San Fernando’s Morningside School

Morningside School San Fernando 1888

Just in time for the return of San Fernando-area students to school for the new year, here is a great cabinet card photograph from the Lopez Adobe collection showing students at Morningside School in 1888.

It appears the school was brand new, looking at the clarity and cleanliness of the bricks in the background and the 15 May 1887 edition of the Los Angeles Herald newspaper had a short notice that:

The San Fernando Land and Water Company are now engaged in laying one hundred miles of water pipe.  Part of this work is for the new colony on the south side, or ‘Morningside,’ of the Pacoima and part of the old colony, or north side.

This strangely-worded statement indicated that the south side of Pacoima Wash was designated as the Morningside colony, while the area to the north was the townsite of San Fernando, created in 1874.  It is worth noting here that 1887 was the midst of a significant period of population growth and economic expansion in the Los Angeles region, known later as the “Boom of the Eighties.”  This boom revived many towns, established during the smaller “boomlet” of the early 1870s that spawned such towns as Artesia, Pomona, Alhambra, and, of course, San Fernando, all of which stagnated after an economic crisis erupted in 1875-76.

In any case, the Morningside colony was part of the larger San Fernando township, an administrative entity much larger than the town itself and which included a post office, a justice of the peace, and a couple of constables among its formal structure.

Morningside School was originally located at the northeast corner of Fifth and Hagar streets, northeast of the townsite, and, when San Fernando High School was established in 1896, the elementary school occupied the second floor of the structure, while the high school operated out of the first level.  In 1906, the high school relocated to a new campus and less than a decade later, in 1915, Morningside also found a new home–its current location at the southwest corner of Fifth and Maclay.

In fact, the main building at the new site had the distinction of being co-designed by architect John C. Austin, who later went on to design such regional landmarks as Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles City Hall, and Griffith Observatory, among many other structures, many still standing.

Speaking of still standing, the Morningside main structure has another distinction:  according to the Los Angeles Unified School District, it is the oldest operated building in the massive district that is still functioning with its original purpose.  Obviously, this building is celebrating its centennial this year.

The old school site was purchased in 1916 by the Webster-Lewis Art Company and remodeled for use “as an up-to-date lithographing and calendar manufacturing plant,” according to Geyer’s Stationer, a trade publication.  Today, the location is the home of St. Simon’s Episcopal Church.

As to the current Morningside School campus, it has recently been the feature of a couple “celebrity” events.  In 1996, the foundation established by legendary actor Kirk Douglas and his wife Anne to create playgrounds for pre-K children dedicated one at Morningside named for the couple.  Both were on hand for the ceremony and Douglas was reported in the press as having spent quite a bit of time talking to the young children.

Five years later, just after the controversial election that ushered George W. Bush into the presidency, First Lady Laura Bush, a former elementary school teacher, California governor Gray Davis (two years removed from his recall) and Mexican president Vicente Fox paid a visit to Morningside and gave it some special exposure and publicity.

At almost 130 years old, Morningside is one of the oldest continously operating schools in the region, much less in the local area.

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