Bittersweet anniversary for soon-to-close school

Alta Vista marks 100 years weeks before it shuts its doors
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The last carnival is over at Auburn’s Alta Vista School and Saturday’s event served as a fitting time for a community to remember and say its goodbyes during a bittersweet 100th anniversary commemoration. The school’s yearly carnival took place, drawing students one final time. It also proved an occasion for teachers, students and parents past and present to gather afterward to reminisce. Jack Anderson, 87, was a first-grade pupil at the soon-to-close school back in 1926. Standing on the paved playground, he recalled it was undeveloped, wooded land during his time there. The school was two rooms and the land across the street was a 12-acre fruit ranch, he said. Like many other past students who attended the event, Anderson said it’s a shame that the Auburn Union School District decided to shut the school’s doors at the end of the school year because of district-wide declining enrollment and budget concerns. “If it lasted for 100 years it should’ve continued for a few more,” Anderson said. Anderson went on to graduate from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and work 30 years for the Alameda County Health Department. When he retired in 1987, he returned to the Auburn area. “It was a start,” Anderson said of his school days at Alta Vista. “It paid off in the long run.” One of the guest speakers was the son of the school’s first principal. Bob Riley, who was at the school from 1928 through the early 1930s, read from his mother’s 1920 notes to establish that she started in a one-room school near the current site in 1908 after neighborhood residents decided it was too far for their children to walk to the only other nearby grammar school. The first school on the Alta Vista site at 173 Oak St. was opened in 1911, he recounted. Riley recalled how the school he went to in the 1930s had grown to three rooms, but still had outside toilets and stoves for heating. On the lopsided ball diamond that is now the paved playground, the young Riley would play marbles and dodge ball. “I have many great memories and learned a lot,” he said, with a smile. “And if they let me come back, I’ll do better.” Audrey Mueller, a former school district superintendent, said that a quick calculation indicates a minimum of 15,000 students walked through Alta Vista’s doors during its lifetime. “Many became leaders in many different fields,” she said. “They learned to read, write, spell and do mathematics in these classrooms.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at