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Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

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The 126-year-old La Crescenta School Bell – Nearly Lost But Found Again

In the 1800s every community had a school bell, and La Crescenta was no different. The vast majority of America’s school bells were removed over the years as new buildings replaced the old, and many bells were scrapped. What sets our school bell apart from others is the fact that after a long, dusty journey through obscurity, our bell was reborn and rings across our valley again.

Mike Lawler is the former  president of the Historical Society of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical Society
of the Crescenta Valley and loves local history. Reach him at
lawlerdad@yahoo.com.

Our La Crescenta Elementary School bell’s story starts 126 years ago. In 1890, land and materials were donated to build a wooden school building set amidst the rocks and scrub-brush at Prospect and La Crescenta avenues. This new school had a tall bell tower on the south side to house a large bell.

Crescenta Valley was a very quiet place then, and the rich tone of the bell strikes could be heard all across the valley. At 8:40 each morning the bell was rung to signal the start of school at 9, giving the valley’s children a warning that they should be on their way. The bell was also used to summon residents to community meetings held at the school, and as a fire alarm to rally volunteer firefighters to action.

As the valley grew, a larger school was built on the same site in 1915. The bell was gently lowered from the Victorian-style steeple of the first school and then hoisted by pulleys into a proper bell-tower of the new Moorish-style buildings. And there it resumed its duties. The 1933 Long Beach Earthquake damaged the building and the economics of the Depression and the following war put off new construction.

In 1947, the post-war population boom demanded a new school, and the buildings we know today as La Crescenta Elementary School were constructed. As the old 1915 school was torn down, a crane was brought in to lift the big bell off its cradle in the condemned bell tower and onto the back of a truck. It was hauled down the street for seeming temporary storage in the basement of Clark Junior High (now CV High School). The newly built elementary school did incorporate a bell-tower into its design, located directly above the main entrance. But the old bell was now an anachronism, and despite the urgings of the PTA and residents, no efforts were made to re-hang it.

And so the old bell collected dust in the basement of Clark. But CV residents wouldn’t forget the bell and their wishes to re-hang it somewhere. In 1957 another big effort was promoted by the local newspaper, The Ledger. In a series of articles, they interviewed former students and teachers in an effort to get some action, but to no avail. Instead, the heavy old bell was wrestled up out of Clark’s basement and relegated to even deeper obscurity in a downtown GUSD warehouse. In 1960, a new auditorium was to be built at the elementary school, and excited residents learned that initial plans included a spot for the bell. However, that plan too was dropped.

In 1976, the bicentennial of our nation, history became important to America again and CV residents finally took decisive action on the bell. A Crescenta Cañada Bicentennial Committee took on the bell project as one of its goals to mark our history. They partnered with the La Crescenta Woman’s Club, which spearheaded a fundraising drive targeting local businesses and individuals. They were successful and a replica of the original school’s bell steeple was built on the front lawn of the school. The restored bell now hangs as a working bell, fronted by a huge bronze plaque listing the names of La Crescenta Elementary School’s first class. Today the bell is rung each June by the sixth grade graduating class.

The old bell is an impressive relic of our local history, and well worth a stop on your way down La Crescenta Avenue to the 210 Freeway. It is truly “living history.”

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