Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2017

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Former students, teachers join open house at Historic Westside School


Kyle B. Hansen

Former students and teachers gather for a group photo in front of Las Vegas Grammer School No. 1, the oldest school building still standing in Las Vegas, on Saturday.

Westside School

Cecilia Lujan Jarmillo points to herself in a photo from April 19, 1946, of Ms. Tingen's class at the Historic Westside School. Launch slideshow »

For Carmen Quinones, a brief news report Friday set off a mad dash to look through old boxes.

Her goal: find photos of her class at the Las Vegas Grammar School Branch No. 1.

“I have boxes and boxes of old photos,” said Quinones, 64.

She couldn’t find the photos in time for an open house at what is now called the Historic Westside School, but she brought some other photos she found, including some of her seven siblings with their classmates at the school.

She shared the photos with two of her sisters and one brother at the open house.

Her brother Carlos Lujan, now 76, shared some of his memories, including twice sneaking out of kindergarten and going home. “The third time, the teacher locked me in the room,” he said.

Those types of memories and photos are exactly what city officials were hoping to collect at the open house, which was hosted by Councilman Ricki Barlow and included the unveiling of a marker recognizing the building’s 1979 listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The city has received funding to study the buildings at the school site and develop a plan to restore the school and create new programs.

Barlow said he hopes to turn the site into a place where the community can gather and remember the past.

“A lot of the children who attended this school still live in the neighborhood. That says a lot about how important this community is to them,” Barlow said.

The school, open from 1923 to 1967, was the first on the west side of the railroad tracks that separated the area from the main part of Las Vegas.

It filled an important need in the community, which was made up of mostly minorities, said Courtney Mooney, the city’s historic preservation officer. The school is the oldest still standing in Las Vegas, Mooney said.

Today, the buildings are owned by the city and leased to the Economic Opportunity Board for offices. The old school is also the home of nonprofit radio station KCEP.

Mooney said the city does not have much information about what the buildings were like when they were used as a school, and no building plans have been preserved.

But former students and teachers at the open house were happy to share their memories of which grades were in what classrooms and where the basketball court was.

One former student, Brenda J. Williams, who served as an interim city councilwoman before Barlow was elected, is helping recruit people to write their memories of the school that she hopes will be published in a book later this year.

“People are so excited about it they were calling me at 7:30 in the morning when they heard about it,” she said with a laugh. “We’ve got a lot of history that’s not being told, and that’s the purpose of this book.”

Claytee White, the director of the UNLV library’s Oral History Resource Center, was also at the open house, with her equipment, to record the memories of former teachers and students.

“We have too little of this kind of history (preserved),” she said.

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