When Luther Burbank Middle School opened in the late 1920s, the campus on the border of Garvanza and Highland Park was hailed as “a marvel of modern architecture,” featuring a then-in-vogue pre-Columbian motif that evoked a Mayan temple. After more than 80 years, however, it’s hard to find elements of that pre-Columbian style at the school, where only one building from that era remains standing. One Wednesday night, however, pieces of Burbank Middle school’s pre-Columbian style were carted back to the campus in the form of some terra cotta benches that had been discovered in a nearby basement.
“It is remarkable that the benches are still around,” said Tina Gulotta-Miller with the Garvanza Improvement Assn. “GIA will continue to work with Luther Burbank in researching for the schematics as we look forward to their installation in the near future.”
The heavy benches and other elements were presented to the school last night during a meeting of the Garvanza Improvement Assn., which represents the historic neighborhood on the eastern edge of Highland Park. The benches were found in the basement of a nearby 126-year-old home being renovated by Brad Chambers, who agreed to return and donate the benches to the school.
Several of the school’s alumni who still live in the area recognized the benches as belonging to the school, said Gullota-Miller. In addition, Highland Park historian Charlie Fisher also confirmed that the benches were part of the school campus, she said.
The design of the school resembled a Mayan temple, with glyphs and pre-Columbian details and designs cast in terra cotta covering building facades as were seating benches that students passed on their way to their classes, she said. “You can see the relationship of the quality and technique on the existing building that is left at the campus.”
In addition to entire benches, which were so heavy they required a team of four men and a heavy-duty dolly to be moved, there are several pieces that need to be reassembled. That will require more research and a review of the state archives to find the drawings to indicate how the benches were designed and put together.
The pre-Columbian-style benches were discovered as Gulotta-Miller heads a project to honor the school’s history and original architectural style. She is overseeing the creation of a mural for the school’s student store, located in the last remaining 1920’s building left campus, that includes a Mayan-style butterfly medallion once attached to side of one of a school building.
“I will be working with some of the students on the mural next year,” she said. “We want to install one of the benches by the last remaining pre-Columbian designed building on the campus.”