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L.A. Unified unveils 'Heritage' exhibit of artifacts

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Grace Southerland was an excellent student. For 20 weeks, she wasn't tardy and had only three absences. The eighth-grader took such classes as U.S. history, spelling and sewing.

Her grades weren't labeled A's and Bs but "excellent" and "good." That's because Grace's report card dates to 1900.

And so do many other pieces, some later in the century, being showcased at the Los Angeles Unified School District's "Heritage House" exhibit, which opened Tuesday. Grace's barely smudged, intact report card was on display, along with a shiny 1950 decorated teapot used by girls in a home economics class. Beneath the teapot sat an oxblood red manual typewriter.

The exhibit includes objects from the district's vast Art and Artifact Collection, consisting of more than 30,000 pieces. Some were gifts from alumni.

"We thought these were pieces that would work well with the exhibit," said Dr. Steven McCarthy, L.A. Unified's K-12 arts coordinator. "You see the progression of time."

Some date to the Roman Empire. One alumnus donated a pair of coins; one made of copper depicting Emperor Claudius was dated AD 41-42. Michele Cairella Fillmore, a curator who was hired to help with the Heritage exhibit, wore gloves as she unrolled a stained diploma of a graduate named Raymond White. He graduated from the Grammar School of Ocean Park City District, in what's now Venice, in June 1909.

"We picked things of interest that will tell a broad story," Cairella Fillmore said. "It's better to have these things where [they] can be enjoyed and express the history of LAUSD."

The Heritage exhibit includes about 50 pieces of furnishing, class materials and vintage textbooks once used in schools across the district. The exhibit resembles a late 19th century classroom. A teacher's swivel chair and wooden desk, complete with an inkwell and a quill pen with plucked feathers, stand a few feet from two columns of desks. On some, students had scratched their initials into the wood; some were dated 1954.

Not far from the desk was a wooden clock used at John Marshall High School to signal changes in class periods. It caught the attention of L.A. Unified employees touring the exhibit Tuesday. Some checked out an instructional device called "The Neal Word Builder," in which students turned a crank to create parts of words.

"This truly represents where we come from," McCarthy said. "'Heritage' is where we come from."

Two wooden doors, resting against a wall, came from the original Heritage Schoolhouse built in 1884. The doors later were used as part of the former L.A. Unified headquarters on North Grand Avenue.

The exhibit is open to the public for self-guided tours; it's on the second floor of L.A. Unified downtown headquarters at 333 S. Beaudry Ave. and can be viewed during business hours. McCarthy said the district is scheduling tours for schools interested in the exhibit.

alicia.banks@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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