William Henry Harrison Part 2: Elementary Schools of Whittier

William Henry Harrison Part 2: Elementary Schools of Whittier

Excerpted from a monograph originally produced for the Library Foundation Board at the request of the Whittier Conservancy.

Recap: William Henry Harrison is, in many ways, THE Whittier architect. His work encompassed styles from Art Deco to Mid-Century Modern, and his buildings form a majority of the most iconic and impressive structures in Whittier.

Harrison as school district architect

Harrison’s works include buildings or additions to existing structures for the school districts of Whittier, East, West and South Whittier. Of the ten elementary and two middle schools he designed for the Whittier School District, several are still in existence, including Lou Henry Hoover School, Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, Lydia Jackson, and Longfellow. Both of the middle schools he designed, Katherine Edwards and Walter F. Dexter,are still in use.

Beginning in 1936, Harrison was the architect for the Whittier Union High School District, formed in 1900 to serve the City of Whittier, the unincorporated communities of East, South and West Whittier, Los Nietos, Rose Hills, and parts of La Mirada and Santa Fe Springs. Of the five current comprehensive high schools within Whittier city boundaries, Harrison designed all but La Serna.

He designed two additional high schools. Monte Vista, at 11515 S. Colima Road, a high school from 1965-1979, now serves the Sheriff’s Academy. Sierra, at 9401 S. Painter Avenue, a high school from 1957-1979, now houses Frontier Continuation High School, Sierra Vista Alternative High School, the Adult Education Program, and the District Administrative Offices.

William Henry Harrison was a practitioner of the modern style in architecture, a style that encompassed a variety of design movements—Art Deco, Streamline Moderne, Mid-Century Modern—from 1925 to 1968.

Streamline Moderne emerged during the Great Depression, when designers sought dramatic impact using the most efficient means possible. They frequently used this style in buildings financed by the Public Works Administration (PWA), an agency of the New Deal separate from its later and more well-known sister agency, the WPA.

The style embraced aerodynamic forms associated with industrial innovation, and featured a flat roof and horizontal massing and emphasis. Exterior surfaces are of stucco, concrete, or structural glass. Typical ornamentation included raised horizontal moldings or “speedlines,” often tripled, or aluminum horizontal banding. We look at two Moderne Whittier elementary schools below.

LOU HENRY HOOVER ELEMENTARY photo album originally published by Louis Rico on Whittier, California – Our Hometown.

Lou Henry Hoover School

Named by a LAUSD Assistant Superintendent one of the six best-designed schools in America, Hoover stands at the east end of Camilla Street at 6302 Alta Avenue. Built in 1938, and now called the Lou Henry Hoover School of Fine Arts, it was named after the Whittier-raised wife of the 31st president of the United States. The striking concave façade contains a reliefpanel depicting Quaker families at play and at school carved by Bartalan (Bartholomew) Makό, aHungarian-born sculptor who achieved local fame from 1920 to 1970.

Harrison incorporated public art in many of his buildings. He commissioned the two metal relief panels that stood on either side of the main entrance to the former YMCA on Hadley at Milton, depicting scenes of activities found at the Y. Unfortunately, the panels were removed in 1995, and later disappeared.

Postcard photo by Max Mahan, distributed by Columbia Wholesale Supply, Hollywood.

Abraham Lincoln Elementary School

Built in 1935 at the southwest corner of Broadway and Newlin, at 12620 Broadway, Gebhard and Winter in An Architectural Guide to Southern California note that this “PWA Moderne is classically monumental. One wall of the kindergarten classroom wing folds aside to combine garden with classroom.” The school closed in 2005.

The next installment in this series will examine other Whittier buildings designed by Harrison.

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