by Kristi Hawthorne, Oceanside Living Magazine
Situated behind the Oceanside High School, on a corner at Division and Center Streets, sits a unique domed building. Built by renowned architect Irving J. Gill, the Americanization School in the Crown Heights neighborhood is a true gem. Gill designed a total of 5 buildings in Oceanside, 4 of which remain. The Americanization School is the most distinctive with both Art Deco and Islamic influences.
Along with its architectural significance, it is also important historically and culturally. It represents a period of a time when immigrants who did not speak English were being “Americanized.” The school was almost entirely made up of Mexican children who were immersed in the English language.
In the late 1920's the Oceanside School District began to segregate non-English speaking students into "Americanization classes." They were enrolled and sent to school in an old telephone building on North Tremont Street between what is now Mission and Pier View Way. As the number of non-English speaking students increased, a larger building was needed to accommodate them.
Most of these students lived in the Eastside neighborhood and the downtown location was a long distance for younger students to walk. It was determined that a new school should be built closer to the school grounds on Horne Street. Land was purchased, and grammar school Principal J. R. Tenney hired Gill to design a new school building. The Americanization School was built in 1931 by local contractor Omer Nelson at a cost of $4400.
Teacher Beth Harris French, who spoke no Spanish, taught the students in English. Years ago Pete Magana, former student of the Americanization School, recalled that Mrs. French would often use a student who was bilingual to help her in class. Magana said of French, "The students used to love that teacher." Class sizes were large compared to today’s standards and ranged from a low of about 40 and a high of 55 students.
The Americanization School closed in the 1940’s with the building being used as a regular elementary school and renamed the Division Street School. In the 1950’s the building was declared unfit for use and was eventually boarded up. After years of neglect and abuse by vandals, the Americanization School had become an eyesore and was in jeopardy of being demolished.
In 1992, with an eye toward preservation and redevelopment, the City of Oceanside began a $316,000 restoration project. The Americanization School building was saved from the scrap heap and restored and renovated. It is now known as the Crown Heights Resource Center and operated by the Housing and Neighborhood Services Department of the City of Oceanside.