Monday, July 13, 2009

Memories of Loyola School: And How it Grew Into the 21st Century

Loyola School in Los Altos, California after its recent makeover.

Guest Blog Post by
Lisa Gutt Arnold
Bainbridge Island, Washington State

Robin writes: Loyola was the first school I attended and though it was a mile from our house in Los Altos, California, and I began school at the age of five, I walked the distance daily with my sister and my neighborhood friend Keith. There was one girl in all of my classes, by the name of Lisa Gutt, who was my rival in everything: in athletic events we were the two best in our class; in academic contests we always were near the top; and in breaking the hearts of all the boys in our class, well, it was quite a battle indeed. Here she writes a guest entry for my blog about our alma mater (K-6) and the way its architecture was updated by another of our classmates.

By Lisa Gutt Arnold

In the hallowed halls of Loyola Elementary School I won the third grade spelling bee on the word “dictionary” and then had the misfortune of being sent to the cafeteria “bad table” by the vice principal, Mr. Wickstrom, for laughing too much.

Loyola School sports its new look.

On the playground I played four-square and raced Robin in the fifty-yard dash. Last fall Robin and I caught up with each other at our high school reunion, and discovered that the renovation of the school where our friendship and rivalry began was the focus of a high school classmate’s prowess.

In 2003 David Hingston (Los Altos High, Class of 1968), an architect, flexed his design and management muscles against the weight of expectation. A renovation of Loyola School had been underway when conflicts surfaced among the participants, stalling the project dangerously close to the beginning of the school year.

The utilitarian school takes on post-modernist coloring.

We alumni, who savored our Loyola years, might have hoped the renovation would bring the school into the present without destroying the past. But, for a student, worse than the prospect of starting school at the end of a glorious California summer, would be starting it in the midst of construction. David’s mandate was to pull the team of contractors back from the edge and complete the renovation on time. He proved up to the task, blending diplomacy with design intelligence and what he calls “spirit of place.”

The beauty of California flora is now incorporated into the common areas of the school.

Given the fifty-odd years since Loyola was built, there was much room for architectural improvement, like clerestory windows to summon the northern light into classrooms. But the renovation also succeeded in maintaining a military grace, existing in the original design.

As David describes it, the building is: “Shed-like, utilitarian, expediently constructed, the campus in some ways resembled a small military base. The ‘bar buildings’, surrounded by asphalt, were barracks-like. Arguably the school’s most prominent architectural feature was the flagpole sporting a flag for country and one for state."

Redwood siding graces the open air hallways of Loyola, post renovation.

"Bar buildings date back to the decade following World War II. From school to school their construction varies, but the concept is the same: an east-west orientation, parallel placement, thirty or so feet of separation, and a north wall of glass to admit natural light. Hundreds if not thousands of schools, especially in California, have classroom buildings based on this concept. The term of art is finger-plan. The schools are known as finger-plan schools.”

Renovation of the exterior of the bar buildings added paint to the stucco and redwood siding. The modernization introduced air conditioning, insulation, and ‘novelties’ (see the photo of the Hungry Lion fast food window, just the right size for kids). When the classroom buildings were built circa 1950, the only heat in the classrooms came directly from the sun. Now heat and air conditioning are centrally controlled from district headquarters.

At right, the Hungry Lion serves fast food for elementary kids at Loyola, an innovation.

David’s view is that “for a school, to be functional, is fitting. Utilitarian buildings and brainpower: the connection is mythic. Victor Frankenstein had his basement; Packard and Hewlett their garage; Abe his log cabin. Surely physicists work in Quonset huts, and scientists of all stripes in trailers.”

Brain power, exhibited in fourth-grade flash cards and wild excesses at recess gave David pause when it came to Loyola’s playground. “Much as it always has been, the playground at Loyola today is largely an uninterrupted, horizontal, asphalt plane. From a small child’s perspective, it is a vast, almost infinite space.”

In that space we took our time between classes, absorbed lessons taught, and imbibed fresh air. But to David, “such spaces favor big kids and athletes, who tend to dominate them.”

The school's lion mascot is featured in a new mosaic.

To me, admittedly small, the merriment was thick, encouraging learning with brief respites. The other day my father and I recalled Pet Parades held on the Loyola grounds. Our dear mutt Peco’s spotted bow tie once won my sister a pearl necklace. So much for mad scientists and early computer geeks. Loyola’s architecture, and along with it, our memories, are destined to improve with age.

The cowgirls in this historic photo include Loyola school alumna Lisa Gutt (back row left) and Robin Chapman (front row left).

David Hingston's firm is:
Gelfand Partners Architects

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Florida Beach Basics said...

How nice that you've reunited and apparently overcome past rivalries! And you both certainly have a way with words :) marge

Robin Chapman said...

We both learned our ways with words, jousting verbally for the boys in our classes. Lisa really is a vixen.

Anonymous said...

It's always a pleasure to read your contributions.However, call me pedantic, but that extra "r" in Bainbridge Island drives me nuts! HA! Keneke
Bainbridge Island, WA

Robin Chapman said...

That would be the fault of Lisa's editor and she is feeling very foolish for making such a funny mistake. Thanks for the "catch." I definitely stand corrected.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Just read this and it's nice to have something about Loyola to read about. Even though I'm just from the class of 2006. It was a fun school to attend.