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Oral History

Peralta Elementary circa 1860Peralta started as a one-room school house. This photo shows Peralta School, circa 1880. The view is looking south from across Alcatraz Street.

On April 4, 2005 the Peralta fifth-grade class interviewed Al Wood, who attended Peralta in the 1930s. Al’s father, Walter Wood, attended Peralta from 1895 to 1899 and grew up on a farm beside present day Lake Temescal. Mr. Wood told students what school life was like over 100 years, as well as how Peralta got started.

Peralta Alumni Al Wood

Al Wood’s father, Walter Wood was born in 1887. He attended Peralta School from 1895 to 1899. Walter and his seven brothers and sisters lived on a farm next to Lake Temescal, where his stepfather oversaw the filtering plant that provided drinking water for Oakland.

Al Wood told us that the Peralta school site was donated by three local landowners: Colby (a UC professor, for whom Colby Street is named), Donovan (a saloon keeper whose family owned much of the property on Alcatraz Ave), and Fee (a road builder, who owned the house to the immediate South of the current Dana Street entrance). Mr. Wood said that the land was donated with the provision that there would always be a school there, or it would be returned to the families.

Mr. Wood had a copy of a photo of the original schoolhouse, taken around 1880. It shows a one-room structure surrounded by open fields. There were no houses between the school and San Pablo Ave. The building faced the road which is now Alcatraz Avenue. On Arbor Day sometime in the 1890′s four poplar trees were planted In front of the school. Students were responsible for watering the young trees.

According to Mr. Wood, the teacher’s names were Miss Reeves and Miss Gallagher. Teachers could not be married in those days.

Most children walked to school over dirt roads & fields. Walter Wood often rode a horse to school. In the photo we have, you can see a stable for horses to the left of the school building. The school was responsible for providing shelter and hay for students’ horses.

On a typical school day, Walter and his siblings would wake up on the farm and after breakfast, do an hour’s worth of chores such as taking care of the horses, milking the cows, feeding the chickens or bringing in the kindling. Then they would start off on their long walk to school, carrying their lunches. School started at 9:00 a.m. Students had to be at school 5 minutes early. The school house had a bell tower on top, and children who behaved well were given a turn to pull the rope that would ring the school bell in the morning.

Inside the school, students would sit at small wooden desks that were arranged in rows. The school was heated by a potbelly iron stove that used both wood & coal. Mr. Wood’s father told him that one student would be designated to haul in the coal. Mr. Wood wasn’t sure if this job was given as a reward or a punishment.

Once in the morning and once in the afternoon, students would get a 15 minute break to play, get a drink of water, or visit the outhouse. The “drinking fountain” was a hand pump with a tin cup that stood in front of the school. There were two outhouses behind the school; one for the boys and one for the girls. In the photo we have of the original photo, you can just glimpse one of the outhouses to the right of the school building. Students would also get a break for lunch.

School let out at 4:00. Then Walter would walk back home to the farm at Lake Temescal and do another hour of chores before supper.

When Walter Wood grew up and married, he and his wife bought a house at 6385 Dana Street, right next to the Peralta schoolyard. They had two children, Florence and Al.

Al Wood was born in 1924. He went to Peralta School in the 1930′s.

Al attended school in a building that had been constructed in 1922. It was a two-story Mediterranean-style stucco building. There were entrances on all four sides of the school, with the main entrance on North Street, facing Telegraph. There were two play yards at that time. The boys’ yard was on Alcatraz Ave. and the girls’ yard was on 63rd Street.

Mr. Wood said that there were not more that 100 children attending the school at that time. The school included kindergarten through sixth grade. The kindergarten through fourth-grade classrooms were downstairs, and the fifth and sixth grades were upstairs.

In the classrooms, students sat in individual desks with flip-up tops. There were holes in the right-hand corner of the desk for inkwells. Students still used pens that had to be dipped in ink. They also used pencils.

The principal at that time was Mrs. Bradley. She lived on 63rd Street, just a few doors up from the school. Mr. Wood said that she saw everything that happened near the school, so nobody ever got away with any trouble-making.

The teachers were very strict. He remembers that there were three who were “terrors,” but they were also the best teachers in the school. One was named Mrs. Struziker. Another was Mrs. Driscol, the sixth grade teacher. Mr. Wood said that she wasn’t mean, she just taught in such a way that you wouldn’t forget. Mrs. Driscoll was Mr. Wood’s favorite teacher.

Mr. wood said that the Principal didn’t use a paddle on students who were sent to the office. It wasn’t necessary, because they would simply call parents in to the school when a student misbehaved. He said that he was never sent to the principal’s office because he was too terrified to ever misbehave.

Mr. Wood said that school hours were about the same as they are now.

There was one recess in the morning, and one in the afternoon. Mr. Wood and the other boys played kick the can (Mr. Wood recalls that the best place to hide was the girls play yard). They would also play tag. They would also play with baseball on the dirt yard, but baseballs were spongy. Tetherball was a new game when he was young.

Everybody brought lunch to school. Everybody ate lunch outside in a covered area on the yard. Boys at on one side and girls on the other. If the weather was bad, students ate in the Auditorium. Al would go home for lunch, because he lived on Dana Street, the house that is immediately to the North of Dana Street entrance.

Mr. Wood told us that Peralta was an integrated school when he was a student there in the 1930′s. He said that there were never any problems between children of different ethnic backgrounds. They were all neighbors and they all played together.

A field trip Mr. Wood remembers is going to the Golden State Creamery.

Mr. Wood said that the only rules about clothing was that it had to be clean. He said that the fashion for boys at that time was wearing jeans that were turned way up, making a cuff of six inches or more.

Students usually had at least one to one-and-a-half hours of homework every day. There was also an after-school program for students to play games like kickball and volleyball.

Mr. Wood recognized the blue diamond-shaped metal grille that is currently mounted to the outside wall near library. In the old building, it used to be above the Dana Street entrance, covering a window at the landing of the stairway leading to the second floor. Mr. Wood told us that he and the other boys used to work really hard to throw small balls up at that grille so that they would get stuck in the metalwork. Then the janitor would have to get on a ladder to remove the balls (“That janitor was the devil,” according to Mr. Wood).

Mr. Wood told us that the old streetlamp that currently stands near the school’s 63rd Street entrance was next to main entrance of the old building, on North Street, facing Telegraph. He recalls that there used to be two such lamps.

Mr. Wood showed us his class graduation photo. The students could wore graduation caps that cost 50 cents. In the photo, only two children are not wearing graduation caps. Mr. Wood told us that they were the Epel twins, who lived on North Street. The twins’ parents had said that the boys could choose to either get graduation caps or a puppy. From the photo we can guess what the brothers chose! Mr. Wood said that he is still friends with the Epell twins.

Mr. Wood told us that when he was attending school in the 1930′s the country was in the Great Depression. Nobody had work at that time. Mr. Wood says that his father, who had been a house painter, would walk from their home all the way to 20th and Broadway to the paint warehouse looking for work. Even if there were no houses to be painted, he and his partner would load up the paint truck with paint and drive around town for a little while so that people would think that they still had work.

Mr. Wood also remembers going to the 1938 World’s Fair that was in San Francisco when he was young. He said the fair was a very big deal to everyone.

After graduating from Peralta, Al Woods attended Claremont Junior High, and then University High School. During World War II he was in the Navy. Mr. Wood’s brother was killed in the war.

Mr. Wood worked for the Oakland Fire Dept. for over 30 years. He retired as a captain. Mr. Wood said that there was never a day that he didn’t look forward to going to work. He said that he believes that if you can get up in the morning excited about your work, you’re ahead of the game.