Suzanne Holliday Calpestri ‘66

My first impressions of the Anna Head School came in late August of 1963. My family had moved to California from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that summer, and I had to take the entrance exams before being admitted to the school for my sophomore year. Since the school year had not yet begun, I was the only student on campus that day and therefore had a chance to take in the campus and its buildings without the distractions of a bustling school in session.  Mr. Dewey, the headmaster of the school and his wife, Mrs. Dewey, who served as the headmistress, were there to meet me at the Bowditch Street entrance. Mrs. Dewey showed me to a rather plain classroom furnished with a couple dozen well-worn oak chairs, the old-fashioned kind with a writing platform on one side, where I spent the next few hours alone working on the exams.

When I had finished, Mrs. Dewey collected my papers and gave me a quick tour of the buildings and grounds, beginning with the lovely courtyard in the middle of the campus (“The Quad”), which was the heart of the school. From there we visited the chapel, a large room with a stage at one end and enough chairs to accommodate the entire student body. I got a glimpse of the indoor swimming pool, the science building, the study hall and the exclusive Senior Porch.  As a newcomer to California, those 19th century Berkeley brown shingle buildings, covered with wisteria, did not particularly impress me. My upbringing had taught me to revere the East’s ivy-covered redbrick buildings, and only those that had stood the test of time for a century at the very least! That day, as a neophyte Californian, I certainly did not appreciate the very different beauty of the Anna Head buildings, but I would learn later to do so, very much.

Thanks to the fact that the original school was only two blocks from UC Berkeley, students at Anna Head had access to the many cultural and intellectual resources of a world class university, including research library collections in all fields.   Anna Head students were expected to take advantage of the University’s vast resources in preparing assignments and writing papers.

One block west of the school was Telegraph Avenue, with its bookstores of all types, newsstands and the Cinema/Guild (among the first art film venues in this country), which featured foreign films available nowhere else.  For French class we were assigned viewing of French language films and delivering our review to the class in French. For a broad perspective on current events, we could go to Whelan’s Smoke Shop at the corner of Telegraph and Bancroft for up-to-date newspapers from around the world. 

Unhappily, in 1964, the school had to leave the Berkeley site when the University exercised its right of eminent domain.  The new Anna Head location in Oakland offered many improvements—modern classrooms, a library, science labs and a studio for art practice. A special area at the new school was set aside for the all-important Senior Porch. Even with these amenities, many of my classmates were sad about the move and felt a sentimental longing for the old school. What I missed most was Berkeley. 

Two years later, I was able to return to Berkeley, having applied and been accepted as an undergraduate at Cal.

The summer after my freshman year, I worked in The Bancroft Library, Berkeley’s Western Americana and special collections library. That student work experience inspired me to pursue a career in academic librarianship, and in 1971 I began my long and rewarding professional career at The Bancroft Library as a reference librarian. l remember culling the collections with scholars who were working on Berkeley’s architectural heritage and more particularly, that of the Anna Head School.  Bancroft’s rich collection of local history, including photographs, local newspapers, manuscripts and other archival materials provided those scholars with the evidence to support their assertion that the Anna Head site is one of the most important examples of Berkeley’s signature brown shingle architecture and worthy of national, state and local landmark status.

Over the years, it was distressing to see the original Anna Head campus fall into steady decline, bit by bit.  As time went on, the property was repurposed many times to accommodate any current needs of the University. The beautiful landscaped gardens gave way to the eyesore Anna Head West parking lot, and the lovely brown shingle wall that enclosed the campus was torn down.  Over the years, a number of the original buildings were razed; the ones that are still left have suffered from severe neglect and stand now only as a dim memory of their former grace and beauty.   

So, my two alma maters, the Anna Head School and UC Berkeley, have a longstanding relationship, each having contributed to the rich environment that is Berkeley.  The proposal to Save the Anna Head School’s few remaining buildings recognizes the important contributions of the Anna Head School to our town while acknowledging the University’s urgent need for growth.   I strongly support this proposal.