K Street School/Emerson

September 14, 2009


Then: Children gather in 1897 in front of their K Street School, at the northeast corner of K (Van Ness) and Santa Clara streets.

The two-story K Street School opened for classes Sept. 16, 1889, with three teachers and 50 students. Made of brick, the school was designed by architect R.L. Young and built for $20,000.

The basic design was an inner square with four short wings. At its center were two octagonal central halls on the first and second floors. The hall on the second floor served as an auditorium seating 600.

An early map of the school shows a nearby “play shed” and separate toilets at the corner of the property for boys and girls.

Tragedy struck the school before it began. While waiting for classes to start, three boys found their way into the school’s third-story belfry. One of the boys, Henry Church, fell to his death during horseplay. The bell tower was torn down in the early 1900s.

The school eventually became known as Emerson School, and kindergarten through sixth grades were taught in 12 classrooms. Author William Saroyan was Emerson’s most famous student.

High school classes were held on the second floor until Fresno High School was built at O and Tuolumne streets in 1896. The school was torn down in the 1930s.

An early day student recalled in The Fresno Bee in 1962 that in the rainy season when the streets would flood, enthusiastic kids would row washtub boats down the street to get to school.


Now: A parking lot and a Highway 41 offramp stand on the site of the old school.