Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 7:11 am | Fair 47º


Treasures Unearthed for Santa Barbara Unified School District’s 150th Anniversary on Display

SBUSD plans events to show how it has changed since June 6, 1866

The former Washington School campus is shown in this 1900 photograph.
The former Washington School campus is shown in this 1900 photograph.  (Santa Barbara Unified School District photo)

This year, the Santa Barbara Unified School District will celebrate its 150th anniversary.

Prepping for the anniversary took district communications coordinator Barbara Keyani to some not-so-likely places to uncover gems of the district’s history — like the Santa Barbara Junior High basement.

She braved the subterranean to unearth some fascinating mementos of the district’s history, like yearbooks, photos, lesson plans from the 1950s and a myriad of other treasures that are now on display to celebrate the anniversary year.

She realized scarcity wasn’t a problem as she looked over the items in school basements and the district’s vault, where historical items are kept.

“It was more like how much can I carry,” she laughed.

A trio of glass display cases in the Santa Barbara’s Central Library at 40 E. Anapamu St. now contain the artifacts for all to see, as well as a timeline that shows some of the milestones in the district’s history. 

The school district was formed June, 6, 1866, and initially served just 325 students. The district then faced some of the same challenges that persist today.

Many of these are outlined in a research paper written by Robert Nelson Christian in 1963, which was edited by local historian and prolific writer Walker S. Tompkins.

Keyani used many of the details from Christian’s paper to inform her timeline, which is on display for viewers at the library.

The district faced unpredictable state funding and trouble attracting and retaining teachers in the remote area in the mid-1800s.

Famous dancer and choreographer Martha Graham is one of the members of this girl’s basketball team, shown in a historical photo from the Santa Barbara Unified School District archives. Click to view larger
Famous dancer and choreographer Martha Graham is one of the members of this girl’s basketball team, shown in a historical photo from the Santa Barbara Unified School District archives.  (Santa Barbara Unified School District photo)

The district also faced apathy from parents, who were unconvinced of the need for more education in the rural setting.

“For girls, it usually consisted of dancing, music, religion, and amiability,” Christian wrote of the basic skills children were taught then. 

“For boys, to be expert horsemen and polished gentlemen was enough.”

Eventually attitudes began to shift, and a small school was formed in the dimly lit Presidio Chapel at Canon Perdido between Anacapa and Santa Barbara streets, where about 40 students attended.

They had no books, so they studied an alphabet written on the wall in chalk, Christian wrote.

The district was formed with gathering momentum, and another milestone occurred when local voters approved a sales tax in 1870 to raise the $5,000 needed to build a new schoolhouse.

Not only did Keyani uncover some interesting facts about the district’s history, but she uncovered the records of some famous pupils as well.

After picking up a literary journal called “Olive and Gold” from the early 1900s, Keyani opened the pages to see that year’s editors included Martha Graham, then a teenager who went on to revolutionize American dance with her inspired performance and direction.

A Franklin Elementary School class from 1899 is shown here. Click to view larger
A Franklin Elementary School class from 1899 is shown here.  (Santa Barbara Unified School District photo)

Also serving as an editor that year was John Northrop, who founded the company that eventually became Northrop Grumman, a leader in the avionics and aerospace industries.

School board minutes Keyani uncovered from the same time period talk about conservation icon Pearl Chase, a home economics teacher, and other people crucial to the community at the time.

Those minutes were taken by a “Mr. Northrop,” which Keyani suspects may be the father of John Northrop.

The paper was so thin Keyani feared it might disintegrate in her hands, but she managed to make a copy, which is framed and featured in the display.

Another letter from 1918 was found in the basement of Santa Barbara Junior High, and was sent to school administrators, detailing the cost of diplomas for an upcoming graduation ceremony. 

The company’s letterhead contains a phone number that only has three digits instead of the ten used today.

“It’s just a wonderful piece of history,” she said.

Another photo of baseball players on the field at Peabody Stadium sits next to an article by local writer Cheri Rae, who wrote about baseball legends Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig playing a goodwill game in 1927 with locals and U.S. Navy seaman who had ported in the area.

A photo of a class of wild-looking kindergartners stare at the camera while sitting under an oak tree, and were part of Franklin School’s class in 1899.

While Keyani was installing the display this week, a retired firefighter stopped her and began telling her about his time as a student in the district. 

“He still had these memories like they were yesterday,” she said. “Folks were so interested in telling their stories.”

The district will be sponsoring events throughout the year to celebrate the anniversary, and a host of events are planned in the coming months.

An Academy Showcase is scheduled for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Earl Warren Showgrounds to show off the many high school academy programs. 

Keyani is also raising money to bring the Martha Graham Dance Company to Santa Barbara for the first time. She’s raised about two-thirds of the money needed to do so.

The district’s journey is a part of Keyani’s own history as well. 

Her two children graduated from Cold Spring School and then Santa Barbara Junior High and Santa Barbara High schools, where “they got a great education” and went on to have successful careers, she said.

She recalled her and her late husband’s involvement with class trips and fundraisers.

Now she works for the district and is able to pay homage to the district’s past.

“I love what I do,” she said.  

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Santa Barbara Unified School District turns 150 this year and is showing off some of its history in a Central Library display. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara Unified School District turns 150 this year and is showing off some of its history in a Central Library display.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)
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