This aerial view of Grant Street Grade School was taken in 1958. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

This aerial view of Grant Street Grade School was taken in 1958. (Jefferson County Historical Society)

BACK WHEN: Grant Street School, built for Port Townsend, no longer exists

GRANT STREET GRADE School has disappeared.

The 61-year-old building was demolished soon after its last students were dismissed for summer vacation last June.

Its former location provides open space in front of the new Salish Coast Elementary School, built this year on property previously purchased by the school district in the 1990s, behind the Grant Street School.

In the early 1950s, Lincoln School, which had served Port Townsend children from kindergarten through eighth grade since 1890, was becoming overcrowded.

A separate Primary Building on the same campus had been built to house kindergarten, first, second and third grades, but there was recognition that something more needed to be done to serve the steadily increasing numbers of baby boom students who were anticipated in the late 1950s and 1960s.

A population survey, conducted in 1955, indicated that there was an increasing number of students living in the outlying section of Port Townsend, west of San Juan Avenue.

It predicted that by the fall of 1957, there would be 325 grade-school-age children in that area.

The school board, working with Superintendent William H. Carder, began discussions about building a school in west Port Townsend along Sheridan Street in 1955.

Later that year when Carder left to take a position with the state Department of Education, after having served as superintendent since 1926, the board appointed Port Townsend High School Principal Gael Stuart as acting superintendent until the end of the school year in June of 1956.

At that time they awarded him a two-year contract as superintendent.

Stuart continued to pursue the issue of school construction.

Early in 1956, the school board announced that it had located land to build a school “to accommodate children living west of San Juan Avenue” in the Eisenbeis Addition.

The land to be studied by a surveyor and architects for its suitability was eight blocks, bounded on the east by Grant Street, on the south by 16th Street, by 18th Street on the north and McClellan Street on the west.

Stuart reported, “There is now $275,000 in the district building fund to pay the major share of the building costs, and anticipated revenue in the district, before construction, will provide for the balance of the cost. No additional tax levy or bond issue will be involved.”

In that era, Jefferson County received “federal forest funds” from the U.S. government, which the county distributed for funding schools and roads throughout the county.

It was those funds that paid for the purchase of the property and construction of the school.

On Jan. 28, 1956, the Port Townsend Leader reported that the site had been approved as “excellent for the purpose” by the surveyor and three architects.

On Feb. 9, a report in the Leader indicated: “The Port Townsend district school board Monday night voted to proceed with the project of constructing a new 12-room building for grades one through six in the area west of Sheridan Avenue to serve children in the section of town west of San Juan … subject to approval by the voters. … Propositions to provide for the purchase of the site and to authorize the board to proceed with the building project will be on the school election ballot March 13.”

At the election, Proposition 1 for land acquisition passed with 1,206 yes votes to 129 no, and Proposition 2 for construction and equipping of the building passed with 1,200 yes votes to 116 no.

A preliminary sketch of the proposed building was published in the Leader in June, and an article Aug. 2 reported that the architect, Galen Bentley of Bellingham, and landscape architect and site planner, Wallace Ruff from the University of Oregon, were working on site planning.

Ruff’s work was provided by the University of Oregon free of charge as a public service.

Purchase of all eight blocks of land was delayed due to the reluctance of one property owner to sell four lots for the $100 per lot offered by the school district.

A condemnation hearing was set for July 16, but the action was settled without a trial when the district offer of $500 for the four lots was accepted.

There was no problem obtaining the remainder of the eight blocks of mostly wooded land for the school site.

On Oct. 2, Noah Johnston of Quilcene was awarded the bid to clear and grade the land for a cost of $5,920.

It was estimated that six acres would need to be cleared and about 9,500 yards of earth would be excavated.

Bids for construction of the school were opened at the school board meeting Nov. 7, where $320,845 in contracts were awarded.

Eiford Construction Co. of Bellingham was the general contractor.

The mechanical contract for plumbing and heating systems was awarded to Caven of Port Angeles, and the electrical contract went to Lents of Bremerton.

It was indicated that additional landscaping, fencing and furnishing costs would bring the total to nearly the $400,000 that was budgeted for the project.

At that Nov. 2 meeting Stuart indicated that the building would be ready for occupancy by September 1957.

He reported that the area had already been cleared and graded by Johnston, and that construction was set to begin Nov. 21.

As a side issue, as plans were well underway for the Grant Street School, an offer came to the school board to purchase land owned by Public Utility District No. 1 at Blaine and Walker streets (previously the site of the Olympic View Federal Housing project during World War II) for $5,000.

With population projections showing the need for classrooms would continue to increase, the board presented the purchase to the voters as a possible site for a future junior high school at an October 1956 election.

The purchase was approved and, five years later, Mountain View Junior High School was built there.

Brief articles and a few construction photos appeared in the Leader throughout 1957.

By all indications work proceeded on schedule and within the prescribed budget.

It was noted that the new 19th Street Sewer District had included the school in its plans for area sewer service.

By the time school opened Sept. 4, the new building was ready for occupancy by first- through fourth-graders, from the area described as west and north of a line drawn “from Port Townsend Bay north along San Juan Avenue to one block south of Tremont, then east along this line to M Street, continuing along M to Willow, then north along Willow to R Street, then east on R to Admiralty Inlet.”

A separate area for fifth- and sixth-graders was described as west and south of a line “from Port Townsend Bay north along San Juan Avenue to Umatilla, west on Umatilla to Landes, north on Landes to Woodland, northwest on Woodland to Thomas and north on Thomas to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.”

It seems that the lines must have been drawn with the residences of pre-registered students in mind, because surely a family with children in two of those age categories would be expecting to send all of their children to the same grade school; though all kindergarten children in the district were expected to attend the primary school on the Lincoln School grounds.

Faculty for the new school included Principal Edward Hanson, first-grade teachers Tollie Tooker and Jessie Stanley; second-grade teachers Dorothea Tooker and Myrtle Northup; third-grade teachers Henny Hall and Esther Klasell; fourth-grade teachers Anastasia Yarr and Grace Loftus; fifth-grade teachers Arthur Litscher and Vera Westall; and sixth-grade teacher Lois Easton.

Enrollment at Grant Street Grade School for the 1957-58 school year was 316, very close to the predicted 335 in the 1955 survey.

Class sizes ranged from 24 to 33 students.

That year the total enrollment for all city schools was 1,331.

There were 682 students in kindergarten through eighth grade at the Lincoln and Primary buildings, 318 at the high school, and 15 first- through third-graders at the small Discovery Bay Grade School operated by the Port Townsend School District.

On Oct. 21, an open house and dedication were held at the new school.

An indication of the novelty of the first new school building in the district in 67 years was that 800 people attended the open house between 6 and 8 p.m. o’clock that evening, and 300 managed to squeeze into the multi-\purpose room for the dedication program sponsored by the Parent-Teacher Association.

Stuart’s presentation gave the size of the new building as 24,000 square feet, with a construction cost of $350,000, or about $13.52 per square foot.

Stuart said that “… in the systematic designing of the building a group of teachers worked with the architect to plan a functional structure, completely modern in all respects, but without the frills which have caused public criticism of school building construction elsewhere.”

Through the years, some additions were made to the school building, and a number of portable buildings were placed beside it.

In its final years it operated for pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first- through-third-grades, with fourth- and fifth-graders attending school in portable buildings at Blue Heron Middle School.

It is notable that the complete demolition of Grant Street School makes it the only building purposely built as a school for Port Townsend to leave no trace left behind.

The building that was the initial 1868 grade school, at Lawrence and Tyler streets, still stands where it was moved across the street to the corner of Tyler and Clay streets, and houses two businesses.

The 1885 Central School (at first a grade school and then the first high school), on the site of the current Port Townsend Community Center, burned after it was vacated when the new high school was built in 1935, but its 1921 gymnasium still serves as the community center.

Mountain View Junior High School has been repurposed for city and nonprofit community group uses.

And of course the Lincoln School is still in place on the hill by Port Townsend High School, though it has not served as a school since 1980.

Author’s note: This is my final Back When column. I am moving on to some other long-delayed writing projects. I want to thank the editorial staff at the Peninsula Daily News, and the readers who have contacted me with compliments and with corrections when my information has proved faulty. Your comments have been appreciated. I have enjoyed my five years of research and writing for the 60 articles I have contributed.

Linnea Patrick

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