A Fond Farewell to Garfield History

A 56-unit development will provide permanent residences for seniors, disabled and veterans.

By Gloria Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Students, alumni, staff and members of the community took one last stroll through the hallways of the Garfield High School Administration Building for what will soon be a collective memory of times-past in East Los Angeles.

Fewer than a hundred people gathered in front of Garfield High School on Saturday for an impromptu farewell to the East L.A. landmark built in 1925 and damaged in a 2007 arson fire that leveled the school’s adjacent auditorium.

Dede Vidales, Garfield Alumni Foundation public relations director and Class of 1976 graduate, signs the farewell banner. (EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo)

Fenced off and condemned after Saturday’s event, the building is scheduled to be demolished this summer to make room for a new auditorium and administration building, according to Garfield’s principal, Jose Huerta.

For almost a century, the administration building located on East Sixth Street has stood as an icon synonymous with Garfield tradition and pride.

Generations of eastside residents have walked the building’s hallways, where walls with display cases filled with trophies and plaques celebrated the athletic and academic achievements of Garfield students.

But on June 10, the building stood nearly empty, the walls stripped clean.

Aside from some props put out for the event—past yearbooks displayed in the lobby and two paper banners inviting people to write down their memories—only the mascot murals kept the walls from being completely bare.

Garfield’s Principal Jose Huerta invited the members of the audience to share their memories about the administration building that will be demolished this summer. EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

One after another, visitors recounted how as children they could not wait to grow up and finally become a Bulldog. For many, the building’s façade represented a right of passage.

“I was excited to attend, it was a beautiful feeling to walk in the doors as a freshman for the first time,” said Enrique Robles, speaking from a podium set up at the building’s entrance.

Now a Garfield teacher, Robles recalled how he met his high school sweetheart Ana at the school. He played football; she was in the marching band. They married, had three children; both now teach at the school.

Assistant Principal Ramiro Rubalcaba recalled being part of the school’s mariachi group and singing in the auditorium. His 1984 graduating class of 1,000 students was the largest in Garfield’s history, he said.

“As this building comes down and change comes into place… we’ll see that things just continue to get better because there are loving people who serve our students and the entire community,” he said. “No one can take away our memories and relationships that exist here…”

A former Bulldog football player from the Class of 2003, Miguel Haro told EGP his greatest memories are of walking the hallways during Homecoming Week.

“They’d go all out decorating it for the game against Roosevelt. ‘Go Bulldogs!’ ‘Beat the Rough Riders!’ Balloons everywhere,” Haro, recalled. “As it is, the game is already special, and coming here, and having your school support you was one of the greatest things out there.”

Not all of Garfield’s proud alums graduated as teens.

Cesar Fuentes attended Garfield’s adult school while raising his children and working. He still proudly wears his class ring.

“It’s a pleasure to come to this country, graduate from this school and now work here,” said Fuentes, who now works in the school’s Parent’s Center.

Incoming junior and ROTC member Leslie Herrera was chosen to attend the soon-to-open Esteban E. Torres High School, but says she asked to remain at Garfield.

“Garfield is my school. I’m the fourth member of my family to come here. My three older siblings came here… and I plan to follow in their footsteps,” she said.

Class of 1986 alumnus Albert Garcia said he was supposed to go to the “other school” [Roosevelt] because he lived in Boyle Heights, but chose to go to Garfield instead.

“I was in the band at Stevenson [Middle School],” he said. “I remember coming to the Garfield/Roosevelt games, when I saw the Garfield marching band I said, ‘oh hell no, there’s no way I’m going to go to the other marching band!’”

One of legendary teacher Jaime Escalante’s former calculus students, Garcia recalls dropping everything when he heard about the fire and rushing with his family from Fontana to see it with his own eyes.

Others recalled President George Bush Sr. visiting in the late 1980’s.

The loss of the auditorium and the death of Escalante earlier this year, were on the minds of many.

EGP photo by Gloria Angelina Castillo

Principal Huerta said the event was organized at the last minute when he learned last weekend would be the last chance for a public farewell.

“You know its sad… because of some mistakes, some bad choices some kids made…” both the grand auditorium and the adjoining administration building have to be replaced, he explained. Huerta said both buildings will be state-of-the-art, with a quad in the middle.

“I know this is a landmark, I grew up in this community. I know it’s a landmark… [but] you will be pleased with the new building,” he said.

“I know there’s a lot of sadness in your hearts but there should be a lot of hope too,” he said.

The new buildings will give the campus a university look, Huerta said. It will give the entire community a “facelift” and hopefully inspire students to achieve success and earn a higher education, he added.

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July 15, 2010  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


2 Responses to “A Fond Farewell to Garfield History”

  1. ela mom on July 16th, 2010 10:26 am

    So many good times and memories! They should make the outside look the same-just make inside more functional for today.

  2. Cherylinn Nicklas on July 16th, 2010 10:04 pm

    I went to Garfield from 1970 to 1973 (nickname Dodie to my fellow bulldogs) and the memories I have can never be replaced. I grew up in ELA and was proud to say this. There is no where in the US where you won’t meet someone from Garfield. I was sad that our school was damage in such a way that it cannot be salvage but as long as there is a Garfield and a BULLDOG future students can walk the halls and be proud to say they went and graduated from the finest school in ELA. I will miss you…..

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