Van Asselt celebrates 100th anniversary; old annual illustrates life on 1920s Beacon Hill

We found this 1921 Annual from Van Asselt School recently. The contents are a wonderful glimpse into early 1920s life on Beacon Hill.  Photo by Wendi.
We found this 1921 Annual from Van Asselt School recently. The contents are a wonderful glimpse into early 1920s life on Beacon Hill. Photo by Wendi.
Van Asselt Elementary on South Beacon Hill opened as a 4-room schoolhouse one hundred years ago, in 1909. Since then, the school has served thousands of children, as well as the larger Beacon Hill community.

This year is Van Asselt’s final year at the original site, as the school district has decided to close the Van Asselt building and move the program to a new location at the current African-American Academy site, further south on Beacon Avenue.

To mark this bittersweet occasion, the community, former staff and students, and current and future Van Asselt families are invited to a 100th Anniversary celebration and reunion on June 12, from 4:30 – 7:30 pm at the school, 7201 Beacon Avenue South. The event will include an open house and tours by students and staff in historical costumes, musical performances, speeches from community leaders and students, historical displays, and a cake and snack reception.

Lissa Munger from Van Asselt says, “We’re also collecting stories and memories from Van Asselt’s past. These can be sent to me (, or to ”

The photo to the right is of a particular Van Asselt memory, a 1921 annual, that we discovered recently.

The Totem Annual, Volume II, June 1921, is a collection of mimeographed pages in a construction paper cover. It was produced by the seventh grade class that year, and the staff included Editor-in-Chief Helen Mance, department editors Elizabeth Wallace, James Scott, Arlee Baer, Martha Hansen, and Walter White, and illustrator Tom Petersen. The students included poems, historical drama, book reviews, and dreams of their futures. Unlike some school annuals, this one doesn’t contain student pictures.

Read on to see some excerpts from the Totem (there are a lot of them):

Most people like cheese sandwiches, but do these same people know how they are made? To make them, you must first get your supplies, such as bread, butter and cheese. Cust your bread into medium slices. Next, butter the bread and cover with cheese. If you prefer it, you might melt the cheese and spread it on the bread. It tastes even better that way. After this, put the second slice on top of the first slice of bread and cheese. You will find these sandwiches very excellent.
— Hazel Lewis.

I have planned ever since I was old enough to think sensible things that I would be a violin teacher for children. I intend to go through high school. I will be seventeen when I graduate and then instead of going to college, I should like to go to New York or Paris to study music. There is nothing I like better than music. I figure I can earn my own living this way very comfortably.
— Viola

When I am twenty-one years old, I plan to be a carpenter. My reasons for choosing this trade are many: first, people are always moving about to different cities and for that reason carpenters are needed to build them homes; second, there is good money in the carpenter trade,–some good carpenters get from ten to twelve dollars a day; third, the more you build houses the better carpenter you get to be. I like arithmetic and I get it in this trade.
— Tom

…The Eighth Grade of 1921 got a live tree for the Christmas celebration this year, and after vacation, on January 5, planted it in the school yard. Each room marched in procession after George, who pulled the tree wagon, while the four Eighth Grade girls supported the tree. Five class wishes were planted in the ground at the roots of the tree so that it might grow better and live longer…
— Elizabeth and Helen.

When we are older and are completing our lives in some far-away place, by chance we might wander back to this spot where memories of olden times and of days of sunshine at Van Asselt School will come back to us, then may we see you, O, Fir Tree, strong and tall with outspreading branches keeping guard over the smaller class trees of the years to come.
— Esther White.

(BHB comment: Does this tree still stand?)

Gravel, gravel, gravel, everywhere you travel
At Van Asselt School.
There’s some on the girls’ side, and on the boys’ side too;
If boys do not enjoy it,
The girls sure do.
— Arlee Baer

Caterpillar bugs, far and near,
We’ll soon pick you up, don’t you fear.
We’ve got fifteen thousand of you this year!
— Dorothy Gehrke

(BHB comment: There are actually two poems about the caterpillars in the Annual. Was 1921 one of those years when the tent-caterpillar population explodes?)

It certainly was an exciting time when we got our phonograph… All of the children, that afternoon, came up to Room IV and then we had music from two to three o’clock. I enjoyed the music very much because we had all been working so hard and for such a long time to get the phongraph. You see, we all had worked two months making articles for the Christmas sale. We made bird sticks, flowers, candy, boxes, Christmas cards, seals, wreaths, and calendars. We raised thirty-seven dollars, all of which we turned over to the phonograph fund. Could anyone appreciate the phonograph more than we who had worked for it?
— Dorothy Acorn

Van Asselt’s baseball players were in great need of a ball. All of the school funds were used up, so we had to get a ball somewhere for ourselves. Every player was on the lookout.

Down at the baseball field, league games were bing (sic) played. A high fence enclosed the park, so that no one could watch the games without paying admission. (BHB comment: This was probably Dugdale Park, at Rainier and McClellan, where the Seattle Indians played at that time. The site was later the home to Sick’s Stadium and the Seattle Rainiers, and for one season, briefly, the major-league Seattle Pilots. It’s now the Rainier Avenue Lowe’s store.) A high fence enclosed the park, so that no one could watch the games without paying admission. It often happened that the players knocked the ball over the fence and didn’t take the trouble to chase it. One of our men was waiting near the fence. He wasn’t there to see if he could get in the grounds free, but was waiting for a different purpose, to see if he could pick up a stray ball. While standing there, a large machine was driven up near him. The driver asked Keefe, our man near the fence, if he knew where people parked cars. Keefe politely told him that he knew an especially good place to park a car and showed him the location. The man asked him what he was doing outside the fence and why he wasn’t in watching the game. Keefe replied that he was waiting for a ball to come over, for the school team badly needed it. The man, as it happened, had a fine ball in the car with him and handed it over to Keefe. So that’s how Van Asselt’s team got its ball. I guess the politeness made it a lucky ball, for the first game in which we used it was a winning game, with our score 14 to 2.
— Tom Petersen.

On March 22 1921, I saw a runaway car. This car happened to get away on Jackson Street that morning when I was on my way to school and I happened to see it. (BHB comment — from Jackson to Van Asselt? That was a long trek in those days of neighborhood schools.) The car started from Fourteenth and Jackson. It passed Eleventh and Tenth till it came on down to Ninth. Farther on it went to Eighth, then to Seventh, where it just missed a man. It kept on going until it passed Sixth and Fifth. When it came to Fourth, bang! It hit an automobile. In an instant across the street there were bolts, nuts, and other articles. It was worse than the sight of the one-horse shay must have been.
— Keefe Johns

The Baseball Team has played three match games this season. We lost the first two games to Brighton, but won over Dunlap with a score of 14 to 2. (BHB comment — with the lucky ball from the “Politeness” story quoted above!)

The Fire Drill is a form of athletics of which we are very proud. We can empty the building in 44 seconds. During five different drills the entire school left the building and returned to their rooms in perfect order, no child having spoken a word or broken the line of march. We try to keep perfect step both going from and returning to the building.