think the old Lindsay High School plant, simply by its looks and layout, influenced in ways big and small the behavior of the students who entered it and the lives of the adults they became. I think this influence was (and is) positive. I think the architecture of the high school that opened in 1966 was not as influential on its students.
It couldn’t have been. The 1966 school was meant to be utilitarian, not inspiring.
I spent the better part of two years in a high school of majestic design. I spent slightly more than two years in a high school of a strictly utilitarian design.
Then I became a newspaper reporter.
My editor wants to know which school to blame.
7.) The Smart Set was none too fond of “Bye Bye Birdie” back in the day.
The play opened on April 14, 1960 at Broadway’s Martin Beck Theatre (1,437 seats), now Al Hirschfeld Theatre. Dick Van Dyke was Albert and Chita Rivera played Rosie.
Michael J. Pollard was Hugo. Hard for me to imagine Pollard as Kim’s boyfriend.
“Things are complicated in ‘Bye Bye Birdie .... Things are also uneven,” wrote critic Brooks Atkinson in the next day’s New York Times.
Atkinson hustled through the story details.
“Dick Gautier plays the primitive singer with pompadour, sideburns, gaudy costumes, a rugged voice and a contemptuous vulgarity that are funny -- a good, unsubtle cartoon of hideous reality,” Atkinson wrote.
As Kim’s father, Atkinson wrote, “Paul Lynde contributes to the merriment of the nation by simulating indignation and provincial fatuity.”
Atkinson had nice things to say about director/choreographer Gower Champion’s energy and Rivera’s dancing. But he couldn’t see how the Conrad Birdie plot and the Albert-Rosie plot fit together.
“Last evening the audience was beside itself with pleasure,” Atkinson wrote. “This department was able to contain itself.”
“Bye Bye Birdie,” he concluded, “is neither fish, fowl nor good musical comedy. It needs work.”
Maybe, I thought, the problem was Atkinson. He was born at the end of the 19th century when Grover Cleveland was president. He was out of high school before World War I started. And he was a tough cookie, having earned a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from deep inside Stalin’s Soviet Union.
Atkinson and the early days of Pop Culture weren’t going to be a good fit.
8.) But The Times’ Bosley Crowther, ten years younger than Atkinson, was only slightly nicer in 1963 to “Bye Bye Birdie” the movie.
Van Dyke returned as Albert and Janet Leigh played Rosie. There was Maureen Stapleton as Albert’s mother and Bobby Rydell (something of a late ‘50s/early ‘60s teen idol himself) as Hugo.
The 22-year-old Ann-Margret was Kim. Hard to imagine any high school senior in Sweet Apple, Ohio looking like Ann-Margret.
Make that any high school senior in the history of the world. (Let me add that the Lindsay High School of my era had nothing but pretty -- and smart -- girls.)
When the kids sang “The Telephone Hour,” Crowther wrote, the movie “hums with vitality and humor.” When Jesse Pearson as Conrad sang “Honestly Sincere,” the movie “reaches the high point of its satire and cinematic speed.”
But the Albert/Rosie storyline also irked Crowther.
It is “waged to a point of tedium,” he wrote.
“Bye Bye Birdie” the movie hit the movie houses on April 4, 1963. Then came Nov. 22, 1963 and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In the eyes of many, that’s when the Sixties truly began.
There wasn’t much room for Conrad and Kim and Hugo in that era. “Bye Bye Birdie” disappeared for a bit. High schools and summer stock slowly brought it back to life.
9.) A Broadway revival came in late 2009. It’s enough here to note that The Times hated it.
“Theatergoers may feel an empathetic urge to rush home and bury their heads in their pillows,” wrote Ben Brantley.
But The Times’ Charles McGrath in a piece published Oct. 7, 2009 took a sympathetic look at the story and its history. He did something that earlier critics apparently found impossible. He had fun with all things Birdie.
The story is set in such an innocent time, McGrath wrote, that “the only thing that gets smoked is cigarettes.”
“Bye Bye Birdie,” McGrath wrote, “has a large number of teenage parts, most of them easy to sing and perform, and the plot, such as it is, is all about the generation gap. On progressive high school stages these days, it’s not unheard of for the principal to take the role of the uptight Mr. MacAfee, who just doesn’t understand what’s wrong with kids these days.”
To show how things change with time, McGrath saw the Albert/Rosie relationship as “the show’s core.”
Then why did it take 50 years for a Broadway revival?
“Bye Bye Birdie,” McGrath wrote, “is harder to put on professionally than it looks.”
It’s here that McGrath helps shine a light on what Lindsay High School accomplished in 1965.
Musicals, of course, were nothing new in mid-20th century America. Just about everyone knew of hits such as “South Pacific,” “The Music Man” and “Oklahoma.” The same could be said of rock ‘n’ roll, even though it was in its infancy when Kennedy took office in 1961.
When would the two be combined?
“‘Bye Bye Birdie’ is often called the first rock ‘n’ roll musical,” McGrath wrote.
Charles Strouse (score), Lee Adams (lyrics) and Michael Stewart (book) were first out the chute with a deceptively complex story, McGrath wrote. For starters, there are lots of moving pieces -- Kim and Hugo, Albert and Rosie, Albert and Mama, Conrad and Sweet Apple, Hugo and Conrad, teens and the enthusiasms of youth.
Then there’s the music.
“Emotionally the show sympathizes with the teenagers, but musically it comes down on the side of traditional Broadway tunes and a classic Broadway romance,” McGrath wrote.
Put it all together, McGrath wrote, and the play demands smart casting, a deft director’s touch and the wisdom by all to avoid smugness and heavy-handed parody.
McGrath’s advice: “Trust the story.”
And what is that story? “Bye Bye Birdie,” McGrath wrote, “is a sweetly innocent show.”
That’s the way my friends at Lindsay High School played it in 1965.
10.) Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl.
There you have it, the plot for “Bye Bye Birdie.”
I can’t remember whether the Ippolito-Koehler production followed the Broadway storyline, the movie storyline or some combination to fit the demands of Lindsay High School, circa 1965.
But, near as I can tell, “Bye Bye Birdie” is about rock ‘n’ roll star Conrad Birdie’s last days as a civilian. The time is 1958, and he’s been drafted.
Conrad’s manager, Albert Peterson, and his secretary/girlfriend Rose “Rosie” Alvarez come up with a publicity stunt. They will pick a girl from Conrad’s fan club. Conrad will give her one last kiss on “The Ed Sullivan” TV show before heading into the military.
The girl will represent the millions of young girls all across America in despair over Conrad’s departure from civilization (for all of two years).
Fifteen-year-old Kim MacAfee from Sweet Apple, Ohio is the lucky girl.
Things move fast from there.
Kim and her boyfriend, Hugo Peabody, have decided to go steady. Kim is smitten with the change in her life. Then Conrad comes to town with Albert and Rosie. Arrangements for the televised “one last kiss” must be made.
Conrad stays with Kim and her family. Proximity works its magic on Kim. She takes a cotton to Conrad. She looks forward to that special kiss even as she tells a jealous Hugo that the smack will mean nothing.
Sullivan’s Sunday night show comes. Hugo gives Conrad a smack with his fist.
Sullivan gets his showstopper. Albert and Rosie decide to marry, putting an end to a subplot involving his domineering mother. Kim and Hugo, royalty among the teenagers of Sweet Apple, get back together. Harry MacAfee, persevering more than befuddled, gets his moment of fame on the nation’s most important TV show.
Conrad (off stage or off camera) does the patriotic thing and reports for duty.
Along the way, Mr. MacAfee sings “Kids!”
One of the lines goes: “Laughing, singing, dancing, grinning, morons….”
The “morons” bit is too harsh. Otherwise, that was Lindsay High in 1965.
Who would want any other way?
11.) Joe Ippolito died in 2001. I couldn’t find Mary Koehler. Friends said they thought she, too, had died.
I needed someone who has actually directed a high school production of “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Bullard High School drama teacher Calvin Hoff came to my rescue in August. We met in the cubby-hole that serves as his office near the band room.
Calvin’s “Bye Bye Birdie” was done in March 2003. He said the musical’s charms are obvious: A big cast; lots of teens playing teens; snappy music and dancing; romance; plenty of merrymaking.
Among his thoughts:
▪ “There are certain roles where, if don’t have the right person, you don’t have a play. Conrad Birdie is essential. You have to have the guy who can pull off the Elvis Swagger, and have the voice to go with it. That character makes or breaks the show.”
▪ “Rosie is another key role -- that fiery Latin passion.”
▪ “You want an innocence about Kim. Ann-Margret was totally miscast. Albert is the mama’s boy. He has to grow up and be a man.”
▪ “Somehow you’ve got to have a set and the lighting and the sound. A big requirement is to have microphones, especially if you’re trying to balance the singers against a live orchestra. A live orchestra easily overwhelms high school singers.”
▪ “Live music totally changes the feel of a musical. It gives the kids a much more authentic experience of what musical theater is all about.”
▪ (Teaching the “Telephone Song” to teens in the Digital Era) “They’re texting. That’s the modern equivalent of the party line. It’s the ‘Text Song.’”
Calvin said the Lindsay High auditorium with its 500-plus seating capacity was the perfect size for musical theater. He was born in 1950. He wasn’t surprised that “Bye Bye Birdie” sticks in the hearts of so many Lindsay folks from 50 years ago.
“For any kid who’s been in a play in high school, it’s a memorable occasion,” Calvin said. “When schools invest in theater they’re giving kids a way to connect, to find a group that they’re comfortable with.
“Theater is another way for kids to be engaged.”
12.) My brother, a 1958 Lindsay High graduate, didn’t make it to any of the “Bye Bye Birdie” shows. He was in the army.
Bill Hostetter had been drafted in August 1963. He was looking at another four months of olive drab uniforms when “Bye Bye Birdie” hit the auditorium floorboards of his alma mater.
The draft is pivotal to the “Bye Bye Birdie” story line.
There’s got to be a compelling reason for rock ‘n’ roll star Conrad Birdie’s rather long stay in Sweet Apple, Ohio. Normally, Conrad would barrel into the tiny burg, plant a kiss on Kim’s lips in front of the cameras, then blast out of town for his next singing or public-relations gig.
He was a star. Nothing was in front of him but civilian bliss and growing riches.
But that was the old Conrad. Then he opened his mail one day and saw a draft notice staring him in the face. He had a choice: Go to jail or serve a two-year hitch in the army by force of the the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1951.
Being a patriot, Conrad chose the latter. But he wasn’t going to be a rock star in his new gig. He would be just another enlisted man in a crowded barracks, following of the orders of anyone who outranked him -- which would be just about everyone.
My fellow Lindsay residents in the audience of 1965, especially men who had served during the not-too-distant World War II or the more recent Korean War, would know this.
So, Sweet Apple, Ohio was as good a place as any for Conrad to spend his last few days of freedom. And, since his past was about to disappear, Conrad had no reason to give a hoot about his boorish actions in a town he would never see again.
The draft made made the “Bye Bye Birdie” premise believable.
13.) The audience of 1965 also would know the story of Elvis Presley’s stint in the army and how things had changed in seven years.
Presley took the induction oath on March 24, 1958. The Bee that day carried a photo of Elvis with his mother, Gladys, and father, Vernon. “Wisecracking Elvis, Sans Ducktail, Leaves For Army” was the headline.
The Associated Press story had a Memphis, Tennessee dateline: “Elvis Presley, sleepy from an all night open house at his suburban mansion, reached draft board headquarters half an hour early today to begin a two year hitch in the army.”
Presley was dressed in dark blue trousers and what the reporter called a “subdued gray check jacket.” Presley told the reporters they should enlist with him. This recruiting attempt, The Bee reported, proved “fruitless.”
About 15 Memphis police officers were on hand to control what was expected to be a crowd of emotional and despondent fans. But it was early in the morning and there was a constant drizzle. No crowd.
The 23-year-old Presley had 22 gold singles or albums to his credit. He was soon to be paid $78 a month for his service.
To use a term popular during my first days in the army, Presley was about to become a “maggot.”
Bye bye, indeed.
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll received his honorable discharge on March 5, 1960 at Fort Dix, N.J. He served most of his time in Germany.
“Sgt. Presley, Army Part Company” was The Bee’s headline. His last army paycheck was for $109.54.
“A half dozen squealing teenaged girls, more than a dozen newsmen and a detail of six military policemen were on hand for Elvis’ final moments of military life,” The Bee reported. “More than 40 GIs awaiting separation roared a final farewell to the hip swinging singer from a barracks nearby.”
Col. Tom Parker, Presley’s business manager, was waiting in a car. They headed for New York City. Next up was a visit to home in Memphis. After that?
14.) The old Lindsay High School once was brand new.
(From what I can tell, the cornerstone was laid in 1921 but the first students arrived in 1922. If so, this would not be unusual. The “new” high school at Foothill Avenue and Tulare Road was dedicated in November 1965 but the first students didn’t get there until April 1966.)
There are two ways for us in 2015, holding the digital universe in our hands, to view the Lindsay High School of 1921.
First, the beauty and size of the plant and its grounds must have seemed like a miracle to many Lindsay residents. The town in 1921 was just 11 years old as an incorporated city. The population was just 2,600. I’m guessing a lot of people in town didn’t have running water or indoor plumbing. Many living on the small farms served by Lindsay were in the same boat. They probably didn’t even have electricity.
The teenage girls and boys of Lindsay circa 1921 would have looked at that gymnasium with its indoor basketball court with great anticipation. Only eight shower heads in the boy’s locker room? Who cares? The place has running hot and cold water!
They would have walked the football field on the east side of the campus and dreamed of the big games to come against mighty Strathmore.
They would have pondered the classrooms (two stories full of ‘em!) and hoped against hope that the algebra and Shakespeare they’d study there would be their ticket to a brighter future.
The adults of Lindsay circa 1921 would have looked at their brand new high school and seen the foundation for the town’s emerging identity.
“Who are we?” they had been asking themselves. Lindsay is so new, and we come from different places. We have different ideas about life. We labor each day largely in isolation. What is to bind us?
In a nation where church and state are separate, the new Lindsay High School on Harvard Avenue was the answer.
15.) That is the insider’s way to look at Lindsay High, 1921. The second way is to look at the school as an outsider.
It’s takes a bit of historical imagination (I had superb history teachers at Lindsay High; take a much-deserved bow, Mrs. Pauline Fink!) to recall the powerful intellectual ferment of the time. It’s sufficient here to note that World War I upset the status quo even more than would World War II some two decades later.
The revolution was felt in the world of school architecture, as well.
The March 1921 edition of “The Architect and The Engineer” featured two articles on school architecture.
“Some Neglected Aspects of School Architecture” by Charles K. Sumner (architect) in part is a list of grievances against bureaucrats. For example, he said school board members with their obsession for finances tend to be “the most uncertain, irresponsible, and yet most exacting of an architect’s clients.”
Such focus on bean-counting, Sumner said, produces a schoolhouse that is little more than “a contrivance to protect children from the inclemency of the weather while they are being educated.”
Mostly, though, Sumner asks that school architects be seen as artists as keen on education as any principal.
“As an art,” Sumner said, “architecture must appeal positively to the spirit, not merely the physical needs of man; and unfortunately it too often misses his nobler side and reflects only his vanities and sophistications. School architecture then should appeal all the more clearly to the simpler spirit of childhood and youth,and should realize to the fullest extent possible the environment suited to their nature.”
The second article, “The Architecture, Planning and Construction of Schools” by John J. Donovan (architect) begins with a more scientific approach to school architecture.
“In factory planning, the essential factor is the routing of material along the most direct and economical channels,” Donovan said. “In school planning, the routing of human potential is essential…. It is gratifying to note that the architecture of the school has remained simple and direct. This is truly a hopeful sign. For as the nation advances in its development and maintains its virility, the demands for education will always outstrip supply.”
With an attitude like that, Lindsay school officials in 1921 would not have built a high school like the one on Harvard Avenue.
16.) Yet, Donovan in the end reveals his human side.
“Much effort is made within the school to teach children to draw accurately and freely, to paint with oils and water-colors, to comprehend proportion of areas and figures, to understand the history of art and civilization, and to master other subjects which lead to the realms of art,” Donovan said.
“The motive prompting this work is not that a livelihood will be made from such brief training, but that the child will be trained to have a sense of appreciation for the beautiful which he may express in other forms of life’s activities.
“Therefore, is not the appreciation greatly enhanced and fostered if the building and its appointments are executed so that the mind, at its impressionist age, may have good examples constantly before it?”
That sounds like a vote for “architectural determinism” to me.
Donovan’s article included photos and drawings of American high schools of worthy architectural style. A drawing of Lindsay High School as designed Ernest J. Kump Sr. is among them.
This may be the only drawing of the high school as originally planned still in existence. I asked the current Lindsay school district if I could review any plans it had of the 1921 high school. Officials said they have none. I called the Environmental Design Archives at the University of California, Berkeley, where Kump Sr.’s papers are stored. Officials at Cal said they have nothing on Lindsay High.
For old-timers like me, the drawing in “The Architect and The Engineer” clears up something that always bugged me.
In the old days, a lot of kids after eating lunch would gather in front of the gym’s entrance to visit. When the bell rang for afternoon classes, many of us walked on the grass along the gym’s south wall to get to covered hallway that led to the main building’s north entrance. (All the while making sure not to walk on the “senior” portion of the lawn.)
All that walking pretty soon took a toll on the grass. Why wasn’t there a sidewalk from the gym to the hallway?
Well, Ernest J. Kump Sr. anticipated this very problem. The original design called for a courtyard of sorts in the middle of the front grounds. There would be a garden, curved sidewalks and a flag pole. Part of the sidewalk would lead to the school’s main doors.
On either side of the front grounds, there would be curved sidewalks. Students walking from the gym to the north covered hallway would have a concrete path. Students walking from the vocational arts building to the south covered hallway would have a concrete path.
All that disappeared when construction actually began.
The bean-counters of 1921 apparently carried the day.
17.) The “world” survived.
The main building at the old Lindsay High School reached a height of perhaps 40 feet. At the very top was a plaster (maybe concrete) globe with an outline of the continents.
Students at just about any point on the campus grounds who looked toward the heavens above the main building would see a representation of the world awaiting their talents.
I missed the symbolism at age 15. At age 65, I find it inspiring.
Ernest J. Kump Sr. was 33 years old when he was hired as architect for the new Lindsay High School.
Here are a few biographical details from the University of California-Berkeley’s Environmental Design Archives and a report written by John Edward Powell, a noted architectural historian based in the Valley, for the Fresno County Board of Supervisors:
Kump was born March 29, 1888 in Brooklyn, New York and raised in San Jose. He attended St. Joseph’s College in San Jose, worked as a carpenter and completed an architectural apprenticeship in Bakersfield under Orville L. Clark.
Kump became a practicing architect in 1912 in Bakersfield. He moved to Fresno in 1914. He and his wife, Mary, had two sons, Ernest Jr. and Peter. Both sons became architects. Ernest Jr.’s fame would exceed his father’s by a considerable degree. (Kump Jr.’s firm was architect for the Fresno County Hall of Records in Courthouse Park, a cheek-by-jowl neighbor to the Old County Courthouse; the Hall of Record’s designer was Henry P. Villalon.)
The Kump family does not appear to have been a happy one. Three ambitious architects were two too many.
Kump died on Nov. 12, 1939.
“Kump’s inability to make the personal transition from the traditional styles of his early training to the new modern architecture had literally killed him at the early age of 51,” Powell wrote.
Kump designed his share of homes and public/commercial buildings, but made his name as an architect of schools. He designed 33 schools in a four-year period early in his career.
Orosi High School and Woodlake High School were among Kump’s many accomplishments in the Valley in the first third of the 20th century.
I contend Lindsay High School was Ernest J. Kump Sr.’s masterpiece.
The globe that topped the old high school now rests in the garden outside Lindsay’s historical museum. Sarah Troop, the museum’s curator, and Gary Meling (Lindsay High Class of ’81) saved it.
Where had the globe been for nearly 50 years? Don’t ask, Gary said. It’s sufficient to note that the “world” once again sits in the heart of Lindsay.
18.) The old Lindsay High School facility became obsolete on March 10, 1933.
That’s when the Long Beach earthquake hit just a few hours after Southern California schools let out.
The quake measured 6.4 on the Richter scale and killed 115 people, many done in by falling debris as they ran outside. More than 230 school buildings were destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
The Field Act, named after state Assembly Member Charles Field, sailed through the legislature a month later. The act (to be followed in coming decades by complementary laws) did two key things.
School buildings had to be earthquake resistant. Bye bye anything made of unreinforced masonry.
And a state-level bureaucracy was created to pass judgment on school design, past, present and future.
The old Lindsay High was a showcase for the art of construction with unreinforced masonry. No wonder the auditorium walls did the twist during pep rallies.
Then World War II ended. Lindsay’s young men and women, married for the most part, got busy with the romantic side of life. The product of the Baby Boom began flowing into local schools in 1951.
(Bryan Jessup, part of a storied Lindsay-Strathmore family, recalls a favorite comment of Dr. Annie Bond, a pioneer who delivered a lot of babies in her 42 years of practice in the area. “Funny,” Bond would say, “but the first always seems to arrive after six months.”)
The school district by fall 1962 had come to the last round of the pre-Baby Boom students. The kids born in 1945 were starting their senior year of high school.
A big story in the Oct. 17, 1962 Gazette bragged: “Lindsay Schools For First Time In Years Have Ample Facilities.”
But the story didn’t quite fit the headline. Two recent bond measures had added 10 classrooms. But all 10 (six at Washington, four at Jefferson) were at the town’s two elementary schools.
“As far as physical facilities are concerned,” District Superintendent Don Cahill said, “our elementary youngsters now have the benefit of the best that can be offered.”
Hmmm. Nothing about the high school.
19.) With good reason. Lindsay leaders had known for years that their majestic high school was poorly built (at least in the eyes of Sacramento regulators) and too small.
Mr. Cahill and the school board were waiting for the right moment to ask the town for money.
Construction of the high school had started in 1921. The school opened in the fall of 1922. The Gazette at the time said the school, built at a cost of $200,000 for a maximum student body of 300, would meet district needs for at least a few years to come.”
A reasonable assumption. The 1920 Comet had photos of 15 seniors.
A favorite topic over the years was a marriage of the Lindsay and Strathmore high schools. A mere four miles separate the two rivals. Why not build one modern high school convenient to both?
The idea never got beyond talk.
Lindsay district officials in 1961 began serious talk of a bond measure to fund construction of a new high school. A committee of 28 city leaders pulled trigger in January 1963: Voters would go to the polls on March 12 to decide whether to finance a new high school. Projected cost -- $1.6 million.
Lindsay High at the time had slightly more than 500 students.
Mr. Cahill, with the help of The Gazette’s front page, campaigned hard for the bond. He quoted words from The Gazette of 1922: “Lindsay people have just reason to boast of the advantages of education and for future citizenship offered the children in our midst.”
Then Mr. Cahill added: “Can the people of Lindsay continue to boast of such advantages for their children?”
20.) The bond (actually two of them) needed a two-thirds yes vote. Mr. Cahill’s worries were valid.
The superintendent said the school was falling apart. He said double-sessions would be inevitable for years to come if the bond failed. He said the cost of a new school would only go up and up.
But Mr. Cahill wouldn’t rely only on words. The Gazette reported on March 6 that Lindsay High on March 12, Election Day, would hold an unusual open house.
The entire campus from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. would be open to a personal inspection by voters.
March 12 was a Tuesday. School was in session. It didn’t matter. District officials wanted voters to see for themselves what a dump their high school was.
People were asked to check in at the front office. At that point, The Gazette reported, the explorer could take the trek with a guide or go “on their own.”
The Gazette on March 6 published several photos of the high school’s failings.
There was a photo of a handful of boys in the shower. Big, burly David Samaduroff, a star tackle on the championship football team, was shown (from the waist up) giving a brave wave with his left hand.
The cutline read in part: “In the antiquated gymnasium of the present high school building, as many as 50 students must take their turns in (the) shower booth that boasts only eight shower heads.”
(All eight worked? They didn’t when I got there 17 months later.)
A photo showed Principal William E. Wilson walking up the stairs to one of the gym’s locker rooms for boys (there was another on the bottom level, near the showers).
“Note the apparent age of the stairs and the walls that enclose them,” the cutline said. “Such a facility is considered a dangerous firetrap.”
(Good thing the cutline writer didn’t have Joe Ippolito, Mary Koehler or Orrie Feitsma for English. “Dangerous firetrap”? One other point. Everything about that gym was remarkable. The boys second-level locker room was great!)
Another photo showed the interior of the woodshop, with its two levels. Boys were at work on the bottom level. One boy on the second level, which had no safety rail, was busy gathering fresh wood.
The cutline read in part: “Photo shows a portion of the high school woodshop area, where students are forced to use an inadequately supported second level for storage of materials…. One of the architects, while touring this area, refused to walk beneath the overhang shown in this photo because of the danger involved.”
Keep the image of this timid architect in mind. We’ll revisit the woodshop later in the blog.
21.) “Bonds For High School Carry” The Gazette reported on March 13, 1963.
The vote for one bond was 1,135 yes, 329 no. On the other, it was 1,118 yes, 340 no. Voter turnout was less than 50%.
Said Mr. Cahill in victory: “I would say the present sixth graders will be the first to use the new plant.”
If he meant the Class of 1969 would be the first to spend all four years at the new plant, Mr. Cahill was off by a year. That honor (or curse) landed on the Class of 1970.
We’ll leave this part of the blog not with the excitement of the successful bond measure, but with two sentences from a Gazette editorial published a week before the free men and women of the Lindsay school district cast their ballots.
This is a blog about high school architecture and its influence on human development. It’s about the soul of a people and how they express it. It’s about the loss of the irreplaceable.
The editorial is about the millstone that the old high school had become to the progress of history.
Sentence No. 1: “There are those who, for a long time, have felt that the main building, with plenty of architectural frills but relatively little classroom space, never has been adequate for the needs of the children.”
Sentence No. 2: “We may as well do it now and do it well – providing plenty of classroom and laboratory space, with only such architectural ornamentation as is absolutely indispensable.”
22.) The Gazette on Feb. 24, 1965 published a recap of the Lindsay High basketball team’s season.
No need to say I’m talking about the boys team. Title IX was years away. Only swimming and tennis had girls interscholastic athletic teams.
The Cardinals had an easy time winning the Central Sierra League title. Shaun Floyd led the team in scoring, averaging 21.5 points per game.
On March 7, just as Lindsay High’s “Bye Bye Birdie” production was gathering steam, hundreds of peaceful and unarmed demonstrators (African-American) were attacked by armed state troopers (white) as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
The day would go down in American history as “Bloody Sunday.”
The voting rolls in Selma in1965 were 99% white, 1% African-American. Five months after Bloody Sunday, President Johnson signed into law the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Shaun Floyd and his sister, Leatrice, are African-American. Shaun was a junior in the 1964-65 school year. Leatrice was a sophomore. The Floyd family had moved to Lindsay before school started.
Both would go on to graduate from Lindsay High. I don’t know if they were the first African-Americans to attend the high school. That takes in a lot of years. I’d bet Shaun and Leatrice are the first African-Americans to earn a Lindsay High diploma.
The basketball team’s starting lineup was Andy Gusman (point guard), John Emerson, Randy Brannon, Dan Bream (student body president) and Shaun.
The 1965 Comet doesn’t mention skin color. It doesn’t mention Bloody Sunday.
There is a photo on page 90 of Jackie Mason, a tall, blond senior, one of the popular ones. She is walking on a crowded campus, her left arm resting on Shaun’s right arm.
Jackie wears a goofy smile. The photographer caught her by surprise. In other words, it’s a perfect photo for a high school yearbook focused on personalities, not politics.
That explains the photo’s cutline: “Expressions speak for themselves.”
But I’m sure Comet editor Ilene Kubicek and yearbook advisor Lois Sheesley knew what they were doing.
It’s the best photo in the 1965 Comet.
23.) Let’s return to that architect who, in early 1963 before the bond vote, said he was afraid to walk beneath the woodshop’s second level.
The entire school was supposed to be crumbling.
“I had my doubts about that,” Mike Butler (Class of 1966) told me this summer in his Lindsay auto-repair shop. “But Don Cahill came in one day and confirmed the place was in danger of collapsing … even though the wrecking ball had to hit it a few times to begin the crumbling.”
The 1925 Comet has a wonderful photo of the interior of the auto mechanics shop, located on the south side of the woodshop. The entire department was titled simply “Shop.”
“One of the features of the woodworking (shop) for this year was the construction of a lumber room,” The 1925 Comet wrote. “The new lumber room is located on a balcony in the north end of the woodworking shop. The students not only built the lumber-racks, walls stairway, window guards, and rolling door, but also trussed up the balcony so that it will safely carry the maximum load that will be required of it.”
The old high school’s shop still stands, 83 years after the school opened. Merced Doria, the district’s facilities director, was kind enough this summer to arrange a tour for me.
I didn’t take a shop class in high school. But I had woodshop as a seventh-grader. The junior and senior high schools shared a number of facilities.
Photos and a brief video of my tour accompany this blog. The woodshop, like the auto mechanics shop, is used for storage. The woodshop’s second level lumber room is still there, as is the rolling door.
I couldn’t tell if anything is stored up there. But there was a ladder leaning against the second level floor, suggesting someone goes up there occasionally. All the stuff stored beneath the second level also suggests district employees have no qualms about walking where that architect feared to go.
All that unreinforced masonry -- still standing. What a beautiful sight.
I hope district officials save – and restore – that marvelous building.
24.) My hope opens a can of worms.
If all those old-timers from the Lindsay of long ago so loved that old high school, why didn’t they save it?
If there’s something to be said for architectural determinism, and it’s believed the shape of that old high school produced unusually perceptive and civic-minded men and women, then why didn’t they dig into their own pockets and restore it for another use?
I don’t have an answer, just as all the old-timers I meet in Fresno who bemoan the destruction of the Old Courthouse can’t adequately explain why their parents and grandparents didn’t rise to the occasion.
Karen Kimball (Class of ’67) raised two good points in our phone chat.
She said there was much talk in the early 1960s about the need for a new high school. “New” drowned out any serious consideration of “old.”
“Once that momentum gets going,” Karen said, “it’s hard to stop.”
And the old high school at the end of its life truly was threadbare in many places. As I’ve learned from my Fresno City Hall beat, maintenance of aging facilities is expensive.
“Maybe we complained about the school and don’t remember,” Karen said.
Yet, Karen didn’t sound as if she really believed what she was saying.
An argument can be made that only two classes spent enough time at both the old high school and the new high school to accurately gauge their respective values. Only the classes of ’67 and ’68 attended each campus for at least one full school year.
“The old high school had a way of keeping traditions alive,” Karen said. “That didn’t seem as possible at the new high school. The old high school is a flood of memories for me. It’s where I was when President Kennedy was killed. It was where my parents went to high school. It’s where my brother went to high school.”
There was something special about the old high school’s main hallway and the classrooms in the main building, Karen said. Maybe it was the high ceilings. Maybe it was the large windows.
Of course, the auditorium was great.
“The old high school felt more scholastic,” Karen said. “And it was in town. It was more a part of the community, and I think the community was more a part of it.”
Maybe it was the era that helped destroy the old high school. President Eisenhower in the mid-1950s started building the interstate highway system. This led to a construction spree that destroyed many older buildings in cities all across America. Urban renewal also hit its stride as the ‘50s moved into the ‘60s.
Lindsay wasn’t in the direct path of these historic forces. But maybe the utilitarian mindset that lies at the heart of scientific management made its way to this small, out-of-the-way town.
President Johnson didn’t sign the Historic Preservation Act until October 1966. By that time, it was too late for the old Lindsay High School.
“It’s a funny thing about that school,” Karen said. “Everybody of a certain age remembers it well.”
25.) My dig into high school design and “Bye Bye Birdie” raised two more questions.
If the architecture and layout of the old Lindsay High were of such high instructional and social value, then why isn’t government in 2015 building lots of schools just like the beautiful facility of my youth? After all, nothing trumps equity in public education.
If the architecture and layout of the old Lindsay High were deemed long ago to damage the students’ welfare and crush their chances at future success, then why isn’t government in 2015 busy ripping down all of the still-functioning public high schools built in the 19th and early 20th centuries? After all, nothing trumps equity in public education.
I asked these questions of Fresno Unified School District officials this summer.
Some of the main facilities at Fresno High and Roosevelt High (my wife is a 1970 RHS graduate) date back to the pre-World War II era. Other schools in the district, such as McLane High and Hoover High, were built in the late 1950s or early1960s. The Fresno High-Roosevelt architecture is majestic, almost aristocratic. The architecture at McLane-Hoover is strictly functional.
Fresno Unified officials told me to get lost.
So, I called Fred Yeager, the Sacramento-based director of school facilities for the California Department of Education.
Mr. Yeager is a top dog in a vast educational bureaucracy that would have stunned Lindsay High officials in 1922.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction – State Department of Education – School Facility Planning Division – governor-appointed State Architect – Division of the State Architect – Office of Public School Construction. On and on the list goes.
Mr. Yeager in essence said the mission of the old Lindsay High was too simple, too limited, for a modern world where variety of opportunity is everything. The old Lindsay High’s architecture and layout, viewed by me as their primary features, were actually their most damning defects.
Modern public high schools have to provide everything for everybody at all times. The Constitution says so. Title IX, the Americans with Disabilities Act, environmental health worries, transportation demands, the Digital World, immigration, competitiveness in a global economy, politics – they all drive modern high school design.
The two-story high school on a small footprint, so popular in the 1920s, just doesn’t cut it today, Mr. Yeager said.
Mr. Yeager sort of answered my first question. He didn’t tackle my second question.
But he did help me understand why just about everyone who attended the old Lindsay High remembers it with fondness, if not reverence.
“There is the ‘ahh’ of a beautiful civic building,” Mr. Yeager said.
26.) The old Lindsay High School was based on the “cells and bells” education model.
The kids sat in classrooms -- the “cells” – and listened to teachers. The “bells” rang. Everyone moved to another “cell.”
The day ended. Another day came. Same routine.
(For the record, it wasn’t nearly as passive or uninteresting at the old Lindsay High as this definition suggests.)
“Cells and bells,” I learned, is considered by many of today’s top-notch educators as the world’s worst way to mold fine young minds. The old Lindsay High for that reason alone probably was doomed.
“The old type of classroom doesn’t fit anymore the way we want to teach,” said Merced Doria, Lindsay Unified School District’s facilities manager.
I had two excellent face-to-face interviews with Merced. He clearly has a lot of the historic preservationist in him.
But, as he told me, “I have to think about today and tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow” has moved in a new direction.
Merced is 42 years old, so he never saw the old Lindsay High in person. I showed him the front and back covers of the 1963 Comet with its stunning color photo of the front of the old campus.
“Do I like that look? I love that look,” Merced said. “That’s nicer than what we have at our current high school.”
But everything about the inside and outside of the old main building screams “expensive,” Merced said.
The ornamentation is an obvious luxury.
I showed Merced a photo in the 1939 Comet of the main building’s first-floor hallway. I thought he would be dazzled.
“Look at all that space,” Merced said. “It’s unused a lot of the day. That’s a cost.”
School districts these days face more challenges than the Lindsay trustees of 1921.
Sacramento and Washington, D.C. pretty much call the shots when it comes to curriculum and funding. (What else is there?) Local hands are tied, yet the districts are expected to faithfully and successfully execute Big Government’s grand schemes.
Building codes, Title IX equity mandates and the American with Disabilities Act are just the start of the legal and policy reasons why it would be almost impossible to rebuild the Lindsay High School of 1921-22.
Teaching these days in the Lindsay schools is a more collaborative affair among pupils and teachers. A “cells and bells” facility like the old Lindsay High, burdened with what modern thinkers would call operational inflexibility, doesn’t cut it.
The old Lindsay High didn’t have fences around the front of the school. Most schools these days are nothing but fences. Got to keep the kids in. Got to keep everyone else out.
Then there’s the management of movement.
The Lindsay High of 1966 had wings of classrooms fanning out like spokes on a wheel. So does the newest high school, the one Merced knows well.
“I can stand in one spot in the center of that campus and see down all those wings,” Merced said. At the old Lindsay High, “there were a lot more places to hide. That’s one thing that has changed over the years from the school district’s perspective. We want it easier to supervise, and we want to do it with fewer people.
“We want to make sure the kids are safe and not getting into mischief.”
27.) There was plenty of mischief at the old Lindsay High, though I doubt the main explanation had much to do with the school’s nooks and crannies.
My first interview with Merced took place in a conference room at the offices of Mangini Associates, an architectural firm in Visalia that has served Lindsay Unified well over the years. Gilbert Bareng, Mangini’s principal architect in design, joined us.
A traditional high school like the old Lindsay High, Gilbert said, “was a very rigorous and very structured type of learning.”
Time moved on in a society based on scientific management. Year in and year out, educators and architects practiced a simple philosophy.
“We need to rethink how students are learning,” Gilbert said.
Nothing survives for long in that kind of world.
I don’t want to give the impression that Merced and Gilbert were in any way critical of the old Lindsay High or the value of historic preservation.
Gilbert said school architects must set aside personal preferences and serve their clients’ needs. He said he loves classical architecture.
(Gilbert’s comment made me recall something said by Dan Zack, the No. 2 manager at Fresno City Hall’s planning department and a huge fan of old-style high school architecture. Too many of today’s high schools, Dan told me, “look like minimum-security prisons.” I find it hard to believe Gilbert and his fellow school architects across the nation got into the business because they hungered to design “minimum-security prisons.” Or “fertilizer plants” -- another of Dan’s colorful descriptions for current high school design.)
Old buildings in Lindsay probably have no better friend than Merced Doria. He and district officials saved the old Washington School building (which had become part of the Presbyterian Church’s campus when the new Washington School was built in the early 1950s). The church wanted rid of the building. Merced saw its value, and helped turn it into a beautiful headquarters for the district.
Yet, I still sense that the destruction of the old Lindsay High was a tragedy, more to the Lindsay of 2015 than to those of us still alive who lived in the pre-1966 Lindsay.
“The past is always a rebuke to the present,” said novelist Robert Penn Warren in 1956 at a reunion of poets connected to the Fugitive Agrarian movement that was born in the same years the old Lindsay High was built. “It’s a better rebuke than any dream of the future. It’s a better rebuke because you can see what some of the costs were, what frail virtues were achieved in the past by frail men.”
And frail women. The old Lindsay High bespoke the frail but worthy virtues achieved at great cost by the town’s pioneers.
“For people like you, who went to school in that old building, there’s deep emotion,” Merced told me. “When you have your class reunion and look at photos of that old building, you remember.
“Do the students leaving our school today have the same emotion? I don’t know. That would be something to ask them.”
28.) They do things differently in Lemoore.
I knew that the second I walked into a conference room at Lemoore Union High School District headquarters in mid-July.
Superintendent Debbie Muro was with me. She set a folder on the conference table.
“Here, I thought you might like to look through this,” she said.
The folder had contracts from the construction in 1924-1925 of the Lemoore High main building. The building remains the center of activity for the high school.
Debbie and I had never met before that day. We had talked twice by phone a few weeks earlier. I had said little more than I admire the Lemoore High building. She invited me for a visit.
And what was the first thing she showed me? Obscure paperwork from the building’s birth. Lemoore folks are proud of their old building.
“Why does our community support the building staying the same?” Debbie said. “Here’s the best way I can answer that. At our 2015 graduation, the principal (Rodney Brumit) had all the kids stand up who were second generation students. Then he had the third generation students do the same. We’re almost to the fourth generation of graduates. My mom just turned 80 and she is a graduate of Lemoore High School.
“Lemoore is a small community. The high school is the hub of activity. We are proud of this school.”
29.) According to district records, land for the present high school campus was bought in December 1923. Lemoore’s original high school opened at the turn of the century, but something new was needed to keep up with modern times.
The cornerstone was formally placed on Oct. 10, 1924.
Principal J.F. Graham said the main building would long be “a credit to the people who have made it possible.”
On March 23, 1925, Mr. Graham’s 41st birthday, students moved into the new facility at Lemoore Avenue and Bush Street.
There were three buildings on almost 25 acres. The floors were hardwood. The walls were reinforced concrete.
Nearly two-thirds of the town could have fit into the 800-seat auditorium.
Lemoore in the Roaring Twenties was blessed with forward-thinking people.
Debbie knew what she was doing when she plopped that folder of contracts on the table. She wanted me to understand the passion Lemoore folks have for their high school.
What follows is part of the construction contract from 1924. It deals with woodwork.
“All surfaces shall be smoothed, hand-scraped and hand sand-papered. All mouldings shall be clean cut and true, and in accordance with the drawings. All panels shall be 5 ply veneer; -- they shall be set loose in grooves and stiles.
“If mouldings are used around panels, they shall be mitred at corners and fastened to stiles by means of splines and glue, but will not be attached to the panels. All stiles of the panel work shall be tennoned, dowelled, and glued in accordance with best practice in making high grade cabinet work.
“All frames shall be fastened together by mortise and tennons or dowels and glued in the best possible manner.”
Edmund Burke said each generation has a contract with the unborn generations. What Debbie showed me was Lemoore’s binding covenant with its future in more ways than one.
30.) Of course, Lemoore High’s plant evolved. The campus now covers 80 acres. There was one gym. Then there were two gyms. Now there’s the small gym, the big gym and the events center.
Having 80 acres to work with is a stroke of genius.
Debbie and Rodney (the principal) gave me a tour of the main building. It’s all beautiful, but the auditorium is the best.
Debbie is a 1975 Lemoore High graduate. She sometimes leads tours of the main building for class reunions. There’s one moment in every tour that’s the same, regardless of the class.
“They want to sit in the very same seat they used to sit in,” Debbie said. “They want to look out the same window.”
Debbie led her class on the Grand Tour during their recent 40-year reunion. The auditorium was one of the stops.
“I walked up on the stage and stood in front of the curtain,” Debbie said. “They stayed down in front of the stage. They said, ‘Can we go up there?’ I said, ‘Yes, come up.’
“They looked behind the curtains. They took pictures of each other. They kept saying, ‘I never got to be back here when I was in high school.’”
What a remarkable high school district they have in Lemoore. The people kept the old school. They understand the human heart.
Here’s another example of the character of Lemoore folks.
Debbie and I walked back to district headquarters, across Bush Street from the school. We laughed about retirement (not in the cards for either of us), then parted.
I had parked a half-block away on Bush. I crossed Lemoore Avenue, then decided to take a photo of the front of the main building.
I stood in front of the school, camera to my eyes. A groundskeeper driving a small work-cart was on the front sidewalk, headed somewhere on the other side of campus. He would have crossed in front of my view.
The man knew the value of an uncluttered view to a tourist with a camera. He waited.
31.) Preservationists in Lindsay didn’t save the old high school auditorium. But preservationists in Fresno saved the old Fresno City College auditorium.
The City College story gives us a hint of what Lindsay lost -- and why.
The story begins at 4:56 p.m. Thursday, April 7, 1966. That’s when, after nine hours of tugging and pulling by a small army of workers, the 50-ton dome of the old Fresno County Courthouse crashed into the ground of downtown’s Courthouse Park.
The Bee’s Eli Setencich, as always, described the drama perfectly.
“‘Go, go, go,’ the crowd chanted at 4:55 p.m.,” Setencich wrote.
A minute later, the dome -- and, in essence, a 90-year-old courthouse once thought worthy of service for a thousand years -- was gone.
“The spectators, now quiet, moved among the ruins, picking up bits of history,” Setencich wrote. “They had seen the end of an era.”
Many powerful Fresnans felt the same as the once-cheerful crowd: What have we done? These power-brokers vowed to fight harder next time.
The “next time” was already brewing.
32.) The first wave of Baby Boomers had worked its way through high school by spring 1966. A tsunami was coming. State Center Community College District officials were already making plans to expand the Fresno City College campus at Van Ness and McKinley avenues.
A new master plan was approved in 1970. District trustees on Jan. 18, 1972 decided to tear down the Old Administration Building.
Construction of the OAB (as it came to be called) began in 1915, when what would soon become Fresno State College was just four years old. The building opened to students and administrators in 1916.
A man named Bruce Morris, a 1942 Fresno State graduate and World War II veteran, once told The Bee that students would sit in the auditorium and listen to radio broadcasts of Hitler “making his long, flowery speeches.”
The OAB in many minds was the most beautiful school building in the San Joaquin Valley. Fresno City College inherited it when Fresno State moved north in the early 1950s.
District trustees said the OAB would be ripped down in three phases, the last brick wall to tumble in 1976.
“The passing of the 1970s will see the passing of the ivy-covered buildings in which several generations of San Joaquin Valley students spent their college years,” The Bee reported on Jan. 18, 1972.
The pushback from preservationists was immediate. District trustees in December 1973 tried to squash the rebellion. They said the OAB might collapse in an earthquake. They said it would take $4 million to rehabilitate everything. They pointed to a committee that said the OAB had to go.
District Superintendent Charles Chapman told critics the time for talk was gone. “The district has already spent a sizeable amount of money in architectural fees,” he said.
War was officially declared on June 12, 1974 when preservationists held a news conference in front of the OAB to trumpet the building’s designation as a National Historic site.
William Penn Mott Jr., a veteran of preservation struggles throughout the state, spoke to the crowd. “If our heritage is destroyed today,” Mott said, then people “will wonder what it was all about tomorrow.”
The better part of four decades flew by. It’s sufficient here to note that the OAB closed its doors in 1976 and reopened them for business in late 2010. In between was an epic tale the likes of which Fresno probably will never see again. A successful bond measure in 2002 finally provided the millions needed to restore the OAB to its former glory.
Classrooms, offices, courtyards -- all were saved. The auditorium was another matter. For reasons that make sense only to a government bureaucrat, bond proceeds couldn’t be used for the auditorium’s restoration.
Citizens came up with the $4 million themselves. The restored auditorium once again heard applause in 2011.
33.) Kathy Bonilla, Fresno City College’s public information officer, gave me a tour of the auditorium on July 2. The auditorium is where you’d expect it to be – straight ahead as you walk through the OAB’s main entrance.
Three sets of double doors lead to the auditorium itself. Kathy unlocked the set of doors on our right. She fiddled in the dark with the light switches, but without success. She headed back to her office for a flashlight.
That was my chance. I sat in one of the seats, in the dark. There was just enough light from small windows in the doors to give me a sense of the auditorium’s majesty, but not so much as to prevent my fantasy.
“This,” I thought, “is what it would be like if I could return to April 1965 and sit again in the Lindsay High School auditorium.”
“Here they are,” Kathy said as she found the right switches. The Fresno City College auditorium was suddenly full of light. I returned to mid-2015.
The place now seats 650 people, 550 on the ground floor, another 100 in the balcony. It held about 1,000 in the old days, but wider seats came with the refurbishing. We Americans of the 21st century are a plump lot.
The stage isn’t big enough for plays, but it’s perfect for speeches and musical performances. I sat in the auditorium a few months ago for a two-hour City of Fresno town hall meeting on the proposed general plan. The setting came close to making the topic interesting.
Kathy and I started our walk down the aisle.
“Look at the grandeur,” she said. “It’s overwhelming. You can feel the presence of the people who once sat here. Many are no longer with us, but their spirit lives on. They once loved this auditorium. People are loving it again.”
Many of the most powerful politicians in the central San Joaquin Valley – Jim Costa, George Zenovich, Rick Lehman, Ken Maddy, among others – played big parts in saving the auditorium. Nor did it hurt that Fresno, for all its economic challenges, has a lot of people with deep pockets and generous hearts.
Even if the Lindsay of 1965 had wanted to save the old high school, the small town just didn’t have the money itself or the political juice in Sacramento to get the job done.
Kathy and I stood on the stage. Not another soul was in the place. The view was awesome. No cafeteria-turned-theatrical stage could match what I was seeing.
In a very real way, I was seeing what the cast of “Bye Bye Birdie” saw in Lindsay for three special nights in April 1965.
No wonder the memory remains dear to so many of those forever-young actors.
34.) The Valley saw an unusual trifecta (as my old boss, the great Vic Pellegrino, called any run of three notable events) in 1966.
Lindsay said so long to the old high school on April 1. Fresno said so long to the old courthouse on April 7. President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the National Historic Preservation Act on Oct. 15.
“The Congress (begins the act’s preamble) finds and declares that:
‘The spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic change;
“The historical and cultural foundations of the Nation should be preserved as a living part of our community life and development in order to give a sense of orientation to the American people;
“Historic properties significant to the Nation’s heritage are being lost or substantially altered, often inadvertently, with increasing frequency;
“The preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, economic, and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans; ….”
It took awhile, but the City of Fresno took this act and went to work.
Karana Hattersley-Drayton, Fresno’s historic preservation project manager, said the city has had a formal historic preservation program since 1979. She said the City Council at that time adopted a historic preservation ordinance that did two things.
First, the local law established a local register of historic resources. Second, the law authorized a historic preservation commission.
Take it from someone who has often seen Karana and the commission (composed of local experts and activists) in action, Fresno’s has a deep commitment to historic preservation.
Make no mistake, politics plays a huge role in this issue. I won’t bore you with all the examples I’ve seen over the years. Developers sometimes are angry. Preservationists sometimes are angry. Lawsuits are common.
All this makes me think the Lindsay Unified school board in 1966, sensing potential trouble ahead, was in a hurry to tear down the old school. It’s a lot easier to seek forgiveness than get permission.
Karana is superb at what she does. Fresno is blessed to have her. We chatted several times about high school design, architectural determinism, the emotional power of historic buildings and the demands of new generations. (The opinions in this story are mine alone, not hers.)
Thank you, Karana.
The City of Fresno has a billion-dollar budget. The municipal government has the money to make historic preservation a matter of public policy. Fresno has 515,000 people and ranks among America’s 35 biggest cities. It has a pool of talent to capably fill the Historic Preservation Commission year in and year out.
Lindsay today can’t match any of that. However, Karana said Washington, D.C. and Sacramento lawmakers over the decades have created legislative ways for small towns to save valuable parts of their past.
Finding those ways is why Google was invented.
I leave you with three key thoughts from Karana:
“Preservation has to be thoughtful. It’s about balancing old and new.”
“A city (or town) is dynamic and ever changing.”
“All preservation is local. That means it’s up to you. If there’s not a community interest in your history, you will lose it.”
35.) The Lindsay High auditorium was no stranger to colorful plays and teenage actors.
On Dec. 11, 1925, the senior class presented “Three Live Ghosts.” It was, the 1926 Comet reported, “one of the most unusual plays ever staged in the district.”
Three soldiers, reported as dead, return home to England. This produces “many hilarious as well as tense moments….”
On Dec. 5, 1952, Lindsay High’s juniors delivered “Trouble Shooter,” described by the yearbook as “a rollicking comedy” of mistaken identities.
A married couple comes to town to complete a business deal. At the same time, a man (Mr. Kobitski) who looks like the husband (Mr. Wilson) escapes from a nearby asylum.
Carl Quessenberry was Mr. Kobitski. Arel Quessenberry was Mr. Wilson.
On May 5, 1961, the seniors put on “Take Care of My Little Girl.” Yes -- a comedy.
Elizabeth heads to college. She is accepted by a hot-shot sorority, but her two best friends from high school end up in the dorms.
“It took Liz nearly the whole year to decide that she was not sorority material,” the Comet wrote.
No doubt everyone in those plays had fun. The parents must have been proud. But what tepid stuff!
A mere four years after “Take Care of My Little Girl,” Lindsay High had successfully produced two well-known Broadway musicals.
We already know about the arrival of Joe Ippolito, Mary Koehler, Orrie Feitsma and Lois Sheesley. That partly explains what happened. But it’s not the whole answer.
“The ‘60s happened,” said Doug Berlon, deputy director of the Cincinnati-based Educational Theatre Association, a nonprofit promoting high school theatre.
The Great Depression, World War II and the Eisenhower presidency were history. “Do your own thing” was the motto of many under 30.
Broadway, be it drama or musical, got bigger and better after the war.
High school actors and their drama teachers in many parts of America “wanted something a little more cutting edge, a little more daring,” Mr. Berlon said.
Lindsay High was no different. It didn’t matter whether the Ippolito-Koehler-Feitsma-Sheesley quartet brought the ‘60s with them or simply rode the wave. What counts is that Lindsay High signed up those remarkable teachers.
Mr. Berlon said high school students in the ‘60s (and subsequent decades) sometimes pushed the boundaries of what their hometown found acceptable. Sometimes those students persevered and got their preferred play on stage.
Said Mr. Berlon: “And sometimes the audience would say, ‘I get it. I love it.’”
36.) Joe Ippolito and Orrie Feitsma in 1962 moved to a town confident about itself and the future.
Take, for example, The Lindsay Gazette of Oct. 24, 1962.
The Lindsay Municipal Golf Course, a new nine-hole affair with nothing but par 3s, had opened a day earlier. Two players were already bragging about shooting one-over-par 28. The course’s first argument over whether that 3-foot putt was a gimme no doubt had been settled with harsh words and hurt feelings.
The Lindsay Ripe Olive Company on the west side of town announced that the annual harvest was at its halfway point. Officials trumpeted a recent one-day delivery of 595 tons. “Lindsay Ripe,” as everyone in town called it, was the largest ripe olive company in the world.
Tulare County’s Sabin oral polio vaccine clinics were set to open. The junior high parents’ group was slated to meet on the 25th. The Kiwanis Club was gearing up for its annual charity auction, proceeds to go to programs for needy kids. John Mayer, a 64-year-old farmworker, got a Page 1 obituary.
But the big news was recent Chamber of Commerce banquet honoring the Woman and Man of the Year.
The former was Tyra Turner, a widow who ran an citrus ranch east of town. She was active in the Hospital Guild, the Art Association, the Lindsay-Strathmore Coordinating Council, the American Red Cross and church. She was a Cub Scout den mother (thereby keeping an eye on her 12-year-old son, Charles).
The latter was Harold Gisvold, a certified public accountant in town. Kiwanis, Boy Scouts, 4-H Club, church, Parent-Teachers Association, Little League -- they kept him busy when he wasn’t crunching numbers.
Every issue of The Gazette up to the “Bye Bye Birdie” performances was filled with such news.
There was money to made.
In a matter of a few months in 1964, The Gazette reported that sales at Lindsay Ripe had risen 22%, the shipment of Valencia oranges had beaten the old record by nearly 10%, an old cement plant on the north edge of town would be turned into a factory manufacturing mobile homes and 20 acres in the northeast corner of town would soon be a cable-making factory with more than 400 employees.
Just about the only depressing note came on Oct. 9, 1964 during the varsity football team’s loss to Mt. Whitney High.
Greg Smith, a senior described by The Gazette reporter as the Cardinals’ “fine halfback,” was injured in the first quarter and “will be unable to play for the remainder of the season.”
Greg as Hugo Peabody would take out his frustration six months later on Conrad Birdie.
37.) Page 1 on the Jan. 27, 1965 edition of The Lindsay Gazette had a story that sums up the community’s identity in that era.
Sir Winston Churchill had died three days earlier in London at age 90. Now keep in mind that The Gazette was a weekly serving a Lindsay-Strathmore area of considerably less than 10,000 people. International events struggled to find their way into the news columns. This time, though, the editors figured the death of Churchill, perhaps the preeminent figure of the 20th century, deserved its spot in The Gazette.
So a reporter knocked on the front door of the Lindsay home of W.H. “Andy” Perkins. Andy was 96. He had been born in England and his service in the British army included three years (1899-1902) during the Boer War.
Churchill, too, was in South Africa early in the war as a newspaper correspondent. He was captured by the Boers, but made a dramatic escape that he turned into a dramatic journalistic tale.
There’s no hint that Churchill and Perkins ever crossed paths during the war. But their common duty under the Union Jack was enough of a story hook.
There are two points to make here.
The Lindsay of 1965 was patriotic. The people also had the highest regard for the prime minister who stood up to Hitler in 1940. The Gazette’s editors knew they’d get no reader pushback for cobbling together a Churchill-Perkins story, however flimsy it might seem.
And the people Lindsay circa 1965 enjoyed well-told yarn. Perkins had been in 108 battles during the Boer War. He had been shot in the knee. And at one point he had served as a transport officer.
This is where the story’s kicker arrived. Perkins was in charge of 666 mules, 11 elephants, 66 camels and 230 oxen.
The reporter had no need to state what Lindsay folks knew instinctively: Andy Perkins no doubt had heard every curse known to man.
38.) The late winter and early spring months of 1965 flew by.
The Lindsay High School basketball team led by the 6-foot 5-inch Shaun Floyd and the equally-tall Dan Bream was crushing the competition in the Central Sierra League.
Greg Smith prepped for his role as Hugo by winning the Lindsay Lions Club student speakers contest. The topic: “Maturity -- Its Privileges and Responsibilities.”
Local leaders picked a theme for April’s Orange Blossom Festival -- “Progress Through Friendship.”
Tom Wollenman got in the mood to play the self-centered Conrad Birdie by helping grade-school kids learn about air-rifle safety in a YMCA program.
Local citrus executives announced with pride that the Lindsay-Strathmore area was home to more than 15,000 acres (nearly 21 square miles) of oranges.
Joan Jarboe, a Lindsay High senior, was named Orange Blossom Festival queen in front of a large crowd at the school auditorium. Her escort would be 23-year-old Randy Boone, who played singing cowboy in the popular TV horse opera “The Virginian.” The festival was just around the corner, April 23-25.
The high school board of trustees struggled to find a contractor to build the new high school at a price it found acceptable. The trustees left the distinct impression they wouldn’t mind pinching pennies.
And in the April 14 edition, Gazette readers were reminded of the big event taking shape at the high school.
“The Lindsay High School Bye Bye Birdie cast is polishing its performance for the big Orange Blossom Festival production which will be staged in the school auditorium Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, April 22, 23 and 24,” The Gazette reported.
“Tickets for the production,” the story concluded, “have gone rapidly, but there are probably still a few available.”
There was a bit of the carnival barker in the Lindsay of my time. But actually the claim was on the mark.
39.) Here are the first two paragraphs in the April 28 Gazette from reporter Mary Howard’s review of the show’s three-day run:
“If you’re one of the lucky 1,500 or so people who saw the Lindsay High School’s production of Bye Bye Birdie, and you’re anything like me, you’ve been going around ever since happily humming ‘One Boy, da da da da … da’ or bursting forth with ‘We Love You Con-on-RAD, oh yes we do-oo!’ Such a great triumph it all was for the stars, for the entire cast, for the stage crew, and maybe most of all for Mary Koehler and Joseph Ippolito (directors) and George W. Jones, musical conductor, whose devotion to their profession as teachers and whose faith in their students’ abilities to ‘really put out’ paid off so handsomely.
“Lois Sheesley, M.H. Bettisworth and Orrie Feitsma were other faculty members whose ‘extra measure of service’ made this wonderful thing happen for our students. The students are all sorry it’s over, but as long as they live, they will remember this experience with great sentiment.”
Howard said the “dramatic sensitivity that those students displayed was absolutely outstanding.” She named nearly 100 people, most of them students, who performed or worked behind the scenes. Almost 100 -- that’s about 2% of Lindsay’s population in 1965.
Here are Howard’s final two paragraphs.
“The overall production was a greater success that last year’s South Pacific simply because it was a more suitable vehicle for a high school cast. Bye Bye Birdie has a terribly demanding musical score sprinkled with catchy but very difficult solo numbers. I felt the stars met their musical challenges very well.
“This may well be the final musical put on by the high school, as the new school will not have an auditorium. If so, it’s a memorable swan song.”
Just about everyone in the Lindsay of 1965 read The Gazette.
40.) Jo Ann Viotto (now Jo Ann Bonner) was a freshman in April 1965, a mere 15 years old. But someone had to play Mrs. Merkle, mother to Ursula, Kim’s energetic and talkative friend.
Jo Ann was the tallest girl in that freshman class. Maybe that’s why she was cast as Ursula’s mom. She also was in the chorus.
“It was fun,” Jo Ann said. “But after it was all over, I knew I wasn’t an actress. I’m tone deaf. I couldn’t have made ‘The Gong Show.’”
Jo Ann was a wonderful friend back in those high school days. I didn’t note that being tone deaf would have made her the perfect “Gong Show” guest.
Jo Ann lives and works these days in Eureka. She can’t stand the Valley summers.
Three of her memories dominated our phone chat.
No. 1 -- “I didn’t understand why we needed a new high school,” she said. “The one we had seemed good enough. It had character.”
No. 2 -- Despite being a small, out-of-the-way farm town, the Lindsay of the mid-1960s had a knack for tolerance. “Lindsay was in the forefront of recognizing people for who they were and what they did,” she said.
No. 3 -- Jo Ann has the highest regard for Joe Ippolito (English) and Orrie Feitsma (French) as teachers and human beings. “Having Mr. Feitsma for a teacher was one of my highlights at Lindsay High School,” she said.
Joe and Orrie were star teachers at Lindsay High. My friends and I have discussed them many times over the decades -- always with admiration. They were discussed in the same way during my interviews for this story.
But Jo Ann at the end of our talk said something about Joe and Orrie that I’d never heard before, yet is essential to understanding them, that time and the people of Lindsay.
“They loved each other.”
41.) We’re going to dig into Jo Ann’s statement, and do so with Orrie Feitsma’s help. First, though, I must explain how Orrie and I came to share lunch with a dear friend on a Saturday in late August.
I can’t say for sure, but I probably hadn’t seen Orrie since June 7, 1968 when I graduated from Lindsay High. I had him for English (not my strong suit) in my freshman and junior years. He was good to me -- I passed.
We went our separate ways in mid-1968. Fast forward to June 2015, when I decided to write this story. Among my challenges: How to find Mr. Feitsma?
High school-era friends came to my rescue. Linda (Chatters) Rasmussen (Class of ‘68), Linda Finley (‘67) and Russ Hurley (‘68) came up with an email address and several phone numbers.
I used them all. Eventually, Orrie and I got together by phone. I already knew, thanks to voter registration rolls, that he is 78 years old.
“I’m still teaching,” Orrie said.
Not full-time, but he spends about a third of each school year in the classroom as a substitute teacher in the San Diego area.
I had two goals in mind for this initial contact.
First, did he remember “Bye Bye Birdie”?
“Tommy Wollenman in that gold lame suit,” Orrie said with a laugh. “Who could forget?”
I had my answer.
(I shared with Orrie a story Tommy told me about the Conrad Birdie outfit. Conrad needed gold boots. Tommy didn’t have gold boots. So, Tommy borrowed a pair of work boots from Don Roark, his good friend and classmate. Tommy spray-painted the boots, went to his glory on the stage, then returned the boots to Don. Don even as a senior in high school spent many hours working in Lindsay’s orange groves. Don did so in mid-1965 in gold boots. Orrie loved the story.)
My second goal: Convince Orrie to meet with me.
“Do you Skype?” Orrie asked.
“No, but I’ll drive to you. Just tell me where and when.”
That’s how Orrie and I ended up having lunch on Aug. 29 at the Morro Bay home of Virginia Hanigan, widow of Stephen Hanigan, Lindsay High’s beloved math teacher (and Director of Mathematics) for more than 30 years.
Numbers weren’t my strong suit in high school, either.
I arrived at Virginia’s on Aug. 22.
42.) “Virginia?” I said when she answered the door. “Kip Hostetter. How are you?”
To Lindsay folks of the mid-20th century, I am Kip.
Virginia answered my question with a question.
“You’re here to see Orrie Feitsma? Next week.”
Virginia invited me in. We visited for an hour before I headed back to Fresno. The visit turned my mistake into a blessing.
Stephen and Virginia Hanigan had two children, Rick (class of ‘66) and Jo Ellen (class of ‘70). Mr. Hanigan began his Lindsay High career in the fall semester of 1939, served in the Navy through World War II and returned to his old job in 1946.
Mr. Hanigan’s classroom in the old high school was on the second floor, west end of the north wing. He taught geometry, algebra II, college algebra and trigonometry.
Carol Bratton, the class of ‘65’s valedictorian, still remembers Mr. Hanigan’s motto.
“He’d tell us, ‘Mathematics is a way of thinking,’” Carol said. “I loved Mr. Hanigan for his enthusiasm. He’d be he rubbing his head with his left hand and writing on the chalkboard with his right as fast as he could.”
Virginia and my aunt Allison (1928 Lindsay High graduate and teacher-counselor at the school for nearly 40 years) were close. Virginia and I recalled a few memories about Allison and the Hanigans from long ago. Then our chat turned somber.
Rick had died some years ago. Virginia spoke with authority and wit, but she has battled her own health issues. Mr. Hanigan died in 1999 after a long illness. He had retired in 1978 at age 61.
“Too soon,” Virginia said.
We turned to my agenda: “Bye Bye Birdie” -- the old high school and its auditorium -- the Lindsay of this era -- Joe Ippolito and Orrie Feitsma.
Virginia still knows the lyrics of “Hymn for a Sunday Evening” (the Ed Sullivan song).
She recalled the special community service (standing room only) at the auditorium on Nov. 25, 1963, the day of President Kennedy’s funeral.
She said even adults had to be careful about who might be looking when they bought a bottle of wine at the grocery store.
We both knew that Joe and Orrie had arrived in Lindsay in the late summer of 1962.
I was 12 at the time. Virginia had seen their effect on the town.
“They were like a breath of fresh air,” she said.
43.) Joe Ippolito and Orrie Feitsma got to the old Lindsay High School by surviving a “cattle call audition.”
Both were young men in 1962. Orrie was 25 years old, born and raised on a New Jersey dairy farm. Joe was a bit older and, with more connections to the New York City metropolitan area, probably a bit more worldly.
They had met while teaching at Newton High School in western New Jersey, an hour’s drive from Broadway. Joe had made a name for himself locally as a theater arts teacher, successfully directing a handful of plays per year.
They decided California was the place they ought to be. Joe had family out this way. The two had all the optimism of young adulthood. With President Kennedy in the White House, the times almost demanded an adventurous outlook.
Pretty soon Joe and Orrie found themselves in Los Angeles at a job fair for school teachers. It was summer 1962. Lindsay High Principal William Wilson sat in a small room. Teacher candidates trooped in and out, Joe among them.
Mr. Wilson offered Joe a job. Joe accepted, then told Orrie to head in for an interview. Orrie emerged with a job. They thought: It’s not the Coast, but it’s close. We won’t be there long.
They would be in Lindsay, teaching and working in public education, for 17 years.
But first they had to build a resume at the old Lindsay High, starting in September 1962.
Orrie remembers their drive into Lindsay that summer. They were men of traditionally liberal sentiments. All people are created equal. All honest labor is worthy. Their favorite book might well have been the James Agee/Walker Evans masterpiece of rural endurance, “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.”
But Joe and Orrie also were human.
Orrie said they pulled into Lindsay -- the temperature no doubt in the 108-degree range, the huge Elephant’s Back hill without a touch of green vegetation, the pool hall on Honolulu Street almost certainly doing a brisk business thanks to raucous teenage boys -- and said to each other: “What have we done?”
44.) “Very staid. Very proper,” was how Virginia Hanigan described Lindsay’s leading families when she and husband Stephen Hanigan returned in 1946 after World War II.
Virginia at our August luncheon named seven or eight such families. They and others ruled the social roost in Lindsay until the about the last third of the 20th century.
No need here to name them. Any reader whose memory of Lindsay goes back to that time could make a good guess.
It was Orrie Feitsma’s comment that hit home.
“But also very well educated,” he said. That the Lindsay of the early 1960s didn’t have a fair number of smart and sophisticated citizens “is another misconception people had.”
The Lindsay of 1962, it turns out, wasn’t Hickville, after all.
“Joe and I came in with a certain naivete, a certain unawareness of what the community was like,” Orrie said. “We had never thought about living in the San Joaquin Valley. But we got to know the broad scope of the population and its different levels. These weren’t ‘just’ farmers, within the context of what you might think of farmer. These were thinkers. And these people sent their kids to school expecting them to be thinkers and doers, as well.
“That was the first year -- getting acclimated to what the student body was.”
Something else happened in that 1962-63 school year.
Orrie said neither he nor Joe told Principal William Wilson during those Los Angeles job interviews that they were partners. Mr. Wilson didn’t ask.
“In that day and in that generation, that’s something you didn’t tell,” Orrie said. “We did not see that as necessary.”
That Joe and Orrie were gay, that they were partners, must have become something approaching common knowledge (or firm assumption) rather soon. The district would know they had the same home address. Students might see them arriving at school at the same time or leaving together.
It was a small town, after all.
“What happens then?” Orrie said. “We never heard about any repercussions from any of our friends. We became an integral part of the church (Presbyterian) in the community, of the politics in the community, of the families we got to know and the friends we made. Our neighbors adopted us as their ‘sons.’ It wasn’t until later, years later, that I found out that the students were obviously aware of our relationship. It was never brought up to me at school whatsoever.”
Said Virginia: “You were just Orrie and Joe.”
Even so, there were those “staid and proper” old-time families. And plenty of churches with firm beliefs about private behavior and the public square. Orrie said he has no idea if forces in town every bit as powerful as the Old Line families put the kibosh on any anti-Joe/Orrie talk in a way that settled the issue for good.
“Joe and I never had the feeling that we had to ‘come out’ at that time,” Orrie said. “In this day and age, it might be different. But at that point in time, we came out as ourselves, as human beings. Doing the job and being a person -- that’s it.”
Orrie got a visit from a former student from the 1960s long after both had left Lindsay.
“He said, ‘What you probably weren’t aware of is that when freshmen came into the school, there was a junior-senior contingent who would say -- Look these two guys are terrific teachers, they are terrific people, so don’t bring up the gay situation.’ I talked to others after that. They confirmed it.”
Orrie and Virginia have been good friends for 53 years. Orrie also has a new social circle in Southern California.
“I tell my friends about our Lindsay days and they cannot believe that we could have survived that in the ‘60s,” Orrie said.
45.) You might say the “South Pacific” and “Bye Bye Birdie” productions got their start in the 1962-63 school year when Lindsay High School’s English teachers one day took notice of each other.
“We were all new,” Orrie said. “For some reason, there wasn’t much of anyone from the ‘Old Guard’ when we came in ‘62. It was a whole new department, a whole new starting lineup.”
It was Orrie with the freshmen, Joe with the sophomores, Mary with the juniors. Joe would soon take the seniors.
“There were some strong personalities in that starting lineup,” Orrie said.
They also sensed they could do something grand in this doomed old high school with magical stage. The kids were gamblers. Maury Bettisworth knew how to make sets. George Jones knew how inspire a community band. Lois Sheesley knew how to bring Bali Ha’i and Sweet Apple, Ohio to life. Superintendent Don Cahill was always humming Broadway tunes.
Ippolito, Koehler and Feitsma knew how to put it all together.
“It worked,” Orrie said.
Orrie’s memories of “Birdie” came one after the other. To wit:
▪ “Joe felt it was a part of every human being’s nature” to be part of something connected to the performing arts.
▪ “You know, kids have a natural ability, and sometimes it just has to be brought out, whether it’s music or a classroom situation. They have to feel trusted enough to take a chance.”
▪ As to auditions, “sometimes there were students who were encouraged to try out. They probably would not have tried out unless someone said, ‘You know what? This is something you would probably enjoy and be good at.’”
▪ “When the students were interviewed (for roles), they were made aware it was a commitment. There was no backing out. That would not be acceptable. Which is a lesson in life.”
▪ What were Joe and Orrie thinking after three wildly successful “Birdie” shows? “There was a deep breath. ‘Oh, Hallelujah! It ended so well.’ And there was almost a void, more so from Joe than from me. For him, it was ‘OK, what’s the next thing we can do with these kids? We’ve got to have something else coming up.’”
But work was well underway on that modern new high school a mile to the northeast. The one so well-designed it didn’t have an auditorium.
“We transitioned to that new school,” Orrie said. “Putting on shows in the multi-purpose room? No!”
46.) What happened in Lindsay when Joe Ippolito and Orrie Feitsma arrived in the late summer of 1962?
The answer is simple.
James Madison and Mr. “Mike” happened.
Let’s first take a look at the landscape and make a few assumptions.
Lindsay in 1962 is a small town. The population in the 1960 census was 5,397. The place would actually see its population decline by 191 in the Sixties.
Lindsay is a conservative farm town. Richard Nixon as a kid lived for a year with relatives just outside the city limits. Oranges and olives are the lifeblood.
There are a lot of churches – eight of them just within a hundred yards of Washington Elementary School, a few blocks west of the high school. More are scattered around town.
Lindsay’s schools in the preceding six decades no doubt had their share of single lesbian teachers who quietly went about their private lives. Female sexuality among spinster teachers? Not threatening at all.
Lindsay’s schools during that same time most likely never had two male homosexual teachers working at the same school and openly living together. Male sexuality? That’s a whole other ball game!
The Civil Rights Era is in full swing in September 1962, exactly 100 years after the narrow Union victory at Antietam that gave Abraham Lincoln the momentum to later issue the Emancipation Proclamation.
This is especially true for African-Americans. But Hispanics, Native Americans and women are increasingly vocal about unalienable rights in 1962. Gay and lesbian rights are another matter. The Stonewall Inn riots of June 1969 are seven years away.
Lois, a young single woman, begins teaching arts/crafts in September 1962. (She would teach at Lindsay High for 27 years. During that time, she met Carol Jones, also a Lindsay teacher. Lois died May 5, 2015 at age 84. According to her obituary in The Visalia Times-Delta, Lois and Carol “became such great friends that they remained housemates until Lois’s death.”)
Joe and Orrie begin teaching English in September 1962. In a small town like Lindsay, the word almost certainly spreads quickly: They are gay; they are living together; they are teaching our children.
Why weren’t Joe and Orrie immediately driven out of town on a rail? Why wasn’t Principal William Wilson, who hired them, shown the door? Same with Superintendent Don Cahill? Same with Trustees Lorraine Paul, Dick Henderson, Jim Hurley, Don Burr and Archie Sheldon?
After all, conventional wisdom in 2015 would assume that a relatively poor, aggressively religious, seemingly homogenous out-of-the-way burg in 1962 would be the essence of intolerance when it came to male homosexuality in general and openly gay teachers in particular.
Yet, no one apparently gave a darn about the private lives of Joe Ippolito and Orrie Feitsma. In fact, in very short order they were recognized throughout the campus and across the town for the star teachers that they were.
Was the Lindsay of 1962 the most amazing farm town in the history of the planet?
47.) Of course not. Lindsay was pretty much like other farm towns in the Valley. That’s why I’m writing the story. This is about the Valley as much as Lindsay.
I asked friends: We all knew Joe and Orrie were gay. Our parents knew. Why didn’t their homosexuality raise a ruckus?
The initial guess: Everyone was innocent. We all assumed they were just well behaved roommates, like sedate college buddies away from home.
That implies two things. First, there would have been trouble if 5,000 people hadn’t been as naïve as Kim MacAfee. Second, the 20th century never reached Lindsay.
The Lindsay Museum refutes both points. In one of the cases is a Nazi battle flag, a big swastika in the middle. The flag obviously was a battlefield souvenir donated by a Lindsay veteran who helped liberate Europe.
The men and women in charge of Lindsay in 1962 helped rid the world of Mussolini’s Italy, Tojo’s Japan and Hitler’s Germany. When it came to human behavior – good, bad, indifferent – they had seen it all.
And they weren’t ignorant of sex. All those Baby Boomers choking the old high school came from somewhere.
Another possible explanation: The people of Lindsay in 1962 were unusually virtuous.
No. That’s not how the Bell Curve of human nature works.
My explanation: Federalist No. 10 and Adolph “Mr. Mike” Maichrowicz.
Mr. Mike taught American Government at Lindsay High for decades. It was never embarrassing or uncool with Mr. Mike in school for students to chew among themselves on the nature of a democracy and a republic.
As Mr. Mike taught us, Federalist No. 10 (written by Madison) dealt with whether a republic like the United States of 1787 was more likely to survive as a big, diverse place or a small homogenous place.
The biggest threat to a “well constructed Union” was the “dangerous vice” of faction, Madison wrote.
Combine a bunch of factions, Madison wrote, and the result in a democracy very easily can be a tyranny of the majority.
“When a majority is included in a faction,” Madison said, “the form of popular government … enables it to sacrifice to its ruling passion or interest both the public good and the rights of other citizens.”
That’s at the core of my question about Joe and Orrie. Why weren’t these strangers tyrannized by what we might stereotype as the inevitable majority in a small, close-minded town?
48.) According to Madison, Joe and Orrie might well have been doomed in a pure democracy where a small number of citizens votes on everything.
But a republic, where public decisions (and, by extension, the tone of public character) are made by elected representatives, “promises the cure for which we are seeking,” Madison said.
For starters, Madison said, republics are bigger in population and area than your run-of-the-mill democracy. This generates a bigger variety of candidates at election time. And it generates more factions (an inevitable part of life) trying to climb over each other into the halls of power.
“Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens,” Madison said.
If you had Mr. Mike for American Government, you got it. Factions (cliques, as we said in high school) are always forming and reforming into a ruling majority. If you’re in the minority today, well, you might be in the majority tomorrow.
Or, as friends advised you when that pretty redhead told you to hit the road, there are a lot of fish in the sea.
Mr. Mike was one of the great teachers (and coaches) at Lindsay High. He spent most of his career at the old school. He was demanding. He was the boss in his classroom. And just about everyone loved him.
There was a demonstrative style to Mr. Mike’s teaching. I can see him sitting on the edge of his desk, wearing his swim team’s red-and-white championship jacket, arms spread wide as he quotes Madison’s summation in Federalist No. 10:
“We behold a republican remedy for the diseases most incident to republican government.”
49.) In my opinion, here’s why Joe and Orrie weren’t tyrannized: Lindsay in 1962 was blessed with excellent elected leaders and a ton of factions.
As Gary Meling told me at the Lindsay Museum: “Sure, Lindsay had a lot of churches. It also had a lot of saloons.”
Orrie said he and Joe in the summer of 1962 were interviewed by Principal Wilson, but not by Superintendent Cahill or the trustees.
I’m guessing word soon got back to Mr. Cahill and the trustees that some people didn’t like the idea of Joe and Orrie teaching at the high school. After all, Orrie told me during our lunch at Virginia Hanigan’s that he once got a fair amount of parental criticism just for assigning John Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony” with its occasional swearing.
I say the trustees let it be known, quietly but firmly, that they stood 100 percent behind Mr. Cahill – who stood 100% behind Mr. Wilson – who stood 100 percent behind Joe and Orrie until they (or any other teacher) proved less than deserving by their actions.
This decision by the trustees had enough support to carry the day. Everyone moved on. Joe and Orrie stayed in Lindsay, working in education in one capacity or another, for 17 years. They stayed together.
I pitched this idea to various friends – Tommy Wollenman, Russ Hurley (son of Trustee Jim Hurley), Rich Cahill (son of Superintendent Cahill). They said: Maybe, but I don’t know.
Russ and Rich said their fathers, both deceased, left no written record of their roles during this period.
Several friends in the course of this story noted that the cast of 1965’s “Bye Bye Birdie” represented a broad cross-section of the student body. No need here to go into names. Jocks, cheerleaders, outcasts – all were there.
Joe, Mary, Orrie and Lois molded these factions (of students) into something special. Imagine that, James Madison and Conrad Birdie side-by-side on the Lindsay High stage.
50.) In a way, it was James Michener who raised the curtain for The Big Four of the old Lindsay High School.
Michener, of course, was the author of bestsellers such as “Hawaii,” “Centennial,” “The Drifters” and “Chesapeake.” His first book, “Tales of the South Pacific,” was perhaps his best. It was published in 1947 and won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
Michener’s “South Pacific” is a series of short stories about an American military action during World War II. The lives of sailors, colonial planters and natives among the Solomon Islands in the south Pacific Ocean take center stage.
The Broadway musical “South Pacific” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II premiered in 1949. It’s one of the masterpieces of the American stage.
There are a lot of moving pieces to the musical “South Pacific.” Let’s just say that the old Lindsay High in the first 40 years of its existence never put on anything like this Rodgers-Hammerstein show.
Then came Mary Koehler (1961) and Joe Ippolitio, Lois Sheesley and Orrie Feitsma (1962). And, in spring 1964, the Lindsay High School production of “South Pacific” arrived.
Directors: Ippolito and Koehler. Assists: Sheesley and Feitsma.
“As I recall, the thinking was, ‘This might be achievable. Let’s try,’” said Ann Parks (now Parks-Council), a 1964 Lindsay High graduate and one of the show’s stars. “Joe Ippolito and the music director (George Jones) must have felt we could handle it.”
Auditions were next. Ann won the part of Nellie Forbush, a Navy nurse from Arkansas. It’s the musical’s plum role.
Then came weeks of rehearsals. There were stresses along the way. Illness sidelined one of the stars at almost the last minute. It’s one thing for the understudy to grab the spotlight in the dog-eat-dog world of Broadway. It’s another thing when understudy and star are 17-year-old friends in a small high school.
There were several shows, all during the week in April when Lindsay has its Orange Blossom festival.
The plot has several love interests and plenty of gruff but lovable sailors. Duty, racism and death are in the story. The songs -- “Some Enchanted Evening,” “Younger Than Springtime,” “There Is Nothing Like A Dame” among them -- will live forever.
“We filled the auditorium,” Ann said.
Lindsay High in 1964 had 23 teachers. It was hard for a teacher to catch the notice of the townsfolk with classroom talent alone. The exception was the varsity head football coach. Everyone understood the significance of a final score.
The work of Ann and her friends in “South Pacific” proved that the team of Ippolito, Koehler, Sheesley and Feitsma -- a bunch of newcomers -- was something special.
Nellie Forbush, you and your colleagues made “Bye Bye Birdie” possible.
51.) “Bye Bye Birdie” can’t work on all cylinders unless the audience knows about Ed Sullivan and what he once meant to TV viewers.
That’s a tall order for many people. Sullivan died in 1974, and his weekly variety show had gone off the air three years earlier.
But, as Sullivan himself might have said, the man was “really big” in his day.
“You can tell a lot about people by how they choose to amuse themselves,” wrote Gerald Nachman in “Right Here on Our Stage Tonight! Ed Sullivan’s America,” his history of a key slice of TV’s golden age. “‘The Ed Sullivan Show,’ for millions of otherwise culturally deprived Americans, was the prime source of pure entertainment, television’s most powerful, influential show for 23 years, between 1948 and 1971.”
The show aired 8 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday on CBS. Sullivan didn’t perform. He hired acts and let them do their thing. Sullivan introduced them and made sure the show’s pace never faltered.
Two things about Sullivan apply to “Bye Bye Birdie.”
He took gambles (sometimes reluctantly) on big and rising talents who weren’t necessarily mainstream (at least not yet). The Beatles, for example, did the Sullivan show on Feb. 9, 1964, a time when CBS, NBC and ABC dominated television. It was their first live performance on American soil. More than 60% of American TV sets were tuned into the Sullivan show. The Beatles won America.
But that was nothing compared to Sept. 9, 1956 when the 21-year-old Elvis Presley made the first of three Sullivan appearances over the next four months. According to Nachman, nearly 83% of American TV sets in use that first night had Presley on the screen. (Sullivan wasn’t there -- he was recovering from an auto accident.)
“The cameras locked onto (Presley’s) upper torso but the teenage girls in the studio audience, eyeballing his lustful body, yelped their orgiastic accompaniment,” Nachman wrote.
52.) That’s the context for both Conrad Birdie’s (attempted) on-air kiss of the pure-and-innocent Kim, and the delirious reaction of Kim’s father to his daughter’s (and his family’s) pending appearance on the Sullivan show.
Here’s proud papa Henry McAfee putting the finishing touches to “Hymn For A Sunday Evening”:
“We’re gonna be on Ed Sullivan!
I’ve got a wonderful wife,
Two swell kids,
A good job and now this!
Someday we’ll recall
The greatest day of all.
Ed, I love you!”
The second thing that stands out about Sulivan and “Bye Bye Birdie” was his distinctive way of speaking to the audience. Nachman calls Sullivan “show business’s most brilliant nonperformer …. His accumulation of grimaces, a deadpan gaze, contorted body language, non sequiturs, and snarled sentences added mesmerizing depths to his supposed nonpersona. Making fun of Sullivan became a national pastime.”
Lindsay High’s Ippolito, Koehler and Feitsma had to find their own Ed Sullivan, someone to set up the pivotal Conrad-Kim kissing scene.
Kirk Ingoldsby was their guy.
“I was Ed Sullivan,” said Ingoldsby, a freshman in 1965. “Well, I was Ed Sullivan’s voice. I had one set of lines, one speech. I delivered it off-stage. I never made it on-stage.”
Ingoldsby said he and his family watched the Sullivan show almost without fail. I’ve known Kirk since our kindergarten days. He has a wonderful sense of humor. It didn’t surprise me when he said he used to do his Sullivan impersonation for classmates during lunch.
The notice went up on the school bulletin board for “Bye Bye Birdie” tryouts. Ingoldsby saw the Sullivan part.
“I went to Mr. Feitsma and offered my services,” Ingoldsby said. “He listened and said, ‘That’s not bad.’”
Fifty years later, I asked Kirk over the phone to do Sullivan one more time. He hesitated. He laughed. Then he did it.
“I’ve got a really big shew! Right here on our stage -- tonight!”
Not bad at all.
53.) “Bye Bye Birdie” needs a couple of talented dancers to be the Sad Girls.
Lindsay High had two of the best – twins Barbara and Kathy Charlebois.
Dancers, I mean, not Sad Sacks.
Conrad is about to board a train to take him to Sweet Apple. Albert bumps into two girls distraught over the fate of their beloved Conrad.
Cue the music for Albert’s “Put On A Happy Face” and the three-person dance.
Barbara and Kathy, sophomores at the time, had been dancing on stage for years. They always were contenders for first place in the school’s annual Amateur Hour.
“It was hard to keep a straight face during that dance,” Barbara (now Fox) said. “Stan Posten (Albert) could not dance very well. And if I looked up, I saw familiar faces in the orchestra sitting right below, at the edge of the stage, who would smile. I had to learn to avoid looking at those people.”
“We had a great time,” said Kathy (now Parkman). Everybody got along. I think it was the director. Joe Ippolito was all business.”
Barbara remembers Mrs. Koehler as a risk-taker.
“She encouraged us to be more demonstrative and less shy,” Barbara said. “Both (directors) were great motivators.”
Three memories stand out for Barbara and Kathy.
A bond developed among cast and crew.
“We were all just fun, happy kids wanting to show off for our friends and family,” Kathy said.
There was a memorable cast party at downtown’s Mt. Whitney Hotel.
Twenty-three-year-old Randy Boone, who played singing cowboy Randy Benton in the TV horse opera “The Virginian,” showed up. (Boone was in town as celebrity guest of the Orange Blossom Festival, in high gear at the same time.)
“He told us how much he enjoyed the show,” Barbara said. “I doubt he even saw most of it. But it didn’t matter. He made a few of us blush that night just by looking our way.”
And the auditorium in its last hurrah was perfect.
The stage floor creaked, Barbara said. There was a musty odor in places. It wasn’t really all that big or elaborate.
“Yet, it was classy,” Barbara said.
“I was so disappointed when we moved to that new high school and there was no theater,” Kathy said.
The song “Put On A Happy Face” isn’t exactly ‘60s rock ‘n’ roll. Hard to imagine Janis Joplin singing it at Woodstock.
But the lyrics resonate through the years.
“I knew a girl so gloomy/She’d never laugh or sing. She wouldn’t listen to me/Now she’s a mean old thing.
“So spread sunshine all over the place/And put on a happy face.”
Kathy assumed the role of Albert Peterson as we ended our phone chat. She cheered me up.
“That whole high school had style,” she said.
54.) Rose “Rosie” Alvarez is the brains in “Bye Bye Birdie.”
She comes up with the “one last kiss” idea. She gets everyone to Sweet Apple. She convinces Albert to give up show business for a job teaching English in Pumpkin Falls, Iowa.
Susan Van Deusen was Rosie at Lindsay High in 1965.
“They had auditions,” Susan said. “Sandy Berger and I auditioned for both of the female leads. Sandy was so obviously perfect for Kim, so Rosie kind of defaulted to me.
“I sang just once in my life – in that play.”
Susan (now Susan McFadden) was a senior and the head cheerleader. She took nothing for granted. With the help of Cheryl Clark (a junior and a talented actress in her own right), Susan worked hard on her singing before the main rehearsals began.
Even 50 years later, some things stick in Susan’s memory.
Her parents attended opening night, a Thursday. Only her grandparents were scheduled to show up on Friday night. But Susan spotted her father in the back of the auditorium. The place was sold out, so he stood for the entire performance.
Charlotte Adams, a senior, “stole the show” as Mae Peterson, Albert’s strong-willed, guilt-inducing mother.
The sets – the product of arts/crafts teacher Lois Sheesley, carpentry teacher Maurice Bettisworth and their students – “were a huge part of what we did.”
Joe Ippolito was vital to whatever success she enjoyed.
“Ippolito had seen the play on Broadway,” Susan said. “He knew how everything should look. He knew how Rosie should look. He communicated that to me.”
Yes, Joe and Mary Koehler were co-directors. But, Susan said, Joe “was very good at what he did. He came to Lindsay with a lot of theatrical experience. There was no battle over who was in charge.”
Chita Rivera was nominated for a Tony in 1961 for her performance as Rosie on Broadway.
Here is Rivera describing the play’s ending in a 2003 interview with The Times-Picayune (New Orleans):
“And in my opinion, the original ending that (director) Gower Champion gave it is inspired.
“The musical theater that I came from always ended the same way: After all these big numbers, the whole cast comes downstage and sings whatever was supposed to be the show’s hit song in this big, overblown fashion.
“What Gower did to end “Birdie” was to have two people, Albert and Rose – Dick (Van Dyke) and myself – singing this very simple, very sweet song called ‘Rosie’ and just walking into the sunset.”
I can’t remember how the Lindsay High production of “Bye Bye Birdie” ended. But how appropriate if the curtain came down after Susan Van Deusen and Stan Posten did “Rosie.”
The campus “was loaded with all kinds of emotions for the entire community, but especially for the students,” Susan said. “’Bye Bye Birdie’ was the perfect closing for the high school.”
55.) Lindsay High School’s Conrad Birdie needed genuine help to be hilariously inauthentic.
That’s how Bonnie Bridges (now Bonnie Wolfe) came to rescue Tommy Wollenman.
Conrad at one point in the story makes his way to Sweet Apple, his reputation as a rock ‘n’ roll heartthrob preceding him. He’s got to sing something when he gets to town that proves his magical powers over young girls.
The audience wants another laugh at the big blowhard’s expense.
Conrad sings “Honestly Sincere” as girls faint and parents huff.
“You gotta be sincere! You gotta be sincere! You gotta feel it here, ‘cause if you feel it here, well, then you’re gonna be honestly sincere!”
If Tommy Wollenman nails the song, then “Birdie” takes off.
“But somebody discovered that Tom had a hard time finding pitch,” Bonnie said. “Sometimes he’d get it (in rehearsals), sometimes he wouldn’t. I happen to have perfect pitch. They told me I would stand there and give him his note.”
Tommy nailed the song.
“That’s my claim to fame,” Bonnie said with a laugh.
Bonnie was in the chorus. She also was one of the three girls who sang the signature lament: “We love you Conrad/Oh, yes we do/We love you Conrad/And we’ll be true.”
She probably breezed through auditions.
“I loved musical theater and movies like ‘Oklahoma!’,” Bonnie said. “And I had seen ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ the movie. So, we were excited to get the chance to do it.”
Bonnie was a sophomore in spring 1965. Two older sisters had graduated from Lindsay High. Her father, Vernon, was a mainstay of the science and athletic (track coach) departments for many years.
Bonnie spent a lot of time at the school even before she got there as a freshman.
“I can remember walking on the back of that stage,” Bonnie said. “That was something really special to a little girl. It was a majestic theater. I remember being so devastated when, all of a sudden, we didn’t have it.”
56.) Bonnie and I visited for nearly an hour this summer in Visalia. It was only later that I realized she put her finger on something that had been bothering me.
Bonnie talked as much about Mary Koehler as she did Joe Ippolito, Orrie Feitsma or Lois Sheesley. That, in itself, speaks highly of Bonnie. It must have been easy for Mrs. Koehler to get lost in Joe’s theatrical shadow.
“She was my English teacher,” Bonnie said. “She was very proper. Elegant and well-spoken. I respected her a lot. I guess you’d say Mrs. Koehler was a little different than someone you might expect in Lindsay. She had a feel like someone British.”
What was it that Lindsay had in the first two-thirds of the 20th century, when the town was building a civilization? Well, maybe it was lucky at that particular time to be a lot like an English village planting roots in the Outback.
The town was founded by Capt. Arthur J. Hutchinson -- born on the island of Bermuda in 1846, English down to his bones. He was quite active as a young soldier in Queen Victoria’s far-flung Imperial adventures. “Lindsay” was his wife’s middle name.
Napoleon allegedly said England was “a nation of shopkeepers.” The Lindsay of my youth had a vibrant retail center that was the focus of secular life.
Is it not high praise in some English circles to be deemed “clubbable”? The Lindsay of my youth was a hotbed of vigorous voluntary associations where the lessons of responsibility and self-rule were nurtured.
I’ve always liked that saying about the English army: “They lose every battle in a war except the last one.” The Lindsay of my youth had that same kind of grit and wry humor in the face of adversity.
Recall, if you will, a point I made at the start of this story. I said I spend my working hours dealing with a huge and expensive government structure whose officials are desperate to teach people living in blighted Fresno how to be …, well, how to get their act together. How to be like the Lindsay of long ago.
A lot of Lindsay’s virtues were inherited from English culture.
Bonnie finished her remembrance of Mrs. Koehler with a phrasing that has an English feel.
“She was a well-put-together woman.”
57.) “Bye Bye Birdie” the play opened on Broadway on April 14, 1960. “Bye Bye Birdie” the movie was released on April 4, 1963. “Bye Bye Birdie” the Lindsay High School play was held in April 1965.
All three productions need a chorus to help advance the action. In the story’s beginning there’s Albert and Rosie trying to to cash in on Conrad’s induction. At the same time, there’s Kim and Hugo making the big plunge -- going steady.
The latter deed leads to the chorus (alternating between female and male singers) doing “The Telephone Hour Song.”
“Well, I heard they got pinned!
I was thinking they would!
Now they’re livin’ at last
They are steady for good.”
Tom Swarts was in the chorus of Lindsay High’s “Bye Bye Birdie.” He was a sophomore who took photographs for the school paper and didn’t flinch when the hot grounders came his way at third base. He could do it all.
Tom had broad shoulders and a strong back. So, he decided to be a stagehand for “Bye Bye Birdie.”
“It was a good way to get close to the girls and stay on the good side of the upperclassmen,” Tom says. “And Mr. Ippolito was really good at getting people involved.”
Then something went wrong in a rehearsal.
“I was working behind the set when somebody said, ‘Hey, we need a voice,’” Tom says. “There I was. There was no auditioning. They got the hook and I was in the chorus. My role was small. I was one of the people on the phone.”
He kept his stagehand duties.
Tom remembers the audience’s enthusiasm.
“A lot of people back in those days looked forward to going to musicals,” Tom says. “I know my parents did.”
58.) What we’ve got here is the passage of time.
In March 1958, Elvis Presley was drafted at a time when the Soviet Union was exploding nuclear weapons in the atmosphere about once a week. The Cold War was in full swing. Number of men drafted that year -- 142,246.
In March 1960, Presley left the army and Senator John F. Kennedy won the Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire. Kennedy would soon be asking Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Number of men drafted that year -- 86,602.
In March 1963, Lee Harvey Oswald bought by mail-order a 6.5 mm caliber Carcano rifle for $19.95. Some eight months later, Kennedy was dead and Lyndon Baines Johnson was president. Number of men drafted that year -- 119,265.
In March 1965, the first U.S. combat troops arrived in Viet Nam. Number of men drafted that year -- 230,991.
Tom Swarts in spring 1965 sang about the true love of Kim and Hugo. He set up the scenery for Conrad Birdie to sing “One Last Kiss.” He saw a capacity audience sitting in the beautiful Lindsay High School auditorium.
Five years later, Tom was drafted himself. He served nearly a year as an infantryman in Vietnam.
He was a grunt in “Bye Bye Birdie.” He was a grunt in the war.
“My commanding officer gave me the usual reenlistment pep talk before I got out,” Tom said. “I wanted to go back to school. I said no thanks.”
Bye bye, indeed.
59.) I was part of the “Bye Bye Birdie” stage crew. I operated the spotlight.
I’ve forgotten how I got the job. Mr. Feitsma probably convinced me to take it. There was a “crow’s nest” at the back to the balcony, accessible by steps. The room was small, the spotlight big.
Yes, it got hot in there.
I had an intercom that tied me to backstage. Remember the scene in “American Graffiti” where Toad from a car orders a double chubby chuck on the drive-in intercom? Everything from the other end is thoroughly garbled. Toad gives up and simply says, “Yeah!” Well, that was the auditorium “hot line” in action.
Spotlight Man wasn’t that hard of a job. Otherwise, the directors would have found someone else.
Two memories stick out, both from evening rehearsals.
Mr. Ippolito and Mrs. Koehler gave everyone a break or two to hit the bathrooms. Being in the balcony, I was by myself. I had a solitary walk along the second-floor hallway to the south stairwell and a solitary walk down the stairs to the boys bathroom. Same thing on my return trip.
I enjoyed those walks. Even at 15, I got it. Lindsay High School’s main building was special.
And at the end of each rehearsal, the directors had everyone gather in the front rows for a “chalk talk” about the evening’s pros and cons. I sat in the front row of the balcony, looking down on everything.
Mr. Ippolito usually did most of the instruction. He spoke with clarity and force and generosity. He was a master of observation and analysis.
What a privilege it was to take those walks and listen to that man.
60.) If Charlotte Adams as “Mama” Mae Peterson didn’t steal Lindsay High’s “Bye Bye Birdie” in 1965, then the orchestra did.
Even after a half-century, I remember the live music as superb and exciting.
And that means I’ve made a mistake while telling this story.
I’ve said the Big Four -- Joe Ippolito, Mary Koehler, Lois Sheesley, Orrie Feitsma, all recent additions to Lindsay High’s small faculty -- were pivotal to the show’s success. But there was a fifth newcomer to Lindsay who was just as important.
Music director George Jones.
George (University of Southern California graduate) came to Lindsay in the 1961-62 school year, the same time as Mrs. Koehler and a year before Joe and Orrie. The band photo in the Comet during the early ‘60s always showed George and his musicians and letter girls on the stage. The stage was packed -- better than 10 percent of the school was involved in band.
But the “Birdie” orchestra wasn’t an exclusively student venture. It was a community group, middle-aged adults and ambitious teens mixed together.
Eddie Becerra (sophomore) and freshmen John Bastady and Danny Opp were among those teens.
Another was my 19-year-old step-brother, Gary Landers. Gary had graduated from Porterville High School in 1964. We lived on Stanford Avenue, in the northeast part of town, and Gary was commuting to Porterville College when George Jones cast his net for talented musicians.
Gary certainly was that. He had played trumpet for Porterville High’s Buck Shaffer, earning first chair and a spot in Buck’s renowned Studio Band. The Studio Band was cherished throughout the Valley for its professional sound.
“I really don’t remember how I heard about the production,” Gary told me. “Perhaps from you. But I enjoyed musicals, which were very much in vogue in those days, so I jumped in.”
Gary said the group also played as a jazz band in venues other than “Birdie.” He said “old standards” were audience favorites.
“I remember playing a few performances with them, including one on the City Hall steps during the Orange Blossom Festival,” Gary said.
Gary said some members of the “Birdie” orchestra were “quite good musicians.” He remembers Cheryl Clark, a junior in 1965.
“She was excellent on the piano. Witty, and a lot of fun.”
Gary has fond memories of George Jones.
“I enjoyed working with him -- he was professional, but friendly,” Gary said. “He used encouragement and praise to get us to perform at an acceptable level.”
Maybe there’s a good reason why “Bye Bye Birdie” is remembered more warmly than if Joe Ippolito and crew had done “King Lear.”
“Dramatic productions elicit strong emotions, not only during performances but among the cast and crew during rehearsals, too,” Gary said. “The emotions during this production were pleasant ones.”
I told Tommy Wollenman during our interview that my father and step-mother attended one of the “Birdie” shows. When Gary and I got home that night, the four of us sat at the kitchen table and talked at length about what we liked and loved in the show.
“Tommy,” I said, “do you realize families all across Lindsay no doubt were doing the same thing in their kitchens or living rooms?”
Tommy didn’t answer. I don’t think he had given the notion much thought until that moment.
In summing up his “Birdie” experience, my step-brother could have been speaking for the hundreds of people who had some connection to the show’s production or had been in the audience.
“I enjoyed feeling like I was part of the community.”
61.) Tommy Wollenman as a high school senior in 1964-65 was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 205 pounds. Strong, smart, sometimes ornery, full of confidence. He always gave full vent to what he viewed as his remarkable wit.
He was a standout offensive guard and defensive lineman/linebacker on a 1964 team that went 1-8-1. All four losses in the Central Sierra League were by a touchdown or less. The Cards were tough, but couldn’t score.
But Tommy knew the joy of being a football hero on a tight-knit campus in a small town. As a sophomore in fall 1962, he played on the Cards’ undefeated varsity team that featured brother Tony Wollenman in a starring role.
Tommy’s family when the 1964-65 school year began had been in Lindsay for 20 or so years. He and his parents, the G.A. Wollenmans, lived east of town. The Joseph Wollenmans, the family of G.A.’s brother, lived west of town. All the Wollenmans were very successful ranchers in a town that measured social status by land consistently turned into profit.
And Tommy had plenty of rugged good looks.
In other words, Tommy Wollenman as a senior was a Big Man On Campus, but in a rather complex way.
As a freshman in 1964-65, little of this analysis would have entered my mind. I doubt if any of Lindsay High’s 500 students, had they been so inclined, would have analyzed Tommy in this detail.
But Joe Ippolito, Mary Koehler and Orrie Feitsma were keen observers of humanity. Along about January 1965, they went hunting on the old Lindsay High campus for someone to play a cocky, self-centered, somewhat thick-skulled rock ‘n’ roll star.
These three English teachers wanted to put on “Bye Bye Birdie.” Finding the right Conrad Birdie would make or break the show.
“They picked me out,” Tommy told me this summer. “They said, ‘Let’s sit down and talk about this.’ I may have hummed something, but I don’t remember auditioning. I think they had figured out I was the candidate they wanted.”
Tommy now is 68 years old and winding down his career as a top official with LoBue Citrus, a major packing/marketing firm in Lindsay. He laughed as he recalled the “close connection” between the Conrad persona and his own as a teen.
But stating the obvious -- has there ever been a successful Conrad Birdie who didn’t harbor a big dose of natural arrogance? -- isn’t my point in this particular episode.
The success of “South Pacific” in 1964 and the school-wide anticipation for “Bye Bye Birdie” the next year would not have escaped anyone in the teachers lounge. The professional colleagues of the Ippolito-Koehler-Feitsma-Sheesley quartet wouldn’t have been human if they didn’t grumble occasionally about those spotlight hogs.
Frances Bellamy was Lindsay High’s speech/drama teacher at the time. She apparently had no hand in “Birdie.”
But Tommy made a point of saying he had been blessed with nearly two years of superb speech-drama instruction before donning the gold lame suit that made him a local star.
“I thank Mrs. Bellamy for giving me the support to do something like ‘Bye Bye Birdie,’” Tommy said.
62.) Here are 10 quick thoughts from Tommy on “Birdie” and the times:
▪ “‘South Pacific’ was so successful that it established that you take someone like Mr. Ippolito, Mrs. Koehler and Mr. Feitsma in a small town with a high school of 500 students or less and actually put on a first-class production that would attract people from all over the county.” Tommy had a small role in the play.
▪ “Maybe I had a degree of arrogance about me. Or self-assurance. Whatever it was, (the directors) knew I would embrace the chance to take on a role like this.”
▪ “Sandy Berger was the perfect Kim -- the way she looked, the way she carried herself, the way she combed her hair. And Stan Posten as Albert -- he did a great job.”
▪ “I remember sitting in the wings and watching Charlotte Adams playing Mrs. Peterson. She did the most incredible job. There was something about Charlotte that lent itself to playing that part. And that’s what I found so unique about the production -- everyone was cast in roles that they personified.”
▪ “You’ve got to remember this era didn’t have the technology we have today. None of the students had seen ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ on Broadway. The movie had already come and gone from the theaters. I got an album of the songs. Once you heard the album, you said, ‘OK, I understand.’”
▪ “‘South Pacific’ was World War II. It was of that generation. ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ was of our generation.”
▪ “You had a lot of people in the audience (during several dress rehearsals). The word was getting around -- this was going to be something special.”
▪ (On the likelihood community leaders stood quietly but firmly by the side of Joe Ippolito and Orrie Feitsma): “I just know that’s the way it happened. It’s another one of those special things about Lindsay. Had it been different, there would have been no ‘Bye Bye Birdie.’”
▪ “When they tore that school down, it was like the innocence of 1965 went with it. Then for about seven years you had all that insanity in this country.”
▪ “I’m a little tone-deaf. But on the third night I had perfect pitch for ‘You Gotta Be Sincere.’ And off in the corner of the auditorium I saw Mr. Ippolito and Mr. Feitsma standing there. When I completed the first two sentences of the song, I saw them go (he pumps his fist, like an athlete making a good play at a key moment). It was like, ‘Yeah!’”
63.) But we’re still missing something when it comes to Tommy Wollenman and Conrad Birdie. And that something has to do with the way life really is and the way Lindsay was in the 1950s/early 1960s..
I kept asking Tommy: Why did it -- you as Conrad -- work so well in our old hometown?
I pointed to the cast photo in the 1965 Comet, a photo of uncommon professionalism. Forty-three people, with Tommy in the middle in his gold lame suit. He’s on a riser of some sort. Only he has a spotlight on his face. Arms spread, mouth slightly open, head tilted back a bit, a playfully naughty smile.
“I enjoyed playing the part,” Tommy said. “And it was a little bit of playing a natural role. I think some of the people watching in the audience realized I was enjoying the role without getting too carried away.”
I pitched a slightly different tune.
I gather (from YouTube) that the actors playing Conrad in the original Broadway show and the 1963 movie gave the role a slightly threatening feel.
Yes, they milk the farce for all it’s worth.
At the same time, there’s got to be a reason why all these 16-year-old girls are collapsing whenever Conrad shows up.
Now, none of the parents sitting in the Lindsay High auditorium in April 1965 needed to be schooled about sex. Many of them may have been the babies Dr. Annie Bond was talking about early in the 20th century when she said “the first one always seems to come in six months.”
Tommy Wollenman as a slightly sinister Conrad Birdie, only too happy to take advantage of impressionable teenage girls if only given the chance, simply wouldn’t have worked in Lindsay.
I’m betting Joe, Mary and Orrie saw in Tommy an actor who could play Conrad as an inside joke on an inside joke. Conrad is spoofing Elvis. Tommy is spoofing Conrad.
I’m in no way suggesting the Tommy Wollenman of 1965 was an angel. I happen to know from experience that’s not true.
But most of the audience all three nights would know that Tommy came from a good family, had good teachers and went to church. The directors saw an opening for Tommy to play Conrad with a winning warmth that didn’t undercut the farce.
Tommy didn’t argue with me.
“It’s all about the twinkle.”
64.) Carol Bratton was the last student to speak officially on behalf of the old Lindsay High School.
She did so with a squint or two -- from the sun, not emotion.
As valedictorian, Carol had earned the privilege of giving the farewell when the Class of 1965 graduated on Friday, June 11.
“It was a short speech, I remember that,” Carol said by phone from her home in Aptos.
She didn’t keep a copy of her remarks.
“I talked about how a lot of us had been together since Kindergarten, some of us since before that,” Carol said. “I’m sure I said something about our years at Lindsay High School and how we would always have these memories of our time together.
“I think I said something about a new high school being built and we were the last class to graduate from this school.”
Carol didn’t dwell on any topic.
“We wanted to keep the ceremony as short as possible,” Carol said. “We were told it was going to be about 105 (degrees).”
Obviously, the Class of ’65 graduated in the afternoon. This was another sign that the old ways were passing.
Lindsay’s seniors and eighth graders had (at least within my memory) always graduated at evening ceremonies. The junior high went on Thursday, the high school on Friday.
A stage was set up on the high school’s front lawn. There was plenty of room for a big crowd.
The graduates typically spent the rest of the night at local parties or family get-togethers. Some celebrations were more lively than others.
Perhaps that’s why the Lindsay school board on Nov. 16, 1964 agreed that the seniors after graduation would take buses to Anaheim for Disneyland’s Grad Night party. Senior Ditch Day was gone, a new tradition was born.
The front of the old Lindsay High faced west, hence the sun in Carol’s eyes.
Carol was among 111 graduates. The keynote speaker was Bill Kingsley, Lindsay High’s principal from 1955 to 1958.
“I would hope,” Kingsley said, “that the members of this class, by the time you are the age of your parents today, some of you might have found some of the answers of how we can live successfully with ourselves and the rest of the world.”
Nothing like putting pressure on a bunch of teenagers.
Carol said she went to one of the “Bye Bye Birdie” performances with her parents. She had thought about auditioning, then decided against it. She lived on a farm west of town. Attending evening rehearsals would have left her mother with a car.
Besides, Carol said, “my pressing concern was keeping up my grade point average so I could apply for some scholarships.”
The Lindsay of Carol Bratton’s youth was like a lot of small Valley towns in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.
“We had a shared identity,” she said.
And the Lindsay High School that Carol Bratton attended for four years was like the mid-20th century high schools in a lot of small Valley towns.
“It was beautiful,” Carol said. “It was well-built. But it didn’t last forever.
“None of us do.”
65.) Even a half-century later, Mike Butler remembers well the dressing rooms at the old Lindsay High auditorium.
“In those days they were separated, male from female,” Mike told me. “There used to be a difference.”
Mike is Lindsay High, Class of ‘66 -- an upper classman. Naturally, I’m his straight man.
Mike is special to Lindsay. His auto repair shop on Hermosa is a city treasure. The shop office features military uniforms worn by Lindsay veterans dating back to World War II. The Chamber of Commerce named him Man of the Year in January.
“That was a fine auditorium,” Mike said. “There was this huge stage that had row after row of curtains. They all appeared to be velvet. Remember how we were seated for assemblies? Freshmen were in the balcony. Sophomores were on both sides of the middle. The juniors sat in the middle, in the back. The seniors sat in the middle, in front of the stage.”
There was room for a pep band. The walls rocked during pep rallies. There was so much noise, it was cool for the boys to yell.
Mike took a break during our chat to attend to business. A customer picked up his car after a smog check. Another sign that 1965 was gone. Then the letter carrier -- a woman -- brought in the mail. I don’t recall many female letter carriers in 1965.
“There better be checks in there,” Mike said with melodramatic flair. He rifled through the stack. “Bills, bills, bills!”
But Mike wasn’t acting when he talked about the spring of 1966. There were just nine weeks left in the school year. The seniors wanted to finish at the old high school. The Class of ‘66 wanted to be the last class to attend all four years at the old campus.
Instead, we moved to the new campus during Easter Vacation. The honor went to the Class of ‘65.
“We were irritated by that,” Mike said. “All of the traditions belonged to the old school. There was nothing at all at the new school -- dust devils blowing everywhere. It was like getting uprooted and leaving home.”
66.) The old Lindsay High campus had become part of Mike Butler’s soul. And there it stayed over the years.
Then came 2006. The Class of ‘66 was preparing for its 40th reunion. There had been only about 100 graduates back in the day. Father Time had taken a toll on that number.
Kevin Glick (a few years younger than Mike, part of the Glick family that was such a wonderful part of mid-20th century Lindsay) walked into the Butler auto-repair shop one day. Long story short, Kevin told Mike that Bob Vollmer, who runs an excavation business in the Lindsay-Strathmore area, had an unusual treasure trove: Bricks from the old Lindsay High building.
Mike did his due diligence with Vollmer. They were the real deal. Mike asked and Vollmer agreed -- 100 bricks (a gift) were soon in the possession of Lindsay’s future Man of the Year.
Then came the reunion. Mike got the microphone at one point. He hadn’t been in the cast of 1965’s “Bye Bye Birdie,” but this son of the old Lindsay High knew how to dominate a spotlight. He read a poem he had written, “The Bricks.”
The end goes like this:
“Demolition day came, the Old School came down/It was a very sad day for our little town.
“Most of the old bricks were cleaned and sold/But one small pile was forgotten we were told.
“We got permission to go out to that dump/Finding those bricks gave our throats a lump.
“Forty years in that field under sky of blue/Now we’ve hauled some home just for you.
“Lying out there since Nineteen Sixty-Six/Now you each get to have one of those old bricks.”
67.) Mike still had a few of the bricks. He gave me one.
It was Mike’s kindness, born of a bond forged long ago by our shared days in a long-lost school, that brought the lump to my throat. If that’s what the Smart Folks mean by the Theory of Architectural Determinism, then Mike Butler proved them right.
“Toward the end of the poem,” Mike said, “my classmates began to realize that these bricks were real and present. There were tears coming down the cheeks as we presented each attendee a brick from the old high school.
“It was a powerful reunion.”
I had more stops to make. We tied up the loose ends of our visit -- who we had seen recently, what happened to some of the old teachers, where we might end up in retirement.
Mike spoke of Larry Higginbotham.
There were only 43 males in the Lindsay High School Class of 1966, judging by the yearbook photos. Larry was one of them.
Larry was a Specialist 4 (much like a corporal) in the U.S. Army on March 1, 1969 when he was killed by small arms fire in Quang Tin province, South Vietnam. He had turned 21 years old just five days earlier.
Larry was married. His wife was pregnant when Larry died. Larry and his daughter never saw each other.
Mike’s poem says of the old Lindsay High in its final days: “Less than 500 students, we all knew each other.”
Larry Gene Higginbotham was one of them.
68.) I stood at the main gate of the “new” Lindsay High (the one that opened in 1966 at Tulare Road/Foothill Avenue) this summer and tried to get sentimental.
No luck. Maybe it’s because the campus has been turned into Kennedy Elementary School (kindergarten through eighth grade). The high school I attended for nearly two years was torn down. The high school I attended for a bit more than two years features play equipment for 5-year-olds.
Fortunately, I was standing with Esmeralda Soria and Perla Soria. They are sisters, Lindsay High graduates and proof that, regardless of things like architectural and educational trends, our hometown keeps churning out remarkable people.
“For me the transition was pretty smooth,” Esmeralda said of her first day of high school in the late summer of 1996. “We were living on Orange (Avenue), near Hermosa. My sister, Laura, a senior, drove me. I’m sure she gave me some advice, but I can’t remember what it was.
“But maybe it didn’t matter that much. While I had a little hesitation because I was going to a new school, there has always been a sense of community here. That gives you comfort.”
The situation was both the same and different for Perla as a Lindsay High freshman in 1999. Her older sister, a senior, also drove her to school that first day and imparted hard-earned words of wisdom about high school life.
“It was her,” Perla said, pointing to Esmeralda. “We had the same gap. When I was a freshman, she was a senior.”
Esmeralda as a freshman had found it smart to make friends with some of Laura’s pals. Perla didn’t follow that path with Esmeralda’s senior class buddies.
“I actually tried to avoid her,” Perla said. “I didn’t want people to think I was her shadow. I’ve always been kind of shy. I kept to myself. I was a little intimidated. But (she laughs) I made my way through it.”
The three of us stood at the locked gate, looking in. A school official showed up and kindly let us into the center of the campus.
There are mature trees and landscaping. It’s all quite nice, nothing like the moonscape we had in 1966. My class of 1968 took a group photo near the middle of the courtyard. That’s about the only distinctive memory I have of the area.
Esmeralda said the school’s architecture was pivotal to Lindsay High’s dynamic culture.
“Look at the setup,” she said. “You have all these wings of classrooms. When we got out of class, we naturally come here to the middle. This is where we’d find each other. And there would be all sorts of events and activities that would occur in the center of the school.”
Then Esmeralda cut to the chase.
“George, we’re walking the same concrete but in different eras.”
69.) If you sense in that last comment a bit of familiarity on Esmeralda’s part, you’re spot on.
Esmeralda is a Fresno City Council member, representing District 1. My beat for The Bee is (until I leave the paper in a few days) Fresno City Hall.
Esmeralda and I have talked many times. The topic usually is local policy or Fresno politics. Sometimes we chat about our memories of Lindsay.
Esmeralda Soria has a bright political future. She is 33 years old. She is a lawyer and a former policy adviser for Assembly Member Henry T. Perea. She is a 2000 graduate of Lindsay High School and the 2004 Lindsay Orange Blossom Festival queen.
Bonnie (Bridges) Wolfe is the 1969 OBFQ (as Lindsay old-timers call it). Linda (Chatters) Rasmussen, my classmate from the Class of 1968 and a friend who helped me track down several sources for this story, is the 1970 OBFQ.
Old Valley high schools are valued highly by old-timers like me. The royalty of the marvelous festivals in small towns throughout the Valley also are valued by old-timers. It’s all the stuff of tradition.
I’ll explain why I made a point to interview Esmeralda for a story about a musical production she never applauded and a high school she never entered.
I met Esmeralda in early 2014 when she decided to run for the District 1 seat. She and Fresno businessman Cary Catalano survived the seven-candidate primary in June. Esmeralda won the November runoff in a close contest.
Identity politics, no stranger to America ever since George Washington left the scene, played a big role in the fall campaign.
“Esmeralda Soria was born and raised in the Central Valley,” says the first sentence of a campaign flyer.
A candidate always wants to be seen by voters as the local guy or gal. You know, “one of us.”
Here is the flyer’s second sentence: “She is the daughter of Mexican Immigrant farmworkers who sacrificed a lot and worked hard to ensure all of their five children obtained a great education.”
A mere 26 words, yet the sentence was all but guaranteed to push every emotional button of a large segment of Fresno’s Hispanic voting population. There’s no need here to dig into all the nuances. It’s sufficient to note that the sentence is brilliant and it worked.
And make no mistake, Cary was a formidable opponent who knew the rules of the game. He comes from a long-established Fresno family, donates his service to many nonprofit boards, operates a successful marketing firm and runs in circles that include Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
Cary also is gay. He didn’t put his sexual orientation in the second sentence of his campaign flyers. At the same time, he didn’t shy away from the issue when asked by voters or reporters.
When I was in that tiny room at the back of the old Lindsay High auditorium 50 years ago, putting a spotlight on the actors in my school’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” I couldn’t have imagined that I would someday be in a city of a half-million people reporting on a hard-fought political campaign between a woman who knew full well that her heritage as the daughter of Mexican immigrant farmworkers would resonate in a voter bloc that is more than 50% Hispanic and a man who knew full well that his 15-year domestic life with a male partner would resonate with a fast-growing bloc of voters who see (correctly, in my view) widely-inclusive civil rights as a pivotal part of the American experiment.
But I didn’t imagine all that because, as a 15-year-old freshman in spring 1965, I had yet to hear Mr. Mike explain Federalist No. 10.
Towns change. Big cities change. The power structure changes. Therefore, laws and governing principles change,
Lindsay folks in 1965 were, for the most part, wonderful people. Lindsay folks in 2015 are, for the most part, wonderful people. High schools one way or another get the job done. The rest of the stuff, the details, well, they kept newspaper reporters busy.
Esmeralda Soria’s life proves my point.
So does Perla Soria. She had joined us for the improvised tour of at Esmeralda’s suggestion. Perla has as many college degrees as Esmeralda, and is a Lindsay Unified School District trustee, to boot.
Our stroll over, Esmeralda, Perla and I headed out the school’s main gate, next to the administration office. I think the last time I had headed south through that gate was June 7, 1968 when I ran to the buses that would take all the new graduates to Disneyland. Robert Kennedy had died the previous day. What a time!
It dawned on me that my chatter about the old high school at Harvard and Hermosa may have gotten under Perla’s skin, as if I was somehow blaming her, an elected representative of the district that decided long before she was born to raze a beautiful but decaying building.
“It wasn’t you, Perla,” I said. “It was me. It was my parents’ generation that failed, if failure it was.”
Then Perla Soria, Lindsay High School Class of 2003, surprised me..
“I like the old, too,” she said.
70.) The “new” high school was dedicated in November 1965. The last day of classes at the old high school was Friday, April 1, 1966.
The end came at the start of Easter Vacation. I tore out of the main building’s north doors and, for the longest time, didn’t looked back.
Orrie Feitsma that last day left his tiny classroom on the second floor after the students were long gone. He paused before heading down the north staircase. The lockers lining the wall caught his eye -- the doors were open, the contents headed to a new school and new lockers..
“I have that visual in my mind to this day,” Orrie said.l “I thought, ‘This is the end of an era.’ Not for me, but for the community. It was almost as if the town’s guts had been taken out.”
By my rough calculations, 5,000 to 5,500 teenagers attended the old Lindsay High School from 1922 to April 1, 1966. That’s about the population of Lindsay when I lived there. I peg the number of graduates at about two-thirds of that figure -- 3,400 to 3,800.
How many people are still alive who spent all four years at the old Lindsay High? The youngest are from the Class of 1965. Those men and women are at least 68 years old.
My aunt, Allison Hostetter, was a 1928 Lindsay High graduate. She taught in the Lindsay school district for 40 years or so, most of them at the old high school. Lindsay was incorporated on Feb. 28, 1910. Allison was born in Lindsay on March 18, 1910. Was she the first person born in the newly-incorporated Lindsay to go on to graduate from the high school at Harvard and Hermosa?
I don’t know. The answer doesn’t matter to anyone other than her youngest nephew.
As I’ve said, the story of the old Lindsay High School is much like the story of high schools built in small towns throughout the Valley nearly a century ago.
The people of Lindsay in the first two-thirds of the 20th century were a brave and hardy lot. They were either pioneers or the pivotal second generation that did the equally difficult work of securing the founding. These men and women put a high premium on a traditionally liberal education (with a Western Civilization focus) for all. They valued culture and self-improvement. They were loyal. They wanted their town to take, to earn, a place of honor and respect in the world.
The old Lindsay High School served those aspirations and represented those virtues. I suggest the boys and girls who walked through those front doors sensed this, although for some it may have taken years for the message to sink in.
I suggest this is what Ernest J. Kump Sr. had in mind when he designed the school.
The old Lindsay High School was perfect for its time and its people.
I finish with Tommy Wollenman and Conrad Birdie.
Tommy and I talked for two hours in early June in the LoBue Citrus conference room in Lindsay.
He got me to thinking.
Let’s say Lindsay Gazette reporter Mary Howard was right. The old Lindsay High School campus symbolized the town and its people. The 1965 production of “Bye Bye Birdie” in that beautiful auditorium symbolized a glorious end to a worthy era.
Well, you know what happens at the end of a big stage production. The cast comes out for a final round of applause. The spotlight guy way up in the crow’s nest opens his spotlight up as far as possible to showcase everyone.
The applause ends, the spotlight is turned off.
That’s what I did at the end of the final performance of “Bye Bye Birdie.” You might say I was the one who turned off the spotlight on the old Lindsay High for the last time.
But I’m a Lindsay boy through and through. I don’t believe in “last time.”
So, a half-century later, I asked Tommy Wollenman to sing one of his “Bye Bye Birdie” songs.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Tommy said. “It’s been a long time.”
Blah, blah, blah. Sing!
Tommy looked away. Then he summarized “The Federalist Papers” better than Mr. Mike ever did.
“Let’s see. Ta, ta, ta …. There are chicks … ta ta ta … kiss me a few …. ta ta ta … don’t know what they’re missin’ ….”
Then Tommy looked at me. With a smile, of course.
“Got a lot of livin’ to do!”