Going back to school

On Sept, 4, 1904, the building housing the Phinney Neighborhood Association (PNA) opened its doors as the John B. Allen School.

On Sept. 26, 2004, from 1 to 4 p.m, the Phinney Neighborhood Association will host an all-school reunion for former Allen students, teachers and community members celebrating the centennial of this historic school.

"[Seattle] has torn down a lot of its schools," PNA director Ann Bowden said. "I'm glad we have been able to preserve Allen."

The John B. Allen School fared well over the last 100 years. The original stairs leading to the front entranceway still exist. The mute air-raid tower still looms at the northwest corner of the site. The eight classrooms of the original building still have the black chalkboards on the wall.

"I feel that the only thing that has changed about the rooms is me," said Bowden, who has worked for the PNA for 20 years and has researched the history of the building.

In 1902, the Seattle School District purchased the land on the east side of Phinney Avenue, north of present-day Woodland Park Zoo. The district bought the land for a school in the Green Lake area. It was named Park School and at first consisted of a few portables.

Ninety-nine pupils enrolled the first year, so the district decided to erect a building that fit with the enrollment requirements. The original building consisted of eight rooms for grades one through eight, had no portables and had a new name: John B. Allen School. Allen was the first Washington state senator; he died the January before the school building opened.

In 1918 enrollment swells called for additions to the original complex. However, because of the hills on the east and west sides of the building, an addition to the original complex was impossible. Instead, the district built a separate building, at the bottom of the east hill. The building was known as "the brick building."

"[The school administration] realized the chalkboards were 3 inches taller in the new building" Bowden said. "That's how they decided that the big kids (seventh- and eighth-grades) would get the brick building. The little kids would sit on the hill [overlooking the brick building] and watch the big kids play on the playground."

In 1928 Allen started the first safety patrol in Washington state. Bowden said other schools soon followed.

In the 1930s, Ida Culver began teaching at Allen. Culver later became local legend as she founded several retirement communities in the Seattle area and in Issaquah.

In the 1930s, kindergarten classes started matriculating into Allen's first through eighth grades.

By the 1940s, Allen's teachers stopped teaching the seventh and eighth grades; the students were instead sent to the nearest high school.

Enrollment began declining in the 1970s. After many modifications to the educational programs, the school closed its doors June 1981.

The PNA took over that autumn and has occupied the building since then. Now the PNA uses its buildings for fund-raising wine- and beer-tasting events, recreational and computer classes for children and adults, preschool and the occasional soup kitchen.

"Three-fourths [of its years], it has been a school; 25 years, a community center," Bowden said. But it has always been a building for the community."

The thing I remember about Allen is playing hookey in kindergarten and going to the Woodland Park Zoo with a second-grader," recalled Terry Bursett, a 1959 Allen graduate. "I got caught because I arrived back at school five minutes after my mom came to pick me up."

Bursett also remembers the biggest event of 1957. A truck carrying elephants to Woodland Park Zoo took the corner of Phinney Avenue and turned over right outside the Allen building. Bursett said the truck ended up in the front yard of her friend and classmate who lived across the street from Allen school.

The new air raid tower was also all the rage in the Cold War 1950s. The northwest corner of the Allen site was chosen for the placement of the tower because it "was not taking up valuable property," according to Bowden.

"All the kids who went here remember that every Wednesday it would go off at noon," Bowden said.

Bursett now lives in Ravenna and is a grandmother. She is also on the reunion committee with her older sister.

"We hope for a big turnout for this [reunion]," Bursett said, "sharing experiences after 40-some-odd years."

For the reunion, Bowden plans to assign different graduating years to different classrooms.

She also plans a "historical vignette" with photo displays.

She and the reunion committee will serve refreshments and provide time for photo opportunities.

Bursett will bring the chocolate-chip cookies.

"[Allen alumni] will be very surprised," Bursett said. "[The reunion] will bring people here who haven't seen [the building in a long time], and they may start utilizing it."

Bowden hopes that former students will reunite with classmates and teachers, like at any school reunion.

"It gives the community a chance to reflect: where we've come from, where we've been," Bowden said. "We figured 100 years is a good enough reason."

For more information about the John B. Allen all-school reunion, call the Phinney Neighborhood Association, at 783-2244.

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