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History of Edison

The History of Edison School

The block on which Edison School now stands once was the site of the home of Edgar Cohen. His large house faced what is now Lincoln Avenue. His father, Albert Cohen, owned all of what is now Fernside and Fernside Marina. A high board fence marked the western boundary of the property all the way from Santa Clara Avenue to the Estuary and stood almost exactly where Versailles Avenue is today. Later, when the estate was sold and subdivided, this fence became quite a problem. Nobody seemed to have the time or money necessary to tear it down. Finally the merchants of Alameda took care of it by lining the delivery trucks up against the fence and pushing.

About 1927 Everett School was abandoned and as Lincoln School was overcrowded, the Board of Education bought Edgar Cohen's property for a new school. Unfortunately, there was not enough money leftover after the purchase of the property to do any building. As a new high school wing had just been completed and a number of portable frame bungalows were no longer needed, these bungalows were moved to the newly acquired property and became what was known as Versailles School. The lawn which boarders Lincoln Avenue today was the front yard of the school and the rest of the block was used for a playground. This bungalow arrangement made a pleasant group but created problems. It was often mistaken for an auto court and one morning local residents woke up to find a family camped, complete with tent, on the grounds. They had no idea that they were in a school yard instead of in a public camp ground.

There was another problem too. A large number of wild quail made their home in the shrubbery which grew on the school grounds. The neighborhood cats enjoyed quail for dinner and the school children were very persistent in the efforts to catch the birds. To protect the quail, the School Board built a large aviary where the kindergarten room was to be built (mostly likely the site of the current Media Center). The quail were trapped with figure four traps designed not to hurt the birds and then they were placed in the aviary. This proved to be quite an attraction but the birds wouldn't nest and finally were turned over to the Fish and Game Commission. The Commission took the birds to the game refuge in Alvarade. The aviary was then torn down.

On March 19, 1940, the Board of Education passed a resolution authorizing Ken and Haas, architects, to prepare figures and make application to the W.P.A. for the construction of six classrooms for Versailles School. At the time buildings like ours were new and Dr. William Paden was very much interested in them. He and Mr. Everett Farwell, who was then President of the Board of Education, went south to look at similar buildings.

This proposed new school incorporated many outstanding features for the time. One was bilateral lighting, or light from both sides of the room which would eliminate shadows on papers and books. The rooms were to have 26% lighting from the exterior. They were to be 42 feet long - larger then those being built today. Since the school was to be all on one level, it would afford easy exit in case of fire. The furniture was to be movable so the teachers could clear the rooms for folk dancing, plays, etc. Surveys had shown that less blackboard space was needed so part of the walls were to have sloping pin boards which would be used for display or painting. The inner courts were planned for play and activities especially for the younger children. These courts proved to be unsatisfactory because of the wind, however.

On June 10, 1940, the W.P.A. made a grant of $38,576 for the construction of Versailles School. The work began in October of 1940 and became a headache that lasted nearly two years. The local trade unions objected to having the school built by W.P.A. labor and the project was held up by picketing for three months. The Board of Education decided to abandon the project but a taxpayers' group called on parents and taxpayers to attend a Board of Education meeting to protest such a move. The meeting was held on January 7, 1941, and was stormed by irate parents who complained strenuously and loudly about the shacks which, by then, had been in place 12 or 13 years.

The strike was finally settled by compromise. The W.P.A. would build the building and the trade unions would do the heating, plumbing, and electrical installations. Construction was about to resume, weather permitting. But weather didn't permit. After a record rainstorm, the Alameda Fire Department had to pump hundreds of gallons of water from the building site. Construction was finally started again but progress was slow. If thirty men were needed on the job, perhaps ten would arrive. Costs mounted. In March 1941 kitchen plans were cut from two kitchens to one kitchenette, subject to faculty approval. The faculty approved and in October 1941 the contract to finish Versailles School was awarded to H. G. Schmeideskamp of San Francisco for $44,067. Construction continued at a slow pace. In December of 1941 the country went to war and the project became subject to even more delays.

The January 7, 1942 issues of the Times Star carried this story:


“The school structure now being erected on the Versailles School site will be named Edison School when it is officially dedicated and opened on or about March first, the Board of Education decreed last night.  The name was selected after many hours by Board members Rudolph Bosshard, Dr. Donald Lum and Dr. Alice Burke.  Bosshard made the motion that the new name be approved, saying, “The school will be a perpetual honor to the great inventor who contributed so much toward the American way of life." 

The grey colored wooden bungalows on the opposite side of the project will continue to be known as Versailles School until they are dismantled following the opening of Edison School.

 It was noted in an informal discussion after the Board meeting the the names of many prominent Alameda citizens were suggested for the school but it was decided that local names, no matter how prominent, would be forgotten with the passing years, but names like Edison would be remembered for all time.”

Edison School wasn’t ready for use on or even about March first of 1942.  It was finally completed “except for minor details” about the end of April.  One minor detail was furniture.  It was in a box car stranded on a siding in Salt Lake City because of the war emergency.  The car finally arrived in Alameda two days before school closed for the summer on June 11, 1942. 

Edison School opened on September 14, 1942, nearly two years after construction was started.  From the six classrooms originally planned and built, Edison has grown to its present size of sixteen rooms (portables not included when this article was written) and all other facilities necessary to a modern, first-class school.