Alumni Memories


The following is excerpted from a series of emails from alumnus Frank Kesling:

“I was at Mar-Ken School (1949-52). I attended Mar-Ken the first time in 1942 in the 2nd grade (The old school in Hollywood had grades 1 – 12). I started again in 1949, did the 10th thru 12th in 2 years (with 2 summer schools), graduating at the Buck Jones house in 1951 (more on this later). During that period and later I lived with the Bessire family.”

Frank Kesling’s comments on school history:

“The school did not move directly from Hollywood to the Buck Jones House. For a couple of years it was in a small 3-bedroom house on the east side of Van Nuys Blvd. near Hortense (between Riverside & Ventura). I began there in 9/49.

From then until we moved to the Jones house I lived in the Bessire home. That was the center (largest) unit of a pink triplex on Kester Avenue between Magnolia & Burbank. The building was u-shaped with the open “U” facing Kester Avenue. There was a one-room outbuilding where Kent, I and a couple of other boys slept. We called it “the ranch”. It was about 3.5 acres. It was also an income source from the other two units of the triplex. Besides the home and two units of the triplex that were rentals and an income source, there was a barn/stable area with 8 horses and a couple of cows. They also had some pigs, chickens, and each year one or two calves. There was an apricot orchard. We butchered pigs, yearling calves and chickens for great eating.

We used to ride horses to the Sepulveda Dam basin (The basin was all Agriculture and a Nike missile site then) and never had to ride on a roadway except to get across Sepulveda Blvd. Probably can’t find a vacant lot now.

I remember the “ranch” on Kester Avenue was sold right away and soon after we moved into the Buck Jones place the subdividing and building started. I remember driving around the area sometime in the 70s when I was in the valley on business and finding two “new” streets and houses on what used to be the barn, chicken cages, hog pen and an apricot grove.

The last time I was at Mar-Ken there were 5 horses. One was a colt we called “Baby.” A student, Dick Van Cleave, had purchased her and he was boarding her there until they could find a place for her and break her. The others were old horses. One was at least 16 (Melody – a pretty five gaited show mare), another (Copper, a quarter horse, mother of Baby) was 12-14 or so. There was one gelding, Rake, about 4-5 years old. His mother was there, Harvesters Folly, a beautiful big palomino parade mare. Rake & Folly were descendants of a then very well known and award winning palomino stud, Harvester. A requirement when anyone took colts out of Harvester was that their name had to include “Harvester” or be the name of a farm implement.

The only people that rode Melody other than Kent were Carmen Scarpitta and me, always with an English saddle. Carmen rode her several times in shows they used to have in a ring behind the old farmers market on Sepulveda. Kent rode and showed Folly. I rode Copper in some saddle horse classes. We taught kids how to ride on Copper. Folly and Melody were too much to handle for that. All that ended after we moved to the Jones house. I rode Copper in the corral a few times but there was too much traffic to go on Magnolia.

Not involved directly in the school, but certainly a major part of many students’ lives, was Kent’s father Paul or as we all called him, “Mr. B”. While the school was college prep, “Mr. B.” was as important in passing on to me (& others) animal care, construction, building maintenance and handyman skills. I consider his contributions a major part of my personal satisfaction and successes over the years. Because he was a great all-around handyman, Mr. B did do all the maintenance work. He also handled much of the livestock work but trained guys like me to do much of it.

He supervised the butchering of hogs and calves and did the meat cutting himself. He did not do any work on the Van Nuys Blvd. schoolhouse. It was a temporary facility (small, 3-bedroom house with separate garage) that they rented. Any repairs were handled by the owner. When we moved to the Jones house he was again the “build or fix anything guy” …he, Kent and several resident students like myself built the stables and corral behind the house and did the finish work on the separate classroom/bathroom building behind the big garage/classroom.

I remember when the school [Kester Avenue Elementary School on Kester Avenue] was built. I vaguely remember discussions about the actor “next door” but have no idea who it was. When I lived on Kester I had very little “free” time. I paid for my room and board by being the “janitor” at the Van Nuys Blvd. school early in the morning and doing “farm” chores (milking, separating milk, feeding livestock, etc.) in the afternoon. The Bessires lived up to their Scottish heritage of keeping expenses down. That’s not a complaint. I have always felt grateful for the many things I experienced and learned while I was there. I think I mentioned before my great respect and admiration for Mr. B.

We moved into the Buck Jones house at least several months before June, 1951. There was very little renovation. I remember the walk-in closet. Anything in it was returned directly to Dell Jones. She lived next door in a beautiful house converted from the 2 1/2 story barn you mention in the history. It was converted and she moved in just a week or so before we moved into the main house. I remember the “guided tour” she gave us a week or so later. That building was still standing in the mid-1980’s. I saw it when I visited the area and found the massive apartment complex. When Kent sold the house it went to a religious group of some kind. He told me later, but I’ve forgotten who they were.

In the history you mention a barn and outbuilding. The barn (an L-shaped building with 5 or 6 horse stalls, a tack room and a feed room) was built by “Mr. B”, Kent and several of us “resident” students. We also did the fence between the school and the Dell Jones house. We also fenced a large corral with railroad tie posts and Eucalyptus tree rails. The outbuilding, behind the garage classrooms, was built by a contractor. At that time it had a chemistry lab, a general purpose classroom and two bathrooms. Floor finishing, installation of Formica paneling in the two bath rooms, trimming and finish painting was done by “Mr. B”, Kent and the same students.

You mentioned Kent taught “a class”. He taught many. He was my teacher for American History, World History, World Lit., Geometry and Music Appreciation to mention a few.

I visited the school several times in 51 & 52 and lived there again in 52 & 53 while attending UCLA. I visited Kent & “Mr. B” several times in the late 50s & early 60s after the school closed.”

This memory of Mar-Ken School at 6107 Franklin Avenue is by Neil Shattuc, who was not a Mar-Ken student but a neighbor from 1935 to 1944, and who knew some of the students and the neighborhood. His brother-in-law is Frank Pappalardo, a Mar-Ken graduate:

In my childhood the streets of Hollywood were my playground; from Western to Highland, Fountain Avenue up to the Hollywoodland sign; now the Hollywood sign. I lived at 1940 Carmen Avenue from 1935 to 1944. My Father was William E. Shattuc, M.D. In 1939 he had his office on Hollywood Blvd. There were six children, 3 brothers and 3 sisters. The three oldest went to Hollywood High and the youngest went to Cheremoya Ave School on Franklin and Beachwood. My brother Bill worked at the gas station (a Flying A) on Gower and Franklin in 1941 while going to L. A. C. C. just before entering the V 12 Naval program.

Mar-Ken Professional School was a two story home that was turned into a school first operated by Mrs. Lawor then Mrs. Bessier. It was between Carmen Ave. and Gower St. on Franklin Ave. All the homes on the west side of Carmen were two-story with garages in the back on Gower. Mar-Ken went back to a four-apartment building on Carmen that is sill there.

The back yard was fenced in. There were some hedges in front of the school on Franklin Avenue as we used to run and hide behind them, as kids will do. Also in the front there was a low wall with a few steps up to a walk, then to the front door. To the east, the Summer Set Apartments were between Gower and Beachwood. West between Carmen and Vista Del Mar there were some two story apartments, then the Franklin apartments with the Ritz Drug store that had a soda fountain, a place where many of the students met. Ed Kyffin was the pharmacist and he and his wife Grace were the owners. His son was Ted, who was a friend of many of the students. The Ritz Drug Store was still there in 1947. My brother Morton and I alternated working there between 1942 and 1947. We were bus boys, dish washers, general help. No need for anyone to do that kind of work when there was money to be made in aircraft war production.

Before that, we delivered the Hollywood Citizen Newspaper. Before and during the Second World War there were a lot of people living in the area in show business. At the end of Carmen at Carmen place there was the Monastery of the Angels. It is still there and they have a web site. It has changed as more buildings have been added. There was only the main house with a circular drive, and a lawn and trees. They would have church fundraisers that were attended by many big name stars. Up until 1940 there was a trolley streetcar track along Franklin beginning at Western and running to Hollywood and Vine.

The following are memories from Glen Rogers, of Mar-Ken in the late 1950’s:

Mar-Ken was certainly an interesting school. I remember Mr. B at breakfast time, Kent and some of the teachers, the whole experience of sitting informally in groups, in the living room, on the lawn, going to the beach and the long discussions in the humanities classes. Even the problem solving approach to geometry and trig made the math interesting. I remember the USC Film outings and also the trips to the Coronet Film Theater. Our young minds being introduced to the films of Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa, and other European film makers of the 50’s. Kent’s world history classes included discussion on Greek and Roman as well as Indian and Chinese history, culture and religion. It was a much broader presentation than was available in any public school and most private schools at the time.

Certainly, Kent deserves some recognition for what he was attempting in some kind of low-key approach to a more open classroom. I felt that whatever other aspirations Kent may have had, he enjoyed teaching. Whether congregating in the living room, on the front lawn, or in one of the classrooms with a large blackboard to write on Kent liked talking and conversing with the students. A “Summerhill” like experiment, the school made learning an exploratory experience, and prepared me well for the next 50 years of an education that never ends.