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Schools (starting with La Ballona, 1865)


According to the California State Archives, La Ballona School is one of the oldest in the county of Los Angeles. Its name first appeared in the 1864-65 Common School Reports, but archivist David L. Snyder postulated that it did not operate until the following year, because statistical data was not available until then.

The district was originally named "Ballona," undoubtedly for Rancho La Ballona, the 14,000 acre rancho established in 1819. "La" was added about 1890.

In the 1865-66 report, the number of school age children, between the ages of 5-15, was listed as 158. Of those, 46 children were attending school part time, and one was attending private school. Although there were 17 boys and 11 girls registered, the average daily attendance was listed as 19. The school year was only seven months, to accommodate agricultural duties. In 1865, Boston-born Miss Craft was the teacher and her monthly salary, including board, was $50. The total district expenditures in that inaugural year appears as $474.50. Ballona was an elementary school, whose early students came from ranchos nearby. Many often completed their education there, especially girls.

La Ballona School about 1900
La Ballona School about 1900


In 1865, the wood frame Ballona School was established to serve the needs of La Ballona Valley. When Harry Culver announced his plans in 1913 for the city that was destined to honor his name, the initial boundary line centered about Main Street, leaving the school just outside the city limits. Palms voted in 1914 to become a part of Los Angeles, and the area that became Culver City was a school district with no school!

Culver City Grammar School (later Linwood E. Howe School) opened in 1916 with six classrooms, financed by a $55,000 bond issue. The vote was 34 to 4 and prior to women's suffrage. In contrast, our most recent bond issue (Measure T, which passed with 80% affirmation) garnered $40,000,000 in funds to upgrade Culver City schools.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted in 1920 to change the Palms School District to Culver, to serve a 3.22 square mile area with a population of 700. In 1925, Washington School was originally built and then later repaired after the 1933 earthquake. In 1947, a ballot measure succeeded in making Culver City a "Charter City," with the city boundaries becoming a part of the Culver City School District. This added Betsy Ross, La Ballona and the Farragut School bungalows to the district. Two years later, the voters accepted a ballot measure to add secondary schools that made it "Culver City Unified School District." Plans began immediately to construct a new Junior High School and a Senior High School. CCUSD would offer kindergarten through 12th grade education, and our secondary students no longer attended Palms Jr. High and either Venice or Hamilton High Schools. The new Farragut Elementary School opened in January, 1950, to 600 pupils and a great deal of publicity, and was identified as an outstanding example of school architecture in the USA. In the January 6th edition of the Citizen Newspaper, headlines read "City Fathers Map Plans for School Bridge," which became an assessment district to pay for the first footbridge over Ballona Creek to the schools. Culver City High School opened its doors to students in January, 1951, and its first class, the Titans, graduated in 1953.

El Rincon and El Marino Schools opened their doors to students in 1952. The eighth elementary school, Linda Vista, was ready for classes in 1959. The motivation for Culver City to become a Charter City, in 1947, was in the interest of local control. The move to become a unified school district was an extension of that thinking. Locals saw their property tax dollars siphoned outside to support nearby schools and their impact on local education was limited.

The early Board of Trustees of the Culver School District numbered 3, but increased to a 5 member Board of Education after the city charter was adopted. In a special August, 1947, edition of the Evening Star-News, front page headlines read "Culver City Is Film Capital of World," the second section offered "Charter Voted This Year for Culver City," while a third section was devoted entirely to becoming a unified school district. The paper described the charter action as an end to a long campaign that "ends several years of agitation for this move." Pictured was Culver City Grammar School, citing it as also serving as the district office, which placed the superintendent and the purchasing agent in the school. There were articles on all five principals of the elementary schools in Culver City. You may remember some of their names: Mrs. Gladys Chandler (Washington), Louis Tallman (Culver City), Milfred Schafer (La Ballona), Donald Piety (Betsy Ross) and Robert Kelley (Farragut). Who was on that Board of Education? Mayo Wright, Ed Castle, Robert Ford, Monte Hover, and Mrs. Ellen Nix.

Since the late 40s, those five operating elementary schools grew to eight. The construction of a District Office, Junior High and a three-year High School began in 1950. Pat Clapp, a student, designed a life size Centaur of the Culver High mascot, to stir up school spirit at games. Activists like Bessie Freiden spearheaded fundraisers for lights at the high school stadium, "Helms Field." Robert Frost Auditorium opened in 1964. A natatorium , in a district/city partnership subsequently opened, but had to be closed in the 1990s for budgetary reasons. In 1979, Sunrise High School (Culver Park since 1987) opened at El Marino as an alternative school for students who were not functioning well in the regular high school environment, and an Infant Care Center was later established at that site. Grade levels were readjusted in 1983 making elementary schools K-5, the Junior High became a Middle School (6-8) and Culver High is now a four-year high school.

Declining enrollment caused the closure of four elementary schools: Washington, Linda Vista, Betsy Ross and El Marino, which has since reopened as a Language Magnet. CCUSD became the first district in the country to establish a Spanish Immersion Program. It was located at different sites, until the subsequently adopted Japanese Immersion program moved both into the El Marino Language School. In the 1980s, the district, in partnership with UCLA, established a Youth Heath Center. At the same time, the commitment to lifelong learning, although not yet formalized, was apparent with a very active Culver City Adult School. In addition to the PTAs at each school, other support groups were established as school funding changed with Prop. 13. (Culver City Education Foundation, Advocates for Language Learning, Friends of the Youth Health Center, Booster Clubs etc.).

Over the years, several private schools were established in Culver City, including Wildwood, the Kayne-Eras Center, Echo-Horizon School, Willows, Ohr Eliyahu Academy, and The H.E.L.P Group. Although St. Augustine School serves the Culver City community, it is actually located within the borders of the City of Los Angeles.