NEWARK -- NewPark Mall is surrounded by a parking lot, Interstate 880 and auto dealers, but Emiline Rose's vision of the area is quite different.
What Rose, a 100-year-old Fremont resident, sees there is an avalanche of memories, going as far back as 1918. She was 5 then, and starting her lessons at Mowry's Landing School, which stood next to the mall's future location.
Nearly a century later, Rose is upset that Newark officials say prohibitive restoration costs might force them to demolish the one-room schoolhouse, despite its historical significance.
"It's our history, and there's no appreciation for it; that's what drives you crazy," Rose said, tears glistening behind her eyeglasses. "Why doesn't Newark keep it, for at least a while?"
City officials said they would like to restore the structure, but it could cost as much as $850,000, with no funds available to maintain it afterward. Two months ago, Newark's council members voted unanimously to spend $10,000 on an environmental impact report to study whether the 129-year-old building should be destroyed.
The single-story, wood-frame structure -- which measures 26 feet by 42 feet -- was built in 1884. It was converted to a residence decades ago and, in 1984, the East Bay Regional Park District moved it to Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont. Park district officials proposed renovating the schoolhouse and pairing it with two 19th-century Fremont homes to create an education center. But those plans never came to fruition, and the structures continued to decay.
The draft environmental impact report will be released in late summer, and residents then can submit written comments on the issue, said Brian Wiese, the park district's chief of planning.
If a decision is made to demolish any of the historic homes, opponents would have 30 days to appeal it. If no feasible plan is presented to save the schoolhouse or the Fremont homes, they could be destroyed as early as December, Wiese said.
"We would sell them for a dollar to anyone who would guarantee that they will move, restore and use them," he said.
Newark, a small city of 42,500 residents, boasts a large volunteer base that works on graffiti abatement and donates time to charities. So far, though, nobody has stepped forward to help with the schoolhouse, City Manager John Becker said.
Becker said he understands why the school's alumni and preservationists wish to save the historic building. "But it does not make sense financially to invest in a building that's in the state of disrepair that it's in now," he said. "It has holes in its floorboards. It's in such disrepair that it's a safety issue. It's our opinion that there's nothing here to save, frankly."
Another former student, Margaret Silva, a 91-year-old Fremont woman, said she hopes the city works to find creative solutions, such as assembling a team of preservationists to do free restoration work to limit costs. "I hate to see it demolished," Silva said. "The memories there, they mean a lot."
Silva, who attended the schoolhouse from 1928 to 1936, said the small school fostered a close-knit environment with old-fashioned touches, such as the John Philip Sousa marching music that kicked off every school day.
Rose said she remembers going to school each morning by way of a dirt road from her parents' Blacow Road ranch. Her classroom was led by Miss Bessie Coombs, a kindly woman tasked with teaching about 30 students in grades 1 through 8.
The older kids sat closest to the potbelly stove that heated the room and, during recess, students played hopscotch and drank water from a hand-pump faucet. Boys and girls bathrooms were separate outhouses, which were placed outside the classroom.
Rose said she knows memories alone won't save the schoolhouse, but she worries that they will be erased as soon as her generation passes away.
"We'll have nothing to show for it," she said. "There will never again be the one-room schools. There's something about them that stay with you."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.