Not many people have watched the school grow like Jay Johnson, eighth-grade class of ’73. Johnson was a first-grader when he began attending Country Day in 1965.
He now plays piano for the music department. All three of his children – Jamie, ’10, Charlie, ’14 and eighth-grader Heidi – attend or attended the school.
As a soon-to-be Lifer, I’ve watched the campus grow immensely.
In my time, the entire lower school was torn down and replaced with a two-story structure. A new high-school science center was built, and two middle-school classrooms were torn down and replaced. In the high school, I’ve watched a new quad go up, as well as a massive library refurbishment.
That’s why I took a walk with Johnson around campus last month – I wanted to know what Country Day was like before all of the buildings I take for granted.
“You know, I’ve never thought about how the old campus fits on the current property,” Johnson said, while trying to match an early Medallion yearbook photograph with the current layout of the campus.
It wasn’t easy.
When Country Day first plopped its portable classrooms down at 2636 Latham Drive, the surrounding area was barley fields.
“There was just nothing around,” Johnson said. “You could see the river from our classrooms.”
In fact, when the school moved to its current location, the Howe Avenue Bridge had yet to be built.
Some of Johnson’s fondest memories took place on the back field, when the surrounding area was still untouched by developers.
“The teachers would tell the kids to scramble up the power towers. ‘Come on! Climb a little higher. It’ll make for a great picture.’ They don’t let you do that now!” Johnson said with a chuckle.
While walking past the art room, Johnson stopped to look up.
“I think this is where the pool was,” he said, his voice wavering slightly.
“The what?” I asked, thinking of all the laps I could have been swimming in my 12 years at the school.
“Not that kind of pool,” Johnson said while taking another look at his old Medallion photo to make sure the location was correct.
“There was a vernal pool, a seasonal pond, here,” he said.
“Thank goodness we filled it in when we did because today the government would never let you fill it in! But then we would have had waterfront classrooms.”
As we continue to walk down the back field, I realize we are approaching the location of an early photo. Only there were mounds of dirt piled 10 feet high and a lone home in the background of the ’60s-era shot.
According to Johnson, early-era Country Day construction involved moving mounds of dirt further to the eastern edge of the property near the current gym location.
As housing developments came in, massive cement pipes were moved to the back field, becoming play equipment for the students.
Johnson said that the pipes were fascinating to adults and children alike, and pictures of playing children and seated adults are plentiful in early Medallions.
The original buildings, including the portable library, sit on what is currently the second-grade area of the lower school.
Almost nothing remains of that earlier time, with the buildings long since torn down and the trees and land plowed over and subdivided for homes.
Perhaps the only place on the campus that has stayed roughly the same in the 50-year history of the school is the L-shaped bank of middle-school classrooms. Sitting at the crook of the L-shape is the high-school and middle-school art room.
Amy Wells, ’98, remembers having dances in the art room. “It was the largest room at the time, because we didn’t have the MP room,” Wells said.
While the art room has remained unchanged in use, the current middle-school office was a lounge for high schoolers back in the ‘70’s.
History teacher Daniel Neukom remembers the student lounge well. “The ‘70’s were a more experimental time,” Neukom said. “The society was just so open.
“Students could smoke cigarettes in the room if they had parental permission, and although they were supposed to keep the door open, things got…a bit rambunctious.”
Neukom said that after a student fell, cracked a window and dented a wall, the school put the kibosh on the lounge.
While the L-shaped building hasn’t changed, the small saplings in the barren, dirt-filled quad of the ‘70s have grown into massive oaks and evergreens.
During Johnson’s time, the school had an open-campus system where students could walk on and off as they pleased.
“I was too young when I first came, but it didn’t seem that big a deal,” Johnson said. “All schools were like this, and where were you going to walk to? The barley fields?”
Johnson also recalls walking across the newly completed Guy West Bridge at Sacramento State University. “When they built that bridge, it was the coolest thing to happen for so long,” Johnson said.
As Johnson and I tried to reconcile 50-year-old pictures with current-day trees and a few landmarks, I realized just how futile the process was. Most of the things in the pictures don’t exist anymore: the open spaces, the classrooms, the sewer pipes, the pond.
How much of what is around us now will still be here in 50 years?
Previously published in the print edition on March 17, 2015.