The new campus on the edge of Koreatown occupies the site where the first American version of “Godzilla” was filmed. So one early suggestion for a name was Godzilla Elementary, which would go with the motto: A monster of a school.
But Principal Eugene Hernandez and the naming committee inclined another way. And on Wednesday morning, an array of dignitaries, including some “Godzilla” fans, dedicated Frank del Olmo Elementary School in honor of the Los Angeles Times associate editor and columnist who died in 2004 at 55.
The speakers included Del Olmo’s wife, Magdalena Beltran-del Olmo, who said that when she was approached about the honor, “My jaw dropped; I was touched.”
“When I found out the location of the school, it was more poignant,” she said, “because Frank fought so hard for the Belmont area to get more schools to serve these kids who have been dealing with overcrowded conditions.”
The three-acre, $42.9-million school opened in August, more than a year behind schedule, at 100 N. New Hampshire Ave., a block west of Vermont Avenue south of the Hollywood Freeway. An important cog in a $19.3-billion school construction program, it adds 975 seats to one of the most crowded student corridors in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Del Olmo’s first column was about education, and among his last causes was advocating to finish the star-crossed Belmont Learning Complex, which he championed even after the project was abandoned. That school, resuscitated under Supt. Roy Romer, is expected to open in about 18 months.
Romer spoke briefly, along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Also on hand were Del Olmo’s daughter, Valentina, a county psychiatric social worker, and son, Frankie del Olmo Jr., whose struggles with autism became a periodic subject of his father’s columns.
Frankie, 14, wearing jeans and a sweatshirt, stood quietly to one side during the 90-minute ceremony.
“Frankie is doing a lot better,” his mother said. “That first year and a half was brutal. He missed Dad. He couldn’t cry for him. He couldn’t express his emotions. He couldn’t talk.
“It’s wonderful that my little boy has gotten to a point with his autism [where] he can hang with a ceremony like this -- not only its length and the noise and many people talking, but just the emotion of it,” she said. “It’s about his dad.”
Villaraigosa and others described a columnist who was eloquent, relevant, fearless and just -- and always demanding of public officials.
“I remember some [columns] that were not too kind to me,” the mayor said. After reading about Frankie, “my perception about [del Olmo] completely changed.... I saw a father with love so deep for his son. I just waited for those pieces.” He said he was also moved when the columnist decided to stop writing about his son, to give him some privacy.
Early in his career, Del Olmo almost single-handedly represented people of color at the newspaper. He helped change the face of the newsroom.
Even Armand M. Vaquer, the representative of the Godzilla Society of North America, had to agree that the new campus’ name was fitting -- while also noting the school’s site as the very place where actor Raymond Burr uttered the immortal phrase: “Look at the size of those footprints.”
On Wednesday, those words applied metaphorically to Del Olmo, who would have appreciated the public officials who spoke in Spanish and English, as well as the child mariachis and the school chorus, which sang a Swahili unity ditty and a new school song whose lyrics include the line: “We are Frank del Olmo. We love to show our pride.”