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Day 27 – Early kindergartens (updated)


Correction: We incorrectly captioned the image of the Southside School annex building pictured below (not Karl). Thank you to Dave Hornbeck who is helping us to set the record straight. According to Hornbeck: “The Screengrab from Google Maps is not the old Southside Elementary School building. Today, that building is still located on the SW corner of Liberty and Sinclair and it was there in the 1940s. But then it was merely an annex to the original Southside Elementary School, which was 3-story wooden frame structure smack dab in the center of that block. The “play ground” was all dirt and bounded by a chain link fence that ran along the inside of the sidewalk around the entire block. The second floor of the brick building pictured was a small auditorium with a stage on which students played (or were required to try to preform) on the stage in groups on their flute-a-fones (if that’s how it was spelled??).  There were only those two buildings on the whole block in the 1940s when I walked to school from the west end of Liberty Street, which then was a two lane, tree-lined residential street.Thanks Dave!

Submitted by Karl Breckenridge

Remember once, we had “schools” in Reno? All the kids in a neighborhood used to walk or take a big yellow thing called a “bus” to the “school,” where they’d learn something about life then return home to their parents. Remember that?

Last night a bunch of us, all a safe six feet apart, got yakking about this on Facebook. One among us said, “Why don’t you re-do your kindergarten tale on the This is Reno column tomorrow?” Well, tomorrow became today; This is Reno hasn’t shown me the gate – yet – so let’s do it!

The Babcock

Thus, topic A for this Saturday is the Elizabeth Babcock Memorial Kindergarten, named for a schoolmarm/émigré from Carson City. “The Babcock” opened for the 1901 school year in an attractive private building on the northeast corner of West Sixth and West Streets. It was operated by the Reno Kindergarten Association.

I include it herein and herewith because we didn’t always have a publicly-funded kindergarten in Reno or Sparks. My high school class, the class of 1959, the best I can find, was the first class to get a kindergarten at no cost to the parents of us little rug-rats.

The Babcock Building also served some other municipal uses to generate a little cash flow; per the Nov. 8, 1901 Nevada State Journal, “…rooms are available to rent for meetings and socials,” and a wild U of N fraternity party brought all two of Reno’s Finest out on the night of March 2, 1907. Sounds to me like the precursor of the SAE, Lambda Chi or ATO house, certainly not the Sigma Nu’s, who were surely at the library studying that night. But I won’t go there…

The school district in those early years was the Reno School District #10, the “10” a number assigned by the state. I’ve written in the past of the existence of eight, sometime expressed as nine if Franktown is included, school districts in Washoe County when the Washoe County School District was created in July 1956, combining all those districts. Several other archives at the Nevada Historical Society indicate that number to be 17, counting all the one-room schoolhouses in the county.

The Babcock functioned merrily at Sixth and West as a kindergarten until the Reno School District bought the building in May of 1932; conflicting archives point to 1933 (if the world relied on our school district to keep records, Columbus would have discovered Malibu and Washington would have thrown the dollar across the Truckee).

Reno’s kindergarten students were split out into the district’s five Reno schools after WWII (the Spanish Quartette and Southside School at Liberty and Center Streets.) The Babcock Building then became the head-shed for the Reno district and remained so after the WCSD was created in 1956.

The old Southside Elementary School annex building.
Image: Screengrab from Google Maps

Regrettably, in the 1950s the classic brick building we remember in our 1940s youth, close to our Reno High/Central Jr. High and Mary S. Doten alma maters, got a treatment akin to the blonde Olympian who won a Gold medal and had it bronzed: The new district stuccoed over the ivy-covered Babcock Building. Yikes!

The Washoe County School District remained headquartered in the old building, even after the Babcock was sold to the West Sixth Medical Building Group in October 1961. The “new” district moved into the East Ninth Street “Greenhouse” in January of 1962, built right smack in the middle of our athletic field – the original Foster Field, darn ‘em – where we trekked from all over town to play ball, held our fantastic and talented pet parades, our school picnics, and tried not to get caught tubing down the nearby English Mill Ditch. (And that “Greenhouse” nickname currently in use for Ninth Street is a carryover from the Babcock Building, which was green.) And BTW, not designed by Frederick Delongchamps as has been written; it’s the product of Faville & Bliss, of San Francisco.

As always happens to Reno’s most elegant old buildings with any history, the Elizabeth Babcock Memorial Kindergarten was razed in March of 1966. But “the Babcock” – the education envisioned by early members of the Century Club, later the 20th Century Club and the classic building they built to provide it, live on in the great pantheon of Reno’s heritage. 

And one of these fine mornings, if this cessation of our lives continues long enough, I’ll elucidate (like that!?) about the tuition vs. “free” kindergarten. Thanks for the space, This is Reno team – owner Bob Conrad and editor Kristen Hackbarth, the genius who makes my hen-scratching, grammar and misspelling look pretty. C’mon back after the Lions Club Easter Egg Hunt in Idlewild tomorrow morning and we’ll yak some more. And oh, be safe, huh? 

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article or letter to the editor here.

Karl Breckenridge

Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally. 

Read more from Karl Breckenridge

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