Fundraiser to Cover Casa Ramona Fire Destruction

Fundraiser Underway To Help Cover Casa Ramona Fire Destruction


On Wednesday, July 29th, our community's beloved historic Casa Ramona Elementary School was consumed by a devastating fire. While nobody was injured in the fire, this historical building suffered extensive damage leaving our community heartbroken. Casa Ramona served as an elementary school for the local children  some of who still live in the neighborhood. In its later years, Casa Ramona served as a Community Center and provided resources to growing local community. 

Please help us in covering clean up costs associated with the fire, as well as rebuilding this local community gem. 

For some history of Casa Ramona, please continue reading below. 


Growth of the Latino Community

When the first USGS topographic survey of San Bernardino was completed in 1893-4, the future site of the Ramona School comprised an undeveloped portion of the alluvial fan east of Lytle Creek (fig. 2).  The terrain sloped very gently from northwest to southeast.  Although some areas of the fan had or were about to be planted in citrus, the vicinity of the future Ramona School was apparently farmed (to judge by a 1947 aerial photo; cf. fig. 5).   The alignment of W. 7th Street existed to a point several hundred yards west of the school site but there were no north-south streets west of Mt. Vernon Avenue.

By the latter 1920's, when the Ramona School was built, the City had extended its limits to a point about a half a block to the west of the school site.  The 1947 aerial photograph of the school shows low density residential development north and east of the site (fig. 4), but the 1942 U.S.G.S. 7.5' topographic sheet shows that the area west of the school remained undeveloped farmland.  Ms. Esther Estrada, a near life-long resident of the community who has lived within two blocks of the school during that time, recalls that during the 20's and 30's most residents were Latinos who either worked for the Santa Fe Railroad or were orange pickers (Estrada 1999:pers.comm.; Alva 1991:pers.comm.).  During the 1940's, many of the local residents went to work for the Kaiser Steel plant in Fontana.
In 1941, the San Bernardino County Guide described the Latino community growing up around the school:

The Mexican settlement, west of Mt. Vernon Avenue, between Fourth and Ninth Streets, contrasts sharply with other sections [of San Bernardino].  It is a quarter of narrow streets, a few of which are unpaved, faced by small houses, some built of adobe.  The life of the area centers around the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, with its fiesta grounds and social center, and the Home of Neighborly Service {fig. 14], a settlement house.  There are a theater which features Mexican pictures, and native cafes and shops.  Here is a transplanted bit of Old Mexico, with only a modicum of American influence ... (S.B. Co. Guide 1941:9).

It was not until after WWII that the community around the Ramona School became a densely developed residential area.  During the late 40's and 50's many low hip-roofed "liberty" style homes filled in the spaces between the pre-war frame California cottages.  Although a few newer structures may be found scattered here and there among the older residences, the fundamental architectural character of the neighborhood remains unchanged since the early post-war period.

History of the Ramona School

The San Bernardino School District was established in 1851 (District #1) and the first school consisted of a brush structure put up within the fort by the Mormons (Hill n.d.:243).  After the fort was done away with, "two adobe single-room schoolhouses were built on a lot secured by the city for school use; it was located on Fourth Street where the school building of 1904 stood" (ibid. 244).  The first brick school was built in 1871 and this was followed by the Central School on F Street which was erected in 1884.

In 1890, the city limits were extended and five new school districts were added:  Mt. Vernon, Metcalf, Riley, Urbita, and Terrace.  This resulted in construction of five new school buildings.  The census of 1902 showed a total of 2,147 children being taught by 40 teachers in City schools.  During the first decade of this century, the school census remained stable but between 1910 and 1920, it grew by nearly a third.  This growth combined with initial development of a Latino residential area west of Mt. Vernon Avenue put pressure on the school district to establish the Ramona School.

The first Ramona School, referred to as the "Ramona Building," was located at the southeastern corner of 7th Street and Mount Vernon Avenue, a property which currently comprises La Plaza Park.  The Directory of Public Schools (DPS) for San Bernardino (1914-1923) indicates that the school was established in 1921 and was an elementary school for grades 1-6.  Ms. May E. Clark served as Principal and also taught first grade.  Four other teachers made up the rest of the faculty (Ellis, Friedemann, Jensen, & Wood).  According to Mr. Felix Alva, the building was a wood-framed California bungalow (Alva 1999:pers. comm.).  It is not known what happened to the building after it ceased to be used as a school.

In the early 1920's, the 5-acre site that was the future home of the Ramona School belonged to William N. & Nora Van Dyke.  In 1924 the Van Dyke parcel had an assessed value of $750 and improvements valued at $800 (San Bernardino Assessor's Lot Book 1924-1929, bk. 32B, pg. 97).  Mr. Van Dyke is listed in the 1924 San Bernardino City Directory as a "foreman" (presumably for the Santa Fe) living at 1504 7th Street (SBCD 1924).  A Mr. Walter Van Dyke, music teacher, also resided at the same address.  Since the original address of the Ramona School was 1504 W. 7th Street, it may be that the Van Dyke residence was demolished to make room for the school.

The Van Dykes sold the property to the San Bernardino County School District on June 29, 1925 (San Bernardino County Book of Property Transfers, Bk. 59).  By 1927, completion of the school is indicated by the fact that the property had an assessed land value of $1,000 and an improvements value of $26,000.  By that time, the Van Dykes had moved to 1315 F Street (SBCD 1929).

The Los Angeles firm of Witmer & Watson was retained to design the Ramona School.  The original plans are dated 3/18/26 and initialed "LFW" (Loyall F. Watson).  While they were designing the school, Witmer & Watson established a local office in Rm. 404 of the Platt Building at 491 W. 5th Street (also listed as 477-479 E St.; now demolished).  However, the firm's permanent offices at the time were in the Bank of Italy Building in Los Angeles.

The new Ramona School, which housed kindergarten and grades 1-6, was a much larger facility that could accommodate a broader curriculum including hygiene and physical education, music, art, manual arts, home economics, etc.  The first Principal was Mary E. Clark who had been the Principal at the old school.  According to the Directory of Schools, she became Vice Principal of Ramona when R.F. Glenn took over in 1927-28.  At that time, the school's address was listed as 1504 7th Street (DPS 1928).  By the 1930's, the school's address had changed to its present address of 1524 W. 7th Street (SBCD 1931).

From its inception, the Ramona School was intended to serve the Mexican-American community exclusively.  In 1929, the San Bernardino Sun published an article entitled "Boundaries for Schools within San Bernardino District Listed; Parents Urged to Study Lines" (9/4/29; p. 5).  The article lists each school district and gives its street boundaries, children from within each boundary supposedly attending the school within their district.  However, when the Ramona School is listed, the entry simply gives the school's location (Seventh Street, two blocks west of Mt. Vernon Avenue), then comments that "This school serves all Mexican and non-English speaking children west of I Street."

In 1931-32, the Ramona School had 750 students or 250 more than the maximum number of students regarded as desirable at any single school within the school district in 1947 (San Bernardino Sun 9/24/32:13; Kump 1947:24).  In 1932-33, attendance at the Ramona School fell to 610 or 140 students less than the during the prior school year:

Decreases in the two schools maintained exclusively for Mexican pupils of the city [Ramona & Meadowbrook] are due to the extensive repatriation program carried on during the summer months.  Hundreds of Mexican families were sent back to their native country.  (San Bernardino Sun 9/24/32).

In 1947, the school district hired the Ernest J. Kump Company of San Francisco to develop a long-range building program for the San Bernardino School system (Kump 1947).  Kump evaluated the situation at the Ramona School:

The problems surrounding the Ramona School are of sufficient import to require a detailed discussion.  The current enrollment at Ramona is 845.  This figure far exceeds the 500 maximum set for our elementary schools (ibid. 48).

Nonetheless, Kump found that:

"The Ramona Elementary School has ample classroom capacity.  It needs additional playground area and will require the addition of a cafeteria-multiuse room.  Immediate steps must be taken to acquire title to the city owned property which is now used to supplement the play ground area.  The removal of the temporary classroom buildings is also a part of the permanent plan ...

"The cafeteria-multiuse building in addition to serving as cafeteria, assembly and music building will become a community center for this neighborhood."  (Ibid. 77).

One of the chief values of the Kump study was that it presented plans and an aerial photograph of the Ramona School (fig. 4).  These show a row of three temporary classroom buildings placed adjacent to the western boundary of the school property.  They also show the playground north of the school and a city-owned playground area off the northeast corner of the Ramona parcel.

In 1971, the San Bernardino Unified School District announced that it intended to abandon the Ramona Elementary School because it did not meet earthquake standards as provided in California's Field Act (San Bernardino Sun 7/27/71).  The final classes appear to have been held in 1971 when the old school housed kindergarten and grades 1-3 with an enrollment of 500 students.  The last Principal was Mr. Richard Cotter who was also Principal of the nearby Ramona-Alessandro School (grades 4-6) located at 670 N. Ramona Ave./ 1623 W. 7th Street (DPS 1971).  All Ramona School students were transferred to the Ramona-Alessandro School.

About the same time, the school district announced that it intended to close four more schools including Ramona-Alessandro.  This raised some interesting political issues.  To judge by an article that appeared in the San Bernardino Sun on May 5, 1971, it had been the intention of the school district to introduce busing in order to achieve racial integration of the school system.  This would also solve the problem of what to do with the displaced school children--that is, they would be distributed among the newer schools.  However, this plan was not consistent with community sentiments and about 200 "Marching Mothers for Quality Education" met with the district's Board of Education.  One of the marchers, Esther Estrada, told the Board that the community wanted its own schools.

Insofar as the Ramona School was concerned, it was proposed that the building be jointly purchased by the City and County as a center for Mexican-American cultural programs.  Unfortunately, this proposal came at a politically inopportune time due to the fact that the Board of Supervisors had become miffed by the "slashing attacks" with regard to the County budget by Supervisor Nancy E. Smith (San Bernardino Sun 6/27/71).  Since Ms. Smith represented the supervisor district closest to the school, the Board openly refused to support the proposal.

But the Ramona School was not destined to lose its place in the west side community.  At the time the school was closed, there was an organization called La Confederacion operating out of a storefront across from La Plaza Park.  The purpose of the organization was to promote academic achievement among Hispanic children in the community.  La Confederacion purchased the Ramona School for $41,000 and the organization changed its name to "Casa Ramona" (San Bernardino Sun 4/14/97).

Casa Ramona began by offering tutoring and English classes, a child-care center and the County Nutrition for Seniors program.  The organization, which was a non-profit corporation, "continued to expand, offering employment training and a class for women to earn their high school diplomas" (ibid.).  The school even became the home of a legal services clinic and the County Mental Health Department.  "The building was being used day and night" according to Ms. Estrada.  Many of the rooms were rented by non-profit organizations of various types.

By the 1980's, some of the non-profits found themselves in trouble for mis-use of funds.  About that time, many sources of public funding began to dry up due to Federal cost-cutting measures (Estrada 1999:pers.comm.).  In 1981 Ms. Estrada, a former employee of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, became Executive Director of Casa Ramona.  By that time, the organization was almost $90,000 in debt.  Casa Ramona had also lost some of its goal orientation, partly because the public school system was beginning to provide some of the services, such as English-as-Second Language (ESL), which Casa Ramona had assumed in the past.  Under Ms. Estrada's leadership, Casa Ramona devised plans to recover its solvency and re-define its long-term plans for providing services to the community.

These plans included construction of a medical center and related activities.  In May of 1982, the San Bernardino Sun reported that Casa Ramona had an operating budget of $314,630 and that it was providing "a host of services to the surrounding area, including a Nutrition for Seniors program, the Westside Community Family Practice Medical Center, city Human Services Department Drop-In Center, county Mental Health Outreach Clinic, Child Development Center and Project Redirect's Infant-Toddler Care Center" (Torrez 1982).

In the decade of the 90's Casa Ramona has continued to expand.  After having been cited for too little space per physician, a large addition was built on the clinic (pl.  The rear half of the school parcel, which had served as a playground during the elementary school days, was split and became the site of the area's first senior's housing project (pl. II.bottom).  Today, Casa Ramona's plans entail establishing offices for dentists, attorneys, more child care and educational seminars.  The Ramona Alessandro Alumni Association would also like to establish a library and museum.  Currently, the association comprises some 500 members (former students and teachers) who attended the old Ramona Building and the subject Ramona School between 1924-1953 (Cruz 1999:pers. comm.).  The idea is to focus on the medical and social needs of the community.  As Ms. Estrada (herself an alumnus of Ramona Elementary) has said, "people feel safe at Casa Ramona."



Architects: The Ramona Elementary School was designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm of Witmer & Watson. Established in 1919, the firm was owned by David J. Witmer and Loyall F. Watson.

Architectural Style: Mediterranean style as influenced by Spanish Colonial Revival style decorative
design elements and tile detailing.

Method of Construction: Primarily un-reinforced masonry with some steel reinforced concrete.

School Site Purchased: Five acre site purchased from William and Nora Van Dyke on June 30, 1925.

Architects Hired: Witmer & Watson selected as Ramona School design firm on December 1, 1925 by City of San Bernardino Board of Education for their knowledge of “Mexican” architecture.

Plans Approved: School Board approves Witmer & Watson plans for Ramona School on March 11, 1926.

Contract Awarded: George Herz awarded contract to build Ramona School in early April 1926.

Classes Move to New School: On November 1, 1926 classes were moved to the new Ramona School.

School Officially Opened: On November 10, 1926, opening ceremonies were held at the Ramona School.

School Site Expanded: Additional acreage purchased for the Ramona School site on November 14, 1951.

School and School Site Sold: On December 31, 1971, a Deed of Trust is executed between the San Bernardino City Unified School District and La Confederacion of Mexican-American Organizations, Inc. for the purchase of the Ramona School.



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Rafael Gonzalez 
Moreno Valley, CA
Casa Ramona Inc 
Registered nonprofit
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