December 31, 2001
Woodinville School: Former students look back
by Bronwyn Wilson
Senior Staff Reporter
When students walked Woodinville School's hallways in the 1940s they didn't make any noise of any kind.
"It was understood to be quiet," says John Valenta, who was principal at the school in 1944-45 and also during 1947-50.
Now, fifty-four years later, Valenta sits in the living room of one of his former students, Dorothy Johns. Another former student, Betty Langkow, has joined them to discuss the old Woodinville schoolhouse. All three are still Woodinville residents. Johns was in the eighth grade in 1947 and was known as Dorothy Denning then. She and Betty Ann Rogers, now Betty Langkow, have known each other since they were eight-years-old and are lifelong friends.
Thinking back to the quiet behavior in the school's hallway, Johns explains, "You didn't fool around. You knew what you were expected to do and you did it."
Over coffee, the two former students share memories with their former principal, which they still call Mr. Valenta. They talk about the building's architectural aspects. Says Johns, "The one thing I remember.... There were two stairways, a boy's stairway and a girl's stairway. You didn't go on the others' stairway." With separate stairways, boys had less opportunity to bother the girls and more time to be quiet. Langkow says that the transoms over the doors stand out in her memory when she thinks of the building. Valenta mentions that the schoolhouse had eight rooms. In 1948, four more classrooms were added, two upstairs and two down. All three remember the boiler room, which had other purposes in addition to housing a boiler. It was also a place where a boy in trouble might receive a disciplinary swat or two by Mr. Valenta. And, it was the room where chalkboard erasers were cleaned on a vacuum machine that had a wire brush. "In those days, so much work was done on the chalkboard," says Valenta, adding that chalkboard writing fostered good handwriting. "It was good for students to write four-inch letters on the board."
All three agree that life in the 40s was slower-paced than today and that local crime was unheard of back then. "I don't remember ever having a key to our house," Johns says. The group says that families were self-sufficient; everyone had chickens, made their own butter and sewed their own clothes. "There wasn't a milkman," Langkow remembers, "because a lot of people owned their own cows."
They say that most students had to get up early to feed animals or chop wood before school. Also, school studies were taken seriously and math and writing skills were stressed.
But schoolwork was mixed with fun. There were basketball games in the gym. And in the basement of the gym, the occasional movie would brighten the noon hour. For ten cents admission, students could get lost in "Swiss Family Robinson" or whatever movie Mr. Valenta had ordered. Says Valenta, "For kids who didn't get the chance to go to the movies, this was a real wonderful experience."
In addition to serving as a movie theater, the basement was also the school's lunchroom. Students bought a hot lunch for twenty-five cents. Says Langkow, "The food was very good." Also, the basement served as the classroom for wood shop and was the locale where emergency air raid drills were practiced. The drills prepared students in the case of a Russian attack on the United States, which was a major concern back then. During the drills, classes practiced retreating to the basement.
Although the building's rooms had, and still have, memorable character, the people inside its brick walls and wood floors were as noteworthy.
The three will never forget the school's custodian, Nat Manners. Though his job called for maintenance and cleaning, Manners always wore a necktie and blue shirt with his striped bib overalls. "He was a kind gentleman," says Valenta.
All three say that fifth grade teacher Miss Lammers was a favorite. Johns notes that students in her class always received good grades. Valenta mentions that Mrs. Boyd, the school's reading specialist, was an outstanding teacher. She worked one-on-one with students who had dyslexia, a new tag name at the time. There were many students, he says, who couldn't read and felt they were down in a hole until Mrs. Boyd came along. "Suddenly," says Valenta, "the students learned to read."
And though the group has wonderful memories of their days at the Woodinville School, it's only a segment of the school building's history. The schoolhouse originated in the home of Ira and Susan Woodin in the 1870s and then moved to a two-room building located at its current site. Destroyed by fire in 1908, it was rebuilt in 1909 and enjoyed a complete overhaul in 1936 through the Works Progress Administration (WPA). That year, architect Fred B. Stephen designed the red brick Art Deco style building that stands proudly today. The building was enlarged to handle the area's growth and essentially rebuilt to meet WPA standards. To qualify, it had to be a remodel project and, therefore, a single wall section from the 1909 building remained.
Over the years, it underwent other changes. In 1976, fire doors were added and in 1985, structural improvements were made. In the late 50s the school changed districts, from the Woodinville School District No. 213 to the Northshore School District No. 417. In 1993, it became Woodinville's first City Hall. It's presently the city's Community Center.
Now as Valenta, Johns and Langkow reminisce about its past, the Woodinville Landmarks Commission looks to its future. On Dec. 20, the Commission held its first meeting in Council Chambers and unanimously designated the Woodinville schoolhouse as a historic landmark. There were approximately a dozen people in the audience, including descendents of the Calkins family who donated the land for the original school. The landmark status presently applies only to the exterior of the building. The Commission expressed support for analysis and possible designation of the interior. According to City Planner Carl Smith, "The Commission expressed support for retrofitting so the building will survive and be useful, and therefore, they did not feel that landmark status will be an impediment to retrofitting."
Landmark designation and protection services are provided through an interlocal agreement between King County and the City. The City Council appointed Phyllis Keller as Woodinville's special member to King County's nine-member landmarks commission. As Woodinville's member, Keller will vote on all matters relating to landmarks within the City of Woodinville.
Says Keller, "The Woodinville School is one of the few remaining school buildings in the county built by WPA. It's not only important to the community but to the region. It's important that we don't lose our heritage."