Ann Dvorak’s Los Angeles Addendum: Visiting the Page School for Girls with an Alumna

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Jo at the Page School for Girls, circa 1938

When Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel was first published, I was warned by fellow authors that people would start coming out of the woodwork with great stories and info about Ann. Now that we’re over two years removed from the publication date, I am happy to report this has not happened. Well, it hadn’t happened until recently.

As I was researching and writing about Ann, I became especially taken with the Page School for Girls, a private institution Ann attended from the age of 10 or 11 until she was around 16. I’m not exactly sure why the school stuck with me the way it did. All I really knew about Ann’s time there is that she attended and went back and visited on at least one occasion. Yet, the school struck me as having an important and lasting impact on Ann. I was able to dig up some info about the history of the school and the type of curriculum they offered, but not much more. The school was located in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, and I became so desperate for background on the school that I started blindly looking through microfilm reels of the Highland Park News, hoping to find useful scraps (and did actually land on some useful items). I also obsessively hunted for photos of the school which was located in a converted Victorian mansion, with some additional buildings constructed on a large parcel of land.  It was all razed decades ago to make way for retail, so I never stood a chance to visit. I oversee one of the biggest historic photo collections in all of Los Angeles, and have a network of other local archives to tap into, but there was no sign of the Page School for Girls.

Last October, I was put in touch will a gal named Lisa Bonin whose mother, Josephine Ratliff Patterson, attended the Page School for a number of years in the late 1930s/early 1940s. They live a couple of hours away, and so after many months of coordinating, they were finally able to come for a visit last month. Josephine, or Jo, who is now 92 is beyond charming, with a steel trap mind who bears the grace and manners acquired during her years at Page. She is the type of person at whose feet you want to sit at for hours, listening to tales of life in pre-War Los Angeles. Jo and Lisa did, in fact, visit for over four hours, and brought with them a treasure trove relating to the Page School for Girls.

As it turns out, not only did Jo attend Page, but her mother Mertie (who sounds like a character in her own right) worked at the school as a secretary for owner Emma Page. Much as I suspected with Ann, the Page School made such an impression on both Jo and her mother that they held onto many keepsakes relating to the school. Jo has actually kept an entire Page scrapbook all these years, which she brought and shared with me. She was also kind enough to let me snap photos and gave me permission to post everything on this website. I was documenting these with my phone, while trying to absorb all her stories, so apologies if these photos are a bit wonky.

Best of all, Jo was attending the school when Ann Dvorak came back for a visit! What she mainly remembered of Ann were those Dvorak eyes, and that she was very elegant. The girls were all very impressed to have a bona fide movie star in their midst and Ann certainly looked the part. She also recalled that Ann wanted to visit one of the classrooms to see if the desk she has carved her name in was still there. The name she carved? Anna Pearson, which was her stepfather’s last name. This was a bit about Ann I was not aware of, and while it doesn’t drastically alter the biography, it would have been a nice factoid to have included.

Without further ado, here at long last is photo documentation of the Page School For Girls!

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Amazing view of the 3-story Victorian mansion that  had originally been built by Archibald Douglass who owned a local clay manufacturing business. The original address was 4513 Pasadena, but eventually became 4511 Pasadena, and ultimately 4511 Figueroa. 
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The house was constructed around 1899, and officially became the second home of the Page School For Girls on September 15, 1914. 
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View from across the street. The house sat on a substantial amount of land.
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Alternate view showing the ornate front wall which gives an idea of the size of the grounds. 
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The girls lived in the house and one of the rooms, as Jo recalled, contained Tiffany lamps.
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View of the buildings at the back of the property where additional classes were held. 
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View from the front gates, looking across Figueroa. Amazingly, the house in the background is still standing. 
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Jo (bottom left) with a group of girls in the “Red Room” where music lessons were held. 
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Another view of the “Red Room,” with Jo in the back.
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Interior view of the ornate “Pink Room.” Jo’s friend Charlotte is the bride. 

The school emphasized the arts, and this would be where Ann Dvorak learned to dance and play the piano. Here are some photos of Jo in her various costume, including her “famous” scarf dance.

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Jo’s specialty was a scarf dance. Shortly after the performance, she sold the silk scarf for a pittance, much to her mother’s dismay. 
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In Spanish-inspired fare in the late 1930s. 
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Jo strikes a dance pose in 1935.
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Jo even saved her old report cards!
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Jo’s grades. Did you score better in General Deportment at that age? 
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Tuition receipt. Private school tuition has gone up a tad bit in Los Angeles over the last 76 years!
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A piece of bath towel. 
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Letterhead!
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Jo’s affection for the school is so strong that she sketched out the layout of the bottom floor!

What’s a school without teachers? Here are two snapshots of faculty Jo had in her collection.

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This is Miss Berkey, the piano teacher, aka Madam Berkey to the girls. 
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This is Helen Hempstead Smith, a long-time teacher at the school. 

One of Jo’s dearest friends was a gal named Charlotte, who was the niece of Vivian & Rosetta Duncan, aka The Duncan Sisters. Ann Dvorak also attended the Page School with Duncan relations and would go on to share the screen with the duo in 1929’s It’s a Great Life. Here are photos of Charlotte at the school which further demonstrates the emphasis Page placed on the performing arts.

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One of the things that really struck me about the photos is the genuine camaraderie between the girls that comes through.

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Mertie, Jo’s mother, was so fond of the school that she would occasionally go back and take pictures, even after the school closed and the structure became a boarding house. Unfortunately, the house was demolished in March of 1960, just a few years before grassroots preservation efforts were launched in Los Angeles in response to the massive redevelopment of the Bunker Hill neighborhood. Had the Page building lasted a few more years, efforts may have been made to save it. However, this wasn’t to be, and when the house was razed, Mertie was the only one there to document it. When she spoke to the head of the construction crew, he admitted that destroying the building felt like committing murder.

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Side view of the building in 1957 when it was functioning as a boarding house. 
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The last photo taken of the Page School For Girls.  A heap of rubble in March 1960. 
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From the rubble, Mertie salvaged this piece of moulding from one of the rooms.
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Mertie also found this school insignia in the rubble. 
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A shot of the grocery store that replaced the Page School Building. The store is now a Superior Market, which ironically underwent its own preservation battle to save the Googie-style building from a massive overhaul. These efforts proved to be futile. 
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Just because we don’t want to end this post on a downer note, here I am with Jo and Lisa at the end of our nearly 4 hour visit. 

True, it would have been fantastic to have met Jo four years ago and to have been able to include her memories of the Page School For Girls in the Dvorak bio, I am still grateful to now have these lovely ladies in my life and to be able to help preserve this piece of history tied to Ann Dvorak.

**Special thanks to Kim & Richard over at Estouric. Jo and Lisa were on one of their tours last fall, and when she mentioned the Page School, they knew exactly who to refer Jo and Lisa to!**

12 Comments

  1. Marc Wanamaker April 1, 2016

    WOW!! I never heard of the Page School For Girls!!! I have information on the Page Military Academy for Boys! Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

  2. Christina Rice April 1, 2016

    Wow! I consider bringing something new to your attention to be a great accomplishment, Marc!

  3. Bonnie Nelson April 1, 2016

    I consider Jo Patterson to be my best friend, although many years in age and miles in distance separate us now. We were next door neighbors for almost a dozen years and it was indeed a”charmed existence”as Jo would often remind me. Over the years, I’ve come to know much about Page and listened happily about her and her mother’s time there. She is truly a treasure to our family and you so accurately assessed her charm and beauty in the short time you spent with her. She was so excited when she learned about you and found out that she was actually going to have the opportunity to meet you! Thank you for this wonderful, serendipitous journey into a magical time.

  4. Debi Murray April 1, 2016

    What an amazing story ! The photos are priceless and a tribute to your mom , Jo’s journey! Your mom, Jo was an amazing talent!!! So happy she is being recognized 🙂
    Loved reading the story!
    You’re amazing yourself , Lisa

  5. Christina Rice April 1, 2016

    Hi Debi, I’ll make sure Lisa sees your comment. Thanks for reading!

  6. Christina Rice April 1, 2016

    Hi Bonnie, Thanks for reading! I could have easily spent another 14 hours speaking with Jo. She is just lovely.

  7. Daniel April 1, 2016

    I attended Page Military School in the early ’50’s. I would love any info you have if available. Thanks.

  8. Jerry cavini April 1, 2016

    Attended page military academy in 1953-56. As did my brother Dan. Great memories and had no clue there was a page school for girls.

    Than you so much!!!

  9. Christina Rice April 1, 2016

    Hi Daniel,

    Della Page, who was the sister of Emma, left the Page School For Girls and founded the Military Academy with her husband, Robert Gibbs. The Los Angeles Public Library (where I work) has a brochure published in 1930 that has an extensive history of the Military Academy:dbase1.lapl.org/webpics/calindex/documents/09/519372.pdf

    The Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection (which I oversee) has a handful of photos of the Military Academy: photos.lapl.org/carlweb/jsp/DoSearch?databaseID=968&count=10&terms=%22page+military+academy%22+&index=w

    There are still Page Private Schools in Los Angeles that are run by Della and Roberts decedents!

  10. Christina Rice April 1, 2016

    Hi Jerry,

    When the Girls School was still operating, they would take the bus down Wilshire and attend dances at the Military Academy. Jo talked about visiting the boy’s school and I found an article written early on in Ann Dvorak’s career where a former student of the Military Academy recalled seeing Ann at one of these dances, which I quote in the Dvorak bio.

    Thanks for reading!

  11. rick mechtly April 2, 2016

    This is quite an example of the thrill of being able to interview anyone possessing special historical memories — How jazzed you must’ve been following your encounter with this lovely lady ! A video of this afternoon would be priceless —- Rick

  12. Christina Rice April 2, 2016

    Hi Rick,

    Yes, this was a dream come true. Not only to have a first hand account of the school, but to also have my hunch about Ann’s connection validated! We did record her singing the school song. Maybe I’ll post it. Cheers!

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