Many people who pass by the old Spanish mission-style building at 4605 Karbet Way in the Riverside area admire the historic structure, which is home to Cabrillo Civic Club #5. But only a small number of these people know what was located in the building prior to the arrival of this Portuguese-American club.
Sutter School was located in this Riverside area Spanish mission-style structure, which has been home to Cabrillo Civic Club #5 since 1954. / Valley Community Newspapers photo, Lance Armstrong
Much of the reason for this lack of knowledge is the fact that it has been more than a half-century since any commuter passing by the building has seen anything other than the local Cabrillo Club.
It was in 1954 that the building, which had been left vacant, became home to the local organization.
Several of the people who are most familiar with the history of the building prior to the arrival of the Cabrillo Club were contacted and interviewed last week.
These people were: Rose (Ishimoto) Takata, Alice (Da Rosa) Powell, Elvira (Da Rosa) Jacobs, Doris (Lopes) Yager and Dolores (Silva) Greenslate.
Jacobs, who now resides in Dixon, said that she spent many days at this site attending Sutter School, which was located in the building from 1915 to 1952.
“I went to Sutter School (in the building where the Cabrillo Club is now located along the route of the old Riverside Road, about a half-mile south of Sutterville Road),” Jacobs said. “I’m 88 years old and I was a student there when I was 6, 7 and 8 years old. What I remember was that on Riverside Road, there were a lot of Japanese farmers, so there were a lot of Japanese children in the school.”
Takata, who also attended Sutter School, said that many of the school’s former students who are around to tell the story of Sutter School today are in their 80s and do not remember as many details about the school as they used to recall.
Nonetheless, Takata, who was one of the six children of Sehei and Chiyo Ishimoto, was very helpful when it came to sharing information about the school such as details regarding the heavy Japanese presence in the school.
Schoolchildren gather in front of Sutter School in this c. 1925 photograph. / Photo courtesy of PHCS
“(At times), the school was almost 90 percent Japanese, maybe 80 or 85 (percent),” said Takata, who named Yaeko Muramoto, Ruth Imoto and Constance Satmalo as a few of her former classmates. “And most of the Japanese (children) who went to Sutter School went to the Japanese school afterwards. It was only about (a block) away, but there were no blocks of course, but it was just down the road (where Weber Way is located today). There was the Machados’ (ranch), then there was an empty lot, but it was (close to Sutter School). I don’t think there was a Japanese (student from Sutter School) who didn’t go to the Japanese school. So, we all went and we spent about an hour there. They taught us how to read and write and they taught us culture, too. Our parents wanted us to preserve our culture. The (Japanese school) did stress culture a lot.”
Jacobs, who also attended the school, said that when thinking back about her Japanese classmates, she recalls a unique year at Sutter School.
“I was the only Caucasian and the only girl in my eighth grade class,” Jacobs said. “The other kids were Japanese.”
Greenslate, a historian of the Riverside-Pocket area and a former student at the school, said that Sutter School students who were not Japanese were Portuguese, except in very rare cases.
One such exception was an Italian girl, named Hilda Barsanti, who was in the same class as Yager.
Yager, 90, who was the only child of Manuel and Gloria Lopes, said that she has very fond memories of attending the school.
“I enjoyed going there (to Sutter School), but I didn’t know any better,” Yager said. “I was a little country girl. But no, I really did enjoy going there, because I had no one to play with and when I got there, I did have people to play with and walk with and talk to and all of that. So, I enjoyed it tremendously being an only child. It was nice to be out amongst my peers and not with older people.”
In addition to having new friends to play with, Yager said that she also enjoyed a piece of playground equipment that was located behind the school.
“They had this ride that was called the ‘Ocean Ride’ or something like that,” Yager said. “It was sort of like a merry-go-round, but you didn’t sit, you stood. It was round. The thing that really stands out in my mind is I don’t ever remember seeing anything like that. You would stand and there was something where you would hold on with your foot and kind of make it move around. I remember I loved getting on that thing.”
Takata, who was raised on a chicken farm near Sutter School, said that she also remembers the same piece of playground apparatus, which was built around the trunk of a large tree.
“(Yager) is right, but I can’t remember the full name (of the ride),” Takata said. “It kind of went up and down like an ocean, like the sea.”
Through the responses of some of the five former students who were interviewed for this article, it was discovered that the school grounds also included a baseball diamond, teeter-totters and swings. Children also found plenty of spots to play jacks and marbles.
Takata said that there was another feature on the school grounds that she fondly remembers.
“I remember that there was a real big, beautiful rose bush at the front of the school in the yard,” Takata said. “If you faced the front of the school, it was to the left, right next to the Machados, who lived next door.”
Yager, who mentioned Sutter School’s annual Christmas plays among her favorite memories of the school, added that most of the schoolchildren walked to Sutter School, since riding a school bus was not an available option.
Students of Sutter School gather for this 1921 photograph with their teacher, Miss Blackwell (third row, third from left), and Gertrude Campbell, principal/teacher (left of Blackwell). / Photo courtesy of PHCS
And for many of these children, walking to school was a social event that gave them additional time to enjoy the company of their friends.
But once at school, the school’s first through eighth grade students were required to become more serious as they concentrated on their studies.
After lining up in front of the school, near the flagpole, the children made their way into three separate classrooms, which were divided based on the grade levels of the students. Originally, however, the school had housed a single classroom for all of its students.
Most former students of the school remember Sutter School teachers, Gertrude Campbell (also the school’s principal) and Emma (Fortado) James. Other teachers at the school at various times were: Miss Blackwell, Leonilda Lewis, Miss Nealis, Miss Baird and Mabel Wakefield.
Like other former students of the school, Powell had nothing but good things to say about her teachers.
“Mrs. Campbell and Mrs. James were our teachers and I liked them very much,” Powell said. “They really were sweet ladies. They used (a ruler), but I don’t remember anybody ever getting hit.”
Greenslate, however, said that she remembers students getting tapped on the backs of their hands by the school’s teachers as a general warning “to be silent or to calm down.”
Takata, who attended the school from 1928 to 1936, named the classes that were offered at the school.
“We had music class every day.” Takata said. “Maybe so many minutes, a half an hour maybe. Mrs. Campbell played the piano and I can still (visualize) her playing the piano. And of course, we had geography and history. I don’t know how the teachers worked everything in. They must have had some kind of a schedule. I think we had math every day. Well, arithmetic, we didn’t call it math. And we had spelling every day and English every day.”
The students were also graded on penmanship and participated in physical education and drawing.
Takata added that she was very fortunate to have received her elementary school education at Sutter School.
“You know, you can’t get that kind of education any place else,” Takata said. “When I went to middle school and high school, I realized how much more I had gotten out of (Sutter School) than people who went to the regular city schools.”
Takata said that after school, when most of the students left to Japanese school, the school’s janitor arrived at the school.
The old Sutter School is shown in its abandoned state in this 1953 photograph. / Photo courtesy of PHCS
“The Masons also lived next door and (Louise Baggestos, grandmother of Sutter School students, Walter “Ike” and John “Griff” Mason) used to be our janitor,” Takata said. “We used to call her Grandma Mason. She was from the old country (possibly Germany), I guess. She spoke with a real strong accent and I could hardly understand her.”
Greenslate, who attended Sutter School from 1929 to 1934, said that the school, which sometime between 1925 and 1929 had two additional wings added to its original structure, served as an important bridge between the old Lisbon schools of the Riverside-Pocket area and John Cabrillo Elementary School at 1141 Seamas Ave.
“The founders of the private Lisbon schools of the Pocket were the farmers who settled in the area,” said Greenslate, whose mother, Maria “Mamie” Machado joined John “Griff” Mason as one of Sutter School’s first two graduates in 1915. “These schools were built in the mid to late 1800s into the early 1900s. As the population increased from the Pocket area into the Riverside area in farming and homes, it necessitated a need for another school, which was Sutter School, which was a public school of Sacramento County. Eventually, a more modern school with more extensive facilities, including a cafeteria, in the area was needed and the location of Sutter School could not provide this. This led to the construction of John Cabrillo Elementary School at its present site.”
Yager said that she is grateful that the old Sutter School building is still standing about a century after it was constructed.
“It brings back old-time memories to see the school today,” Yager said. “I think that that’s interesting that that place has been around as long as it has. And it has not changed much. They’ve retained the same structure all of these years. I’m glad that (the old Sutter School building) is still around.”