It Wasn’t Just a Railyard that Moses Sherman Built

West Hollywood Elementary School, physically located at 970 Hammond St., is joined at the hip historically with electric streetcar pioneer Moses Sherman. Having carved a rail yard from farm land in 1897 where the Pacific Design Center stands today, Sherman built a one-room schoolhouse no later than 1903 for the children of rail yard workers.

Sherman used his experience as a teacher, principal and public instruction superintendent in Arizona to establish Sherman School, as he named it. The school joined the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) in 1910 when the district itself was formed.

Moses Hazeltine Sherman
Moses Hazeltine Sherman

A name change to West Hollywood Elementary School in 1929 kept the school consistent with the Sherman community’s decision to rename itself West Hollywood to more closely identify with its glamorous neighbor to the east.

Today the K-5 West Hollywood Elementary School has enrollments averaging between 300 and 400 students per year and the distinction of being one of a very few schools that has provided the LAUSD with students every year for well more than 100 years, according to its website.

Performance-wise, West Hollywood Elementary School has lived up to Sherman’s high standards. In 2014, the school was named a California Distinguished School for the second time by the California Department of Education. The first time was in 2011.

The award recognizes exemplary educational programs and academic excellence. It was one of only 22 LAUSD elementary schools to earn the honor. West Hollywood Elementary also received an additional award for exemplary arts education program.

Overall, it has a Local School Directory Rating of “B” – meaning that it has performed on average better than many other schools across the state on California Standard Test exams in English, the arts, mathematics and science.

West Hollywood Elementary is one of two public elementary schools within city borders. The other is Larchmont Charter School (K-8) at 1265 N. Fairfax. The city is served by two other elementary schools nearby, Rosewood Avenue School (K-6) on North Croft Ave. and Laurel Span School (K-8) on North Hayworth.

Sherman: Public Education Guru

Sherman had ideal credentials for establishing a public school. He launched a teaching career after college, first in New York and then in Prescott, Ariz., where he was the first teacher and principal for Prescott Free Academy, a new school established in 1876. He had been recruited to Arizona by the territory’s governor and quickly was recognized as a leader in education. The governor appointed him Superintendent of Public Instruction of the Territory of Arizona in 1879, and he was elected to the position in 1883.

When first appointed by Gov. John C. Fremont to the position, Arizona practically had no public school system. Sherman created one so complete and organized that even the most isolated communities could enjoy the benefits of education – all before he was 30 years old.

When his appointed term was over the position became elective. In 1883, Sherman became the first elected territorial superintendent of schools – the only Republican voted into public office in heavily Democratic Arizona during that period. When the state legislature asked him to rewrite all laws governing public education, Sherman’s draft was adopted unanimously without changes and remained in place for many decades.

It’s not known whether Sherman taught at the school he established in the community of Sherman, or exactly when his one-room school was demolished to make way for larger, more permanent facilities. He and business partner / brother-in-law Eli P. Clark would have been especially busy at the time pioneering electric railways on the Pacific Coast. They built the greatest interurban system that, once consolidated with others, made Los Angeles an interurban center larger than those in any other half dozen U.S. cities combined.

Sherman situated his small, wooden school house on a sunny slope of Clark Street, known today as San Vicente Boulevard, near Sunset Boulevard, outside the perimeter of the railyard. Subsequent development placed the school on Hammond Street. Students and teachers strolled up the sloping hill to class every day from the rows of bungalows alongside the railyard that Sherman built to house workers and their families.

Homes and a school were necessary because the railyard was the first in the region to be built substantially away from downtown Los Angeles or other populated areas. Sherman chose a site that was roughly at the midway point between downtown and Santa Monica. His extensive railyard consisted of a steam powerhouse, car barn, iron foundry and repair shops that formed the operations hub for the popular Balloon Route excursion from L.A. to Hollywood, the beach cities and back again.

Along the way, the route crossed a sprawling coastal plain dotted with marshes, tar pits and citrus groves – literally the middle of nowhere. Sherman realized the site most likely would become a crossroads of development. By 1910, the Sherman community had about 900 residents, and rose to some 20,000 people by 1930.


First Free Little Library

Most recently, the City of West Hollywood chose the school for its first official Little Free Library on Jan. 23 as a part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service held at the school. This is a pilot program whereby the city provide stipends to West Hollywood residents who wish to install and maintain a Little Free Library on private property.

Charter School District Considered

In 2011, the City Council looked into the possibility of creating a charter school district within its boundaries. Elected officials cited concerns about the quality of education provided in some LAUSD schools, and the limited options available to local residents seeking quality education for their children.

Jeffrey Prang, who was mayor at the time, said the city was interested in the idea because “A growing number of families with children in West Hollywood want higher quality public school, but we are a very small presence within the district.” Prang sponsored a motion to look into creating a charter school district.

“We had a strong interest in a greater partnership with public schools, and we invested money in the elementary schools, but there’s only so much we can do,” Prang said. He noted that West Hollywood schools would have remained part of the LAUSD, but a charter district would have allowed the city to help fund and oversee public schools within its city limits. There were too many barriers to implementing such a district, though, and the city decided not to pursue the idea any further.

However, the city supports educational programming through regular collaborative meetings, grant making, a youth scholarship program, after school homework clubs, arts programming, school gardens, and support for school libraries. The city also has opportunities to coordinate with school operators on joint use of facilities.


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Bob Bishop
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Bob Bishop

To Christopher: Good question – I’ll look into it. Moses Sherman died Sept. 9, 1932, seven years after the town of Sherman voted to change its name to West Hollywood. Maybe another question to consider is how strong of a connection Sherman had with the community, and the community with him and his family. Neither he nor his business partner and brother-in-law Eli P. Clark ever lived in the Sherman community – both lived in St. James Park, or the neighborhood known today as the West Adams District near downtown Los Angeles. Sherman relocated his railway’s administrative headquarters from Sherman… Read more »

Leo Greenberg
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Leo Greenberg

The north building was not closed in 1994 after the earthquake. I was there from 1989/1995. The north building was never open or in use all of the years I was there. It was primarily used for storage. I was only ever inside just a times. It was very interesting and abandoned for the most part, it was creepy. I watched them tear it down in the early thousands. I remember being told that it had been closed and locked down since the early 80 late 70s due to not being earthquake safe.

Bob Bishop
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Bob Bishop

To Tracy Cook – I would absolutely LOVE to get the photos you mention of the buildings on the West Hollywood Elementary School campus – much appreciated. If they’re digitized, please e-mail them to bishopbob6@gmail.com. if not, my mailing address is 850 N. Kings Rd., #211, West Hollywood CA 90069. And many thanks for letting me know about the centennial book about West Hollywood Elementary and the Beverly Hills history by Mr. Benedict. I’ll visit the BH Library within the next couple of days. Sounds like a great resource. Bob.

Rick Watts
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Rick Watts

VERY well done, Bob! I learned a lot from this piece. Next on the agenda for the school is to make it ADA-compliant 25 years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fortunately, LASD Board member Steve Zimmerman has expressed interest in doing exactly that, so that ALL West Hollywood kids can take advantage of their right to education in our city,

Tracy Cook
Guest

I produced the centennial for West HOllywood El in 2009/10, this was the 100th year that the school joined LAUSD. I did the research on Sherman and the school. In the Beverly Hills Library, you can find the history of BHills by Pierce Benedict. He discusses that there was a school in the 1870’s just east of present day Doheny and near Sunset. It certainly sounds like Sherman. But I wondered if it was Laurel. I have a photo that was used in our centennial, it was the oldest of the school that I could find. It is a photo… Read more »

cathy
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cathy

Thank you Bob…another well researched and delightful read….keep them coming.

Christopher
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Christopher

Very interesting, thanks for this! One thing I’ve always wondered is whether Sherman or any of his family members resented–or tried to stop–the renaming of the city to West Hollywood? I understand he died three years after the change, so I assume he was aware of it.

Larry Block
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Larry Block

These are the kind of articles that are a pleasure to read. Thanks Bob

Bob Bishop
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Bob Bishop

Yes, I did drive over a couple of times to check out the possibility you mention. There were reports about a school in the area in the 1880s before the one built by Moses Sherman but nothing I could confirm. I asked the Community Representative for West Hollywood Elementary School about that and whether Sherman’s one room schoolhouse was on campus or a part of the school in any way. She explained that nobody has been at the school in a capacity long enough to know anything about its history and advised me to contact L.A. Unified headquarters, which I… Read more »

Chris Sanger
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Chris Sanger

Bob – thx as always for your outstanding reports.

Question – in your research, did you ever see anything about another short term location for the school? There is a building, now residential with multiple units, on Harrad – 2nd house on the south side west of Hammond, just by the present school – that looks very much like an early 20th century small school house. Rumors in my neighborhood were that it had at one point been a school house.

If you get a chance, drive over there and you’ll see what I mean.