School attendance in Flagstaff grew in the 1930s at the rate of about 75 students a year. The school board discussed adding more classrooms and talked about building a new elementary school south of the railroad tracks, where more than 40 percent of the pupils lived.
Using land owned by the school district on South Beaver and a WPA grant of $15,000, supplemented by money raised by a bond issue, work began on the new school in May 1935.
The total cost was about $61,000 and about 87 people worked on the project, including skilled artisans.
The two-story, Malpais-covered schoolhouse would provide 10 classrooms, five on each floor. In addition to classrooms, the second floor had a domestic science and sewing room and kitchen, a library and storeroom.
Many of the youngsters who would attend the school were of Mexican parentage and lived in the always-diverse Southside and Plaza Vieja neighborhoods.
Thomas Weitzel, who spoke Spanish, would act as both principal and sixth-grade teacher and help with the language and cultural challenges.
CHILDREN SPOKE SPANISH
By most accounts, the original idea was to segregate the Mexican from Anglo children in the school system, an idea that began to germinate before World War I.
Black children already attended the Dunbar School in the present-day Cogdill Recreation Center on Lone Tree Road.
More than 100 Spanish-speaking elementary pupils were packed into three schools: Emerson, Brannen and the Teacher's College (now NAU), where there was a training lab for teachers.
The transition to their new school began on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 1935, when the principal, assisted by his eight elementary teachers, walked almost 200 Spanish-speaking children over from the cramped quarters at the nearby Emerson School, which had opened in 1895, to the new building, which still smelled of fresh paint and stucco dust.
Usable equipment and furniture was moved over from the four-room Brannen School, which had opened in 1912 and was dilapidated.
The day the school officially opened, the Orpheum Theatre was featuring "Steamboatin' Round the Bend," with Will Rogers, the famous cowboy performer who had just died.
The new school functioned without a name for a bit, but was soon called "the Beaver school," because of its location; the name stuck and was formalized.
During its 75-year history, South Beaver School became the focal point of a neighborhood for many things, but most particularly, for pride.
In 1946, a gymnasium was added to the original building and countless sports teams competed through the years, cheered on by enthusiastic Beaver kids and their parents.
Sturgeon Cromer, an FUSD superintendent and the father of Mike Cromer, a longtime teacher and former headmaster at the school, worked with Dunbar Principal Wilson Riles to integrate the district before the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education desegregation case in 1954.
South Beaver continued to draw children from all races, and its demographics ranged from blue collar to kids of NAU professors. It was a mini United Nations.
Today, South Beaver, just off the Northern Arizona University campus, is the oldest and smallest building in Flagstaff Unified School District.
Faced with a budget crisis this year, the FUSD governing board voted June 8 to close both South Beaver and Christensen elementary schools, as well as Sinagua High School and Flagstaff Middle School.
South Beaver had celebrated its 50th anniversary with a splash, and will celebrate its 75th anniversary today, providing a chance for many to reminisce about their beloved school.
More than 400 people have registered and four elders who made the walk over from Emerson when they were children may also be able to make it to the event.