An elegant cast-iron gate -- a gracious relic from the past -- stands at the corner of Birch Court and College Avenue, across from the Trader Joe's in Rockridge -- one of the remaining original elements of the Claremont Middle School building from 1913.
Later this year, Claremont Middle School and its friends, supporters and alumni are celebrating the school's centennial. Reinstalling the iron gate, which now stands in front of a newly completed garden area, is one of their projects.
I recently spoke with two people who have played a role in reinstalling the historic gate. Annette Floystrop, a longtime Rockridge resident who lives on nearby Birch Court, is a Claremont alumna. Kris Brekke is a parent and member of the Dad's Club at Claremont. I was interested to find out how the gate was saved and how it came to be a visible symbol of the school.
A modern school was erected in the 1970s (after it was determined that it would be too expensive to bring the old school up to modern seismic standards), and Floystrop and I met for coffee across the street from the new school. Floystrop recalled how the old school building had an entry where the gate originally stood and classrooms with "windows that opened" faced the street. "We students could look out on the busy thoroughfare; we could smell the freshly mowed grass from the front strip of lawn on the breezes that came through the open windows," she said.
"I remember my English teacher, Mr. Dash, giving us a creative writing assignment -- to describe that fresh-cut grass scent," Floystrop said.
She also remembers an assembly in the old auditorium when the students got word that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
Floystrop and her parents were recently arrived immigrants from Denmark in the 1950s. "I was 5 when we came. I started to learn English from my kindergarten teacher (at Peralta Elementary)." She later graduated from Oakland Tech.
I met Kris Brekke at the Main Library's History Room, where he was checking history files about Claremont. The architect was John J. Donovan (1877-1949), a nationally known expert on building schools in the 1910s and 1920s. In addition to several Oakland schools, including Oakland Tech, a city landmark, Donovan designed the campuses of Saint Mary's College and Santa Clara University.
Brekke told me that in 2009 the school received mitigation funds from the Caldecott Tunnel Fourth Bore Project, "which enabled us to bring the gate out of storage and use it as a feature in our new community garden."
More funds are needed to tackle some needed repairs to protect and weatherize the gate, he said.
The centennial celebration is scheduled for June, he said, and the parent group is hoping that people share stories and help with fundraising (donations are tax deductible).
For more on the June 1 celebration, contact Amy Vaughan, Claremont PTA president, at firstname.lastname@example.org. On April 6, the Claremont Dad's Club is hosting a pancake breakfast. Go to www.claremontms.org for details.
To learn more about the Caldecott Tunnel fourth bore mitigations, go to www.rockridge.org/news/public-review-tunnel-mitigations.
Contact Annalee Allen at email@example.com.