THE ARCHITECTURE & HISTORY OF
SCHOOL, CITY OF SAN BERNARDINO, CALIFORNIA
David M. Van Horn, Laurie S. White, & Robert
View of cloister flanking southern courtyard.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ARCHITECTS OF THE
of Witmer & Watson
ARCHITECTURE OF THE
HISTORY OF THE
of the Latino Community
of the Ramona School
APPENDIX A: Partial
List of the Works of Witmer & Watson
paper comprises a brief version of an earlier, much lengthier
assessment of the City of San Bernardino's Ramona School which was
built in 1926 (Van Horn et al. 1999). The long-lost original
blueprints for the school were discovered during the course of that
study. These plans include every imaginable detail of the
school's construction, even down to the manufacturer of the flagpole
and the species used in landscaping. The plans also identified
the firm of Witmer & Watson as the school's architects, a fact
which had somehow become lost over the years. We concluded that
the Ramona School was an important piece of public architecture
executed by masterful, if poorly known, architects. For these
reasons, we present the information which follows.
OF THE RAMONA SCHOOL
Julius Witmer was the son of Joseph Myer Witmer and Josephine
Sullivan Witmer. Joseph (J.M.) Witmer and his brother, Henry
Clayton (H.C. Witmer) two important entrepreneurs of late 19th
century Los Angeles. Together, they owned 650 acres on Crown
Hill and, in 1885, they built Los Angeles' first cable car line
(Second Street Cable Co.; Comer 1988). In 1887, J.M. and H.C.
founded the California Bank at Second and Broadway (later to become
the Interstate Bank). Unfortunately, both brothers died at a
very early age, apparently due to an inherited heart problem.
David J. Witmer was only nine when his father passed away (Comer
1910, Witmer received his bachelor's degree from Harvard and in 1912,
he graduated from that college's Graduate School of Architecture.
During graduate school, he worked as a draftsman for the Boston firm
of C.H. Blackall. After graduation, he returned to southern
California where he married Helen Elizabeth Williams. The
couple had two sons, David and Peter, and a daughter Elizabeth
(Marquis 1976:444). In 1919, he formed a partnership with
Loyall F. Watson--a partnership which was destined to last nearly
forty years. He began WW I as a first lieutenant in the
aviation section of the Signal Corp (1917-18). He subsequently
became a captain in the Airs Service Reserve Corps (1918-19).
the booming twenties, Witmer and Watson designed many houses in
addition to public structures such as the Ramona School. But
during the Great Depression, contracts were fewer and further
between. Between 1934 and 1938, David Witmer served as the
Architectural Supervisor for the Southern California District of the
Federal Housing Authority (ibid.). It may be this government
connection which eventually led Witmer to the Pentagon design team.
In any event, he served as the War Department's co-chief architect
(with Edwin Bergstrom) for the Pentagon in 1941-42 and as chief
architect for the Pentagon between 1942 and 1943.
1943, Witmer appears to have served in Europe where he became a
Colonel and earned many decorations including the Bronze Star and
Legion of Merit (US), and decorations from the French, Belgian, and
Luxembourg governments. Between 1948 and 1950, David Witmer
served as Chief Control Officer, Civil Affairs Division, at
Headquarters of the European Command (under Gen. Eisenhower).
spite of Witmer's deep military involvement, he also managed to
remain active in architectural affairs. No doubt, this was
partly thanks to his partner, Watson, who kept things going at their
firm in southern California while Witmer was away. But Witmer
also maintained his relations with California architecture by holding
various offices. From 1925 to 1941, he was chairman of the
Advisory Committee on College Architecture for the University of
Southern California. He was Director of Library Architecture
and Allied Arts in Los Angeles from 1938 and became President of the
Board of Directors in 1952. He was a member of the commission
of architects for the Associated Colleges of Claremont and was a
member of the Advisory Council on College Architecture to the
University of California, Berkeley.
Witmer first joined the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in
1922 and, in 1934, he was made a fellow of that organization "for
design and service to the institute" (Koyl 1962:773). He
served as an officer in the Southern California Chapter of the AIA
for many years and was President in 1926-27 and 1938.
an individual of great energy and vision, David J. Witmer won a
number of architectural awards including certificates of honor from
the Southern California Chapter of the AIA for residential
architecture (1923-24, 1926, 1927) and apartment architecture
(1926). In 1933, he won a certificate of honor from the San
Diego Chapter for his design of the 46th Street School (ibid.).
from a small newspaper photograph (Los Angeles Times 7/7/29 pt.5,
p.4), our research revealed little about the life of Loyall F.
Watson. He served as a 1st Lieutenant in the Army during WWI
but the armistice was signed before his scheduled departure for
France (SWBC 1919:8). In 1920, Watson received a certificate to
practice architecture in California in 1920 (SWBC 1920:12). Mr.
Watson was apparently married twice, first to Florence Watson
(through the 1930's), then to Mildred A. Watson (after 1940).
From 1926 into the 1930's, the Los Angeles City Directory indicated
the Watsons resided at 263 S. Carondelet, just north of Beverly Blvd.
(LACD 1930). They later moved to 532 S. Gramercy Place in
Hancock Park, just north of Wilshire Blvd. (LACD 1940).
his partner, Watson seems to have been a rather private person who
did not appear to be particularly active in the AIA or other
professional or community organizations. Watson ran the firm in
Witmer's absence but we know of no structures which can be attributed
to these periods. It seems probable that Watson performed most
of the engineering duties connected with the firm's design projects.
1951, Witmer and Watson became Witmer, Watson, and Pidgeon, Lowell
Walter Pidgeon having risen within the firm (ibid.; Witmer
1999:pers.comm.). In 1960, the firm became Witmer and Pidgeon,
Loyall Watson apparently having retired. David J. Witmer died
on May 5, 1973 at the age of 84; a week after having become ill at a
banquet of the American Institute of Architects (Los Angeles Times
1973). Although he had traveled, he had always maintained his
residence at 210 Witmer Street on Crown Hill; a house which he had
designed himself back in 1921.
Architecture of Witmer & Watson
partnership of Witmer & Watson began in 1919 and the firm
continued to design structures for forty years. Insofar as we
are aware, no one has compiled a complete list of the buildings
designed by Witmer & Watson but many are known. A partial
list, based on the research conducted for this report may be found in
critical review of Witmer & Watson's work exists and development
of such a review is beyond the scope of this study.
Nonetheless, certain observations may be in order, particularly
insofar as they ultimately relate to the architecture of the Ramona
School. According to his son Peter, David Witmer was an admirer
of Myron Hunt, an architect who usually worked in partnership with
Elmer Grey or, later, with H.C. Chambers (Witmer 1999:pers.comm.).
Arriving from the mid-west shortly after the turn-of-the-century,
Hunt and Grey became the chief competition of Greene and Greene for
residential architecture. But unlike Greene and Greene, whose
Craftsman style was ill-suited for public structures, Hunt and Grey
could design major public buildings (Clark 1983:25).
had traveled extensively in Italy during the 1890's and "later
published a photographic study of Italian peasant architecture"
(ibid.). Although he introduced certain Spanish Colonial
Revival elements to his buildings (e.g. canales) in an apparent
attempt to accommodate southern California hispanic traditions, an
Italian or "Mediterranean" feel usually pervades his work
(e.g., the Wattles house in Hollywood ; ibid. fig. 11).
This combination of Italian and Spanish elements, which is sometimes
referred to as the Mediterranean/Spanish style, became increasingly
simplified as time went on. By the 30's, Hunt's work had become
so simplified in its treatment of fenestration and details "that
its volumes and surfaces come close to Moderne (ref. Hunt &
Chambers, Dr. O.C. Welbourn residence, Encino ; Gebhard &
Von Breton 1989:98).
tendency toward simplification, particularly in details, of the
traditional "orthodox" architectural styles, can be seen in
some of Witmer's and Witmer & Watson's early work. Perhaps
the house Witmer designed for himself at 210 Witmer Street (1921) is
among the best examples. One's first impression of this
two-story residence is that its style represents simplified Spanish
Colonial Revival. But the building totally lacks the usual
Spanish Colonial Revival decoration. The balconies are guarded
with simple straight wrought iron rails. The strongly showing
form board marks convey an impression of adobe as opposed to stucco.
There are no flower boxes under the casement windows nor engaged
spindles around the doors. In fact, the only element
approaching decoration is a prominent circular barred vent in the
gable. The Mediterranean/ Spanish style as practiced by Witmer,
was Spanish Colonial Revival without the frills.
Poured concrete walls with
prominent form marks showing is a trademark which appears in a number
of Witmer & Watson structures. These include his family
residences at 208 and 210 Witmer Street (1920-1921), the Tudor home
at 2020 Edgemont (ca. 1925; fig. 1), and the Ramona School (1926;
doubtless there are other examples). While decoration is
generally sparse in Witmer & Watson buildings, their
Mediterranean/Spanish style structures may feature a rectilinear
masonry grill. These appear to either side of the courtyard
proscenium (stage) at the Ramona School. They also occur at the
Venice Branch Library and to the left of the main entry of the
Lansing D. Beach residence (1928) in Pasadena. The latter home
won honorable mention in a national architectural contest (Comer
1986:83). Finally, the prominent circular vent,
particularly in gables, is often found in Witmer & Watson
Figure 1. Tutor influenced concrete residence on Edgemont
Los Feliz, Los Angeles County
summary, Witmer & Watson designed buildings in a number of
different styles, one of which was Mediterranean/Spanish.
Typically, their Mediterranean/Spanish designs exhibit relatively
little decoration, preferring to let the structural elements such as
the concrete, roof tiles, and casement windows speak for themselves.
These designs harken to the style of Myron Hunt, whom David Witmer
admired, and also probably represent acknowledgment of the current
trend toward practicality in architecture.
the talents of Witmer & Watson were not restricted to tasteful
adaptation of reinforced concrete construction to traditional
architectural styles. It was their clever use of seismically
resilient reinforced concrete elements at a relatively early date
which makes Witmer & Watson stand out. Most of these
elements, including reinforced sheer walls, bond beams, arched
buttress/passageways, and earthquake joints are incorporated into the
Ramona School building. By designing public buildings, and
particularly schools, which were inexpensive to build, seismically
sound, and long-lasting, Witmer & Watson were responding to a
growing public need (Hill 1929).
OF THE RAMONA SCHOOL
The descriptions which follow are
based on field visits to the Ramona School by the authors on March 23
and 29, 1999. The architectural features and general condition
of the building were carefully examined during these visits.
Figure 2. Location of Ramona School plotted on a portion of
the 1898 USGS
San Bernardino 15' Topographic Quadrangle.
The San Bernardino City Unified
School District purchased the 5-acre Ramona School site on June
30, 1925 (fig. 2). It was not long after that David J. Witmer
and Loyall F. Watson first inspected the location. No doubt,
they approached by 7th Street which was the only fully developed
street bordering the school property. The areas to the east and
west had been subdivided and incorporated into the City but they
remained mostly or entirely undeveloped. The western end of 8th
Street terminated at the northeastern property corner. Thus,
the property retained a strongly rural quality although a few homes
had been built to the north and east.
Figure 3. Floor plan of existing Ramona School (Degenkolb
continue to Part 2 ---