James Betelle, Where Are You?

The Search for a Lost Architect

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Let us live with our children — Friedrich Froebel, Inscription over kindergarten entrance, State Normal School, Jersey City

Separated at Birth?

December 14th, 2006 · 1 Comment · Architecture, Miscellaneous

I was zipping through Saturday Night Live the other day on my DVR (it’s the only sane way to watch the show), when a sketch involving a classroom made me jam on the pause button. The establishing shot was a video still of the entrance of a school building. It was a traditional Collegiate Gothic structure, very much a typical design one would see in the Northeast, but I couldn’t place it. Needless to say, I wanted to find out what this school was.

Luckily, a friend of mine knows the production staff at SNL, and found out what school they used. I was surprised to learn it’s not on the East Coast at all, but rather California; it’s John Marshall High School in Los Angeles.

A bigger surprise came when I saw pictures of the whole school. The entrance tower is incredibly similar to that of my alma mater, Columbia High School.

John Marshall High School
On the left is Marshall, the right Columbia. The similarities between the towers are clear; the massive recessed limestone entrance with medallions and lanterns, the 2-story oriel window above the entrance and the buttressed pinnacles at each corner.

There are differences between the schools, certainly. Marshall is much smaller than Columbia and is more purely Jacobean in style. It has a flat roof, whereas Columbia has gables, dormers and chimneys. It also has more ornamentation on the roof-line and windows.

Marshall High School was designed by the West Coast architect George M. Lindsey, and completed in 1931, nearly 5 years after Columbia. It went through some rough times, but has since become a local landmark, and was used in various movies and television shows.

Was Marshall inspired by Columbia? Possibly, given James Betelle’s national renown and the exposure Columbia garnered through the journal articles written about it. Individual elements of the facade are of course common in the Collegiate Gothic vocabulary, but taken as a whole, the similarity is hard to dismiss. Still, it’s a lovely structure, and its use in popular entertainment certainly helps keep the style in the public eye.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Dan Mahoney // Nov 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    Hey there,

    I came across this post while searching long and hard for famous examples of this kind of architecture in the LA area. There’s one famous set of doors that’s used in the TV show Angel that I’m trying to track down, which I’ve seen used in other media as well.

    Since you seem to be proficient at this, do you have any idea on how to track down individual buildings like this? What kinds of organizations are helpful?

    My LJ post on the topic (which links to yours) is at http://gushi.livejournal.com/558524.html and includes more links to the building I’m looking for.
    -Dan

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