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The Case for Saving Parkside School

Note: In 2004 the San Francisco School District tore down the old Parkside school in preparation for a new facility named after Senator Dianne Feinstein. The author of this short history of the school building led an unsuccessful movement to try and preserve the original structure. The new Dianne Feinstein Elementary School opened August 2006.

by Roy H. Jarl
September 2003

The first Parkside School opened in September of 1909, as a one-room school for the first four grades. It was located on Thirtieth Avenue and Taraval Street. Two additions were made until it became clear it could not hold the growing school population.

The Parkside District Improvement Club, founded in 1908, pursued the City of San Francisco to come up with a much larger elementary school. The result was to engage the architect John Reid, Jr. to design the school (also to be called Parkside School), which would be located at Twenty-fifth Avenue and Vicente Street. The new school opened in 1922.

The old school, when moved to Eighteenth and Vicente, became the first Saint Cecilia elementary school.

John Reid, Jr. was a good choice. He had been one of three architects that designed the new San Francisco Civic Center. He was therefore well versed on how to design buildings to resist future earthquakes, having worked on the restoration of Civic Center, damaged during the 1906 quake. But that is not all. John Reid, Jr. was the architect of the Noe Valley Library and later was involved in other large construction projects such as the Laguna Honda Home and Mark Hopkins Hotel.

Parkside School was admired and was such a success that John Reid was awarded design contracts for twenty more San Francisco schools plus schools in the east bay. Just a few examples are Commodore Sloat School, Everett Junior High, Mission, Galileo and the High School of Commerce at 135 Van Ness Avenue. That is not to mention Pacific Heights, Park Presidio, Horace Mann, and Sherman schools.

From 1919 to 1927, Reid acted as City Architect. None of the buildings designed by this man have been destroyed by the many earthquakes that have plagued San Francisco since they were built. Parkside School shows no visible signs of earthquake damage.

Looking at John Reid, Jr.'s surviving buildings, it is clear that Parkside School is unique among his designs. (A similar school, Twin Peaks Primary School, was demolished in 1990.) It looks nothing like, say, Mission High or the High School of Commerce. Each of Reid's schools was designed with their environment in mind. Mission High School reflects the Basilica of Mission Dolores, while Commodore Sloat School the Spanish-style homes of St. Francis Wood. The Twin Peaks Primary School was built on a wooded side of a hill that was still semi-rural at the time of construction. Parkside School was built in an area where predominately peaked-roof wooden homes were built on the sand dunes of the Sunset District. It in turn influenced later buildings and homes of the Parkside District. Parkside School is now unique.

However Parkside School must be preserved not just as our architectural heritage, but for its historical significance. It was the first large building in the Parkside District, which meant that its auditorium was used as a community center for meetings, expositions and cultural events for over thirty years. For example, the Parkside District Improvement Club held seminal meetings there that resulted in the extension of the L-Taraval streetcar line to the beach, and later the building of the much-needed Lincoln High School.

The final and most important reason for restoring Parkside School is for our children. John Reid, Jr. took great pride in designing schools as places of learning. All of his schools are carefully and conscientiously planned for them.

The school building for him was primarily a human problem. He believed in teaching the next generation to live, not to just make a living. "He realized that the atmosphere which pervades the child's mind is at least of equal importance with the air that goes in to his lungs, and that a decent spiritual outlook is in no ways secondary to adequate light for his eyes." In modern terms, the school designs, like any good art form should speak to the spirit of the child. John Reid, Jr. felt that school architecture should be "solely concerned with making schools supremely fit for children." 1

We must keep this building alive with this spirit for our future generations of school children.

Entrance to the closed Parkside School in April 2004. - WNP photo

Much has happened to Parkside School in the past thirty-five years. The clay roof tiles and external woodwork were removed in 1970. The Field Act to retrofit schools for new earthquake standards was being enforced. this resulted in Proposition A of 1973. It passed, with $400,000 for Parkside School. The school stopped functioning in 1975 at which time it was to be reconstructed. This date was slipped to the 76-77 school year. Nothing happened. It was turned into school district office space up to the spring of this year.

According to the San Francisco Unified School District's Buildings and Grounds, Parkside School was one of the "lowest costs per classroom schools for Field Act compliance". It was thirteenth on their list of forty-two elementary schools. Logically Parkside School was to be brought up to Field Act standards by the voter-passed Proposition A. It never happened.

Today Parkside School does show over thirty-five years of neglect, as any building would. But this is no reason to tear it down, as the San Francisco Unified School District proposes to do this winter. The District needs a school, and it can be a rejuvenated Parkside School.

What would it cost to renovate and retrofit this historical structure? In pursuing this question there seems to be no answer, other than "it would cost too much." The SFUSD does not have an independent cost estimate. Apparently a decision was made by the SFUSD some years ago to replace the Parkside School with the Dianne Feinstein Elementary School, a school that makes no attempt to be like the old school and fit into the neighborhood.

There are also excuses of why renovation would be impossible. For example, the original red roof tiles could not be replaced because of child safety. Well, those same roof tiles exist today on St. Cecilia school and on the buildings that house the children of Edgewood Family and Children Center, both of which are less than a half a mile from the Parkside School.

In summary, it seems that Parkside School, the largest structure in the Parkside District during the early twenties, predating Edgewood and Pinehurst Orphanages and the new Saint Cecilia School, will be destroyed this winter. The former school and community center, with a rich historical past, is of no value to the Board of Education.

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1 "The Architect and Engineer, February 1920, Vol. LX, No. 2. "Work by John Reid, Jr., AIA by Irving F, Morrow, Architect."

Image: Parkside School, May 7, 1923. Courtesy of the Parkside District Improvement Club Scrapbooks (Vol. I).

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Page launched 30 September 2003; Updated 28 September 2007.

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