In June 2000, Bryant Elementary, a historic landmark school, closed its doors for a year to be thoroughly remodeled and made ready for the needs of the next century. It reopened in time to welcome students in the Fall of 2001. As representatives from the school district, the school and community plan for the future, we also pause to look back and preserve the rich memories of the past.
More than 80 years of history have passed since the first school was erected on this site, history that touched our school in many ways. In 1918, much of the neighborhood around the Bryant School was still a quiet area of small farms and woodlands. Yet earlier in that same decade, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul and a branch line of the Union Pacific railroads had arrived in Seattle, operating out of the new Union Street Station. The Lake Washington Ship Canal had been built, and the Duwamish Channel dredged to accommodate ocean-going vessels. The city was set for growth. During the First World War, 20 shipyards employed over 40,000 men and sawmills ran at full capacity. Along with new workers came new students – 10,000 new students arrived in Seattle’s schools between 1915 and 1919.
The first Bryant School on the present school grounds was built in December 1918 on what is now the southwest corner of the play field. Itwas one of four “Liberty Buildings” erected by the school district during World War I. Arising from the conflicting pressures of a growing population and the need to conserve materials and labor for the war effort, these six-room wooden buildings cost about $11,000 each, wereheated only by a stove in each room, and lacked indoor plumbing.
This 1918 building was named for William Cullen Bryant, a 19th century writer and patron of arts and letters. Perhaps best known for his poem, Thanatopsis, written when he was 17, he was editor of the New York Evening Post for several decades in the late 1800’s. Spare and intended to be temporary, the new school was still a big improvement over the two-room Yesler School (one room for girls, one for boys) which the students and teachers had previously occupied. The Yesler School had been just south of Calvary Cemetery, near what is now N.E. 47th Street and 36th Avenue N.E.
Teacher Madeline Chittenden later wrote: “I shall never forget my first day at Bryant. We moved in after the vacation of a week, either Spring or Christmas. Naturally, we were excited and happy at the thought of a new building, for the Yesler School was old, and we had been crowded there; besides we always had to walk through the cemetery to get to it. Mr. Kelley, the principal, took me to my new room, but what a sight met our eyes! The workers had dumped supplies and books on the floor regardless of what grade or what room they belonged to. I can’t remember exactly, but it must have been weeks before all of us finally located the supplies and books that belonged to us. Our rooms were crowded. The first grade, I recall, had 68 pupils. Josephine Brown was told to do the best she could, and to keep the pupils busy. There was only a one-room school at Laurelhurst, so many of the children from that area came to Bryant.”
By 1923, to accommodate the area’s continued growth, eight portables had been added and enrollment had risen from about 250 in 1918-19 to over 400. Originally, grades one through six attended this school, but it soon expanded to include seventh and eighth grade.
In February 1926, construction of a new brick building was begun and completed in August of that year. Designed by the school district’sthird architect, Floyd Naramore, Bryant is an example of Georgian style architecture. Typical of the schools constructed during the 1920’s, ithas a flat roof with raised parapets, and is faced with red brick with terra cotta detailing. Bryant, like the other schools of this period, incorporated many features that were then new to school design. Among these were combination assembly-lunchrooms, available to the community for public meetings; covered, open-air play courts; specialized staff rooms and offices, such as a nurse’s station; and linear extensions of buildings, with long corridors flanked by classrooms.
In the mid-1920’s, the school district adopted the “platoon” or “semi-departmental” organization, which offered students in grades fourthrough eight some classes focusing on specific academic and “fundamental” areas, some of which were taught by teachers specializingin those fields. Bryant was the first building to incorporate this plan, with a library-reading room, music room, art room, industrial arts,sewing and cooking rooms and a gym. The school was designed for a capacity of 800 pupils. Meanwhile, the area population continued toboom. Most of the homes now standing in the neighborhood around the school and south of N.E. 65th Street were built in the 1920’s.
In 1930, the year the first Kindergartners were enrolled, the student population exceeded planned capacity. In 1931, the east wing, which had also been designed by Floyd Naramore, was constructed. This wing added twelve more classrooms, including two Kindergartens, plus a larger gym. The front doors, which used to have the same ornamental design as the transom above them, were changed, possibly sometime in the 1940’s.
An article about Bryant’s 60th birthday celebration in the April 22, 1987 issue of the University Herald stated: “When Bryant first openedfor the school year 1926-27, visitors came from all over the state to marvel over the indoor plumbing. The ultimate in modernity, it had toilets inside and even a sink in the Kindergarten room and another for the art and science rooms to share.” Indoor plumbing in Seattle public schools was hardly a new thing in 1926. It was already part of the plan when B.F. Day School was built in 1892. But to the students and teachers who had had to tolerate the old wooden building’s outhouses, it must have seemed “the ultimate in modernity.”
Despite the rapid rate of home construction immediately around the school in the 1920’s, north of N.E. 65th Street there were stillwoodlands. Jack, who attended the school in the 1930’s remembers his first overnight Boy Scout camping trip. The troop hiked from Bryant toBig Rock, a massive boulder and area landmark on what is now 28th Avenue N.E. near N.E. 72nd Street.
Throughout the 1930’s, Bryant’s enrollment stayed fairly steady at between 900 and 1,000 pupils in grades kindergarten through eight. TheP.T.A. was very active and committed to a wide range of school and community needs. A scrapbook of newspaper clippings about Bryant created by the P.T.A. for the school year 1933-34 gives us a window into our school, community, and parents’ concerns during a very different time:
The University Herald, (apparently then a daily) reported in December 1933: “The Bryant School Boy Patrol is sure there is a Santa Claus this year! They are all wearing new bright yellow rain-proof capes and hats on patrol duty this week, the gift of Bryant Parent-Teacher Association. The boys are very grateful for this best and most useful Christmas gift. Joseph Nicolay, manual training teacher, and the boys made a handy wooden rack which holds all of the coats and the patrol boys brought individual wooden hangers so that the capes will be well cared for.”
From the University Herald, January 23, 1934:; “A drive for children’s shoes is being conducted by the Bryant P.T.A. welfare board Thursday and Friday. Any shoes which can be mended and soled are urgently needed, since there are more calls for shoes, to keep children in school, than any other article of clothing.”
From the University Herald, March 20,1934: “Mrs. F. F. Powell, President of the Seattle P.T.A. Council, told of petitions now being circulatedto get legislation which will prohibit the sale of liquors by the glass in any residence district. In the saloon days, Seattle’s 361 saloons were confined to the downtown business district. Now there are 568 establishments dispensing liquors in many parts of the city. Mrs. Powell closed with a plea that all parents sign the petition and also write individual letters to legislators. She pointed out that nowadays mother’s duties include going out and working with groups to make the city a proper and safe place for children.”
Seattle’s economy, our community, and Bryant school grew very quickly when the U.S. entered World War II. Housing sprang up north of N.E. 65th Street as workers flooded into Seattle to meet the needs of Boeing, the Navy at Sand Point, and other war-related services. Michael, a Bryant alumnus who attended the school from 1944-51, grew up near 34th N.E. and N.E. 70th in a house built in 1942. His father commuted an hour each way to Boeing. Interstate 5 did not yet exist here. He remembers his parents choosing to live in this area, despite the long commute, as did other young professionals, because Bryant had an excellent reputation. By 1944, the year Michael began school, enrollment had swelled to 1,349 students and there were seven portable classrooms.
Suzanne, who attended the school from 1940-47, remembers the portables well: “They were so hot!” she said. But she has much happier memories of everything else about Bryant, especially Kindergarten teacher Miss Wren, whose memory still brings back warm feelings to this day. The Halloween costume parade through the halls (still an annual event at Bryant), and stopping for a “Green River float” at the drugstore soda fountain at N.E. 55th St and 35th Ave N.E. also stand out in Suzanne’s memory.
The rapid growth seen throughout the country during the post-war years was reflected in the northeast section of Seattle. By 1948-49,enrollment was over 1400 pupils in grades Kindergarten through eight. When Eckstein Junior High School opened in 1950 for 7th and 8th grades, Bryant’s enrollment dropped to about 1200, but two years later had climbed back to over 1400 again. The opening of Wedgwood School in 1953 and Sand Point School in 1956 helped relieve the crowded conditions at Bryant. By 1959, the student population was down to around 900, where it remained through much of the 1960’s.
Beginning in the late 1940’s and throughout the 1950’s and 60’s, Assistant Principal Walter Hakola coached the “Barnswingers,” a studentsquare dance team. Michael, who graduated from Bryant in 1951, remembers participating when he was in fourth, fifth and sixth grade. There were two squares from each grade. “The boys wore jeans and fringed shirts and the girls wore calico skirts.” The Barnswingers were featured on the cover of the Seattle Times Pictorial Section of February 15, 1953 with a full-page color photograph. A photograph of the Barnswingers in the June 4, 1962 Seattle Times was captioned: “The Barnswingers, 28 sixth-graders from Bryant Elementary School, displayed their talents assquare dancers yesterday at the Plaza of the States at the World’s Fair.”
Bryant had been featured in the Seattle Times Pictorial Section on January 20, 1952 for another reason: the success of our fundraisingcarnival! The lead caption stated: “Fundraising by the carnival method is an old standy of Parent-Teacher Associations. One of the most successful of these annual events is held at Bryant School, where more than $1,000 was taken in during a single evening. Mrs. Leslie McMillan,chairman, received many inquiries about the entertainment which other school P.T.A.’s were desirous of copying.”
Just looking at how entertainment at our annual carnival has changed over the decades is a little time capsule in itself. The Seattle Star,in its October 18, 1933 issue described the carnival as two evenings of music and dancing: “An opening number will be given by the Rooseveltensemble, vocal selection by Mr. Ernest Worth, musical director of Roosevelt High School, and a group of dancers under the direction ofSally Sue White. A play written by one of the Bryant PTA members entitled “The Culture Club of Carstens Corners” will be given under thedirection of Mrs. S.L. Merriam.” The 1952 carnival, featured in the Times, turned “each classroom into a sideshow for the evening, separateperformances lasting 15 minutes.” The photographs pictured a magic act and a father and son balancing act. The audience was seated at school desks. In March, 1965 the theme was “Country Fair.” The “Bryant Barker,” the P.T.A. newsletter, described the event as having a White Elephant sale, used clothing sale, live goldfish and small antiques for sale, roving clowns and a fat lady, and of course, games. (And every Bryant family knows what a “Blast” our carnival is today!)
The 1950’s and 60’s were also a time when most students walked home for lunch. Kirk, who attended from 1956-63, remembers there was only one lunch period (instead of three). The noon siren still sounded citywide. Bryant had school colors, burgundy and gray, and school yearbooks. And University Village was a marsh. P.T.A. meetings were held at 1:15 in the afternoon, and toddler care was provided. In a 1962 issue of the Bryant Barker, the P.T.A. Civil Defense Committee Chairman urged parents to read the May P.T.A. magazine which contained “another article on the differences between communism and freedom. Be informed.”
By 1970, times had changed substantially. The P.T.A. newsletter, now called the Bryant Byline, reflected concerns about Seattle’s proposeddesegregation plan. The February 4, 1971 issue of the Byline announced that Bryant had been paired with T.T. Minor Elementary, “to establishvoluntary exchanges.” In another sign of the times, principal James McAuliffe, writing in the March ’71 issue of the Byline on the subjectof determining student needs, comments that “the coming of Sesame Street had altered our kindergarten program, which in turn will cause a chain reaction for the next six grades.” In 1971, Bryant became a K-5 school, with sixth grade students assigned to Eckstein Middle School.
In the September 12, 1972 issue of the Bryant Byline, Principal Warren L. Wilson reported “that things just won’t be the same without ourbeloved vice principal, Walter Hakola. Mr. Hakola, for 25 years a dedicated and much-loved educator at Bryant, fell victim to decreased enrollment and has been moved to Whittier School in the same capacity. By that fall, enrollment had dropped from about 800 in 1970 to around500.
Also in the fall of 1972, Bryant became an “exemplary basic skills center” and a “language-learning disability” center for north-endschools. In 1978, it became a K-2 school, with our third through fifth graders attending T.T. Minor. In a story about Bryant on April 22, 1987,the University Herald described the school as having “240 pupils in Kindergarten through second grade and 20 to 70 bilingual students. It ispaired with T.T. Minor Elementary, has a science course, and offers a Horizon program for gifted students.” In 1989, along with other Seattlepublic elementary schools, Bryant returned to being a Kindergarten through fifth grade program.
Compiled and written by Maia Eisen
School Histories, Seattle Public Schools, 1951, 1961, and 1974 editions.
Seattle Public Schools Historic Building Survey, prepared for Historic Seattle
Preservation and Development Authority, 1989.
Bryant Barker and Bryant Byline, P.T.A. newsletters from 1961 through 1978.
Assorted newspaper clippings.
Seattle School District Enrollment records for Bryant School.
Memories of Bryant Alumni.