Top photo by Steve Shay, Bottom photo Life Magazine, Sept. 19, 1949
Lake Burien Elementary School opened a century ago. All that remains is the arch, pictured, and many memories. In top photo, some alumni share recollections with the Highline Times, and each other as they look for their names, and those of others, in brick set in the ground. L-R: Joan Dehn, Blanche Black, Beth Williams, Kalman Brauner, Patti Burgess, & Greg Rehmke. Bottom photo, taken by Life Magazine for its Sept. 19, 1949 issue on "War Babies", illustrated the overcrowding of schools in post-war America. A few of those interviewed for this story appear in the photo. They just haven't been able to spot themselves yet.
Lake Burien School opened 100 years ago; "War babies" recall 50 students per classroom
One hundred years ago at the trolley terminus near SW 152nd and 22nd Ave. SW, the flaps unzipped and Lake Burien Elementary School's "front doors" officially opened. Ten students filled the one-room school, a leaky tent. While they hit the books, the rain hit them. So they migrated to dryer digs, a real estate office close by.
A year later, the first Lake Burien Elementary School building opened to 13 students. Then, in 1926, students moved to a new, two-story, six-classroom school at 14660 18th Ave. SW. Additions followed, in the 1930's. In the post war years, the school installed five portables. This was due to the so-called "war babies" who were now entering first grade. Nationally, there were four million such students by 1949, a 10-percent increase in one year.
The legendary weekly, Life Magazine, put Lake Burien School on the map, well, in their publication, dated Sept. 19, 1949. Their photographer captured the overcrowded school of 847 students, 390 posing inside the building, its official capacity, and the additional 457 kids standing in a crowd outside. There were so many kids that the magazine placed the photo on a horizontal foldout two pages wide.
The school closed in 1976 and was demolished in 1992. In its place is the 4.6 acre Lake Burien School Memorial Park, popular for hosting the “ Music and Movies In The Park” series in summer. Displayed in the park is a commemorative arch to honor the school. The top of the arch includes elements of the original arch over the school's front door. A large display near the arch explains the history of the school with text and photos. In the ground surrounding the arch are commemorative bricks with the names of people and businesses who donated to save the artifact.
Many bricks name alumni, including grade school pals, Blanche Black and Patti Burgess, still best friends. Patti's son, Marc Anderson, also a Lake Burien grad, is involved with a Facebook Group page called "I attended Lake Burien Elementary School!" which currently has 68 members.
The Facebook page was started by Samia El-Moslimany, who entered Lake Burien School in Mrs. Borden's morning kindergarten class, in 1968. Her brothers, Ramsey and Rasheed, also attended in the 70's. They, too, have a brick. "We were the only Arab/Muslims in the '70's in all of Highline," she said.
"I live between Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and in my reconstructed childhood home in Seahurst where I now am," said Samia, the daughter of two of Seattle’s pioneer Muslim activists, Ann and Mohammad El-Moslimany. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Film Making and Television Production and her Master’s Degree in Education from UW. Samia is the managing owner of one of Arabia’s leading photography studios.
Burgess, who lives in Burien, attended grades five through seven, from 1943-1945. She would go on to teach business at Highline High School.
Black, now a Des Moines resident, started 3rd grade there, in 1941, and entered Highline High School the same year as Burgess. There was no middle school, but Highline High had junior high classes.
"We had the best teacher in the world, Andy Anderson," Burgess enthused. "We had him for two years and tormented him to death. He was very tall and lanky. My first 'man teacher.'"
"I had a crush on him," giggled Black, who recalled shopping with coupons at nearby Wrights Grocery Store.
Youngsters during the war, Black and Burgess joined grown-ups on stage and danced for the USO.
"We went to Fort Lewis, Lawton, Madigan, with all ages in the group," recalled Burgess.
"We did tap and hula dancing," recalled Black. "They fed us very well on base. But those (military) buses had no springs. We enjoyed taking the boat to Fort Ward (Bainbridge Island) and the base on Whidbey Island."
Burgess said that they were exposed to some of the realities of war at that age when visiting wounded soldiers at a marine hospital.
Burgess' brother, Mick Stewart, and sister, Joan Dehn, also attended Lake Burien. Dehn, who lives in Des Moines, also danced for the USO with her sister and Black.
"A dance teacher, Betty Clemons, lived in the neighborhood and taught in the school gymnasium, and I wanted to dance," said Dehn, five years younger than Patti. Her daughter, Theresa Saitta also attended Lake Burien.
"These were very hard times," Dehn said. "Mom and Dad said we just don't have the funds so I signed up for myself and took classes for several weeks without them knowing. The teacher finally called my mother and asked were we going to make some arrangements (to pay). My parents found a way to do it, and weren't mad at all.
"We used to get into a lot of trouble because in 4th grade girls started noticing boys and boys started noticing girls, and we'd have to stand in the corner," said Dehn. "By then we were in one of the portables. That was a big deal because we were a little older, and it was cooler than being in the main building.
"I remember being on the playground when FDR died," she added. "We were trying to figure out who would become president and someone said 'Dewey'. We were young and didn't know about Truman. I can remember the wooden floors in the (school) hallway. You could shoot a marble down the hallway and it would roll from side to side. It was all uneven."
Beth Williams, a volunteer for the Highline Historical Society, attended from '44 to '48. She was a neighbor of the El-Moslimany family. Williams' children, Russell, Laura, Peggy, and Maria, also attended.
"When I first came into the building the first day of school the smell of the wood was wonderful," said Williams. "I roller skated to school. We wore them on our shoulders and put them on about where the post office now is and skated to school and around the playground, too. I still have my skate key.
"We had 45 to 50 people in each classroom in the top grades," she said. 'Those of us who wanted to learn, did. Those of us who didn't, there was no way."
Greg Rehmke lives walking distance to Lake Burien School Memorial Park.
"The school hired the Highline High School basketball coach to run a program for us once a week in the evenings, 15 of us kids," said Rehmke, who holds economic education seminars for students.
"I started playing in 5th grade," he said. "That sort of training helped me get on the teams in junior high, high school, and college, Central Washington (in Ellensburg). It all started with the coaching. I always remember that giving me a head start. I played center. I was the second tallest student in school, after Iantha Hemingway."
Kalman Brauner said he appeared in the Life Magazine photograph "About a couple of weeks after my first day of 1st grade there. But I don't remember the picture being taken.
"I lived on 14601 25th AV SW, and walked to school every day," Brauner said. "I hung out with Norton Smallwood. He was bussed in from Three Tree Point."
Lifelong Burien residents Guy and Pam Harper attended Lake Burien School, and eventually married. However, she was seven years younger, so they attended at different times. They lived less than a mile apart when kids, on Maplewild Ave. Guy was her family's paperboy. Pam happens to be Norton Smallwood's sister. Their mother, Florence, taught at Lake Burien and her father, also Norton, was in one of its earliest graduates, she said.
Pam helped rescue the arch, and Guy said he organized the fundraising with the bricks. Pam said saving the arch was the passion of the late Burien Councilwoman Vivian Matthews. The Harpers, with Doug Shadel, authored the book, "Three Tree Point (Images of America)". Guy was sales manager for Reynolds Aluminum and Pam is a retired Vice President of Rainier Bank.
"I remember our class ducking under our desks like we were taught to do in the drills, but this time it was real," recalled Pam, referring to the April 13, 1949 "Olympia Earthquake". "The (fluorescent) light tubes came down but the desks protected us."
She added, "Along 18th Avenue on school property was a whole row of hawthorn trees and I hated them because they were full of caterpillars. They'd drop all over the ground and crawl all around. It was creepy."
In addition to seeing Guy on his paper route, Pam also saw him between the pages.
She explained, "He became a rower at UW and that was a big deal. He was in the paper all the time."
"During the war I delivered the PI," said Guy. "Every time I'd come up with $18.75 I'd buy a war bond and an Army Jeep would come up and everybody who bought a war bond got a ride in it around the school."