'What do you make of the whole Cunanan story?" I asked. The bartender at the Whaling Bar in the big pink La Valencia Hotel leaned toward me. "I'm glad he's dead. That way, we won't have to pay millions of dollars and watch him walk free." My wife joined me at the bar. She asked a graying, stocky gentleman, who was sitting next to her with the look of a comfortable life about him, what the reaction around La Jolla was, since Cunanan was from there. "No, he's from Hillcrest," he corrected her. "That's where all the gays are. Nobody in this town is concerned about him at all, because we don't identify with him."
For a while, at least one of those Hillcrest gays spent a good deal of time in "this town." La Valencia Hotel is embedded in the hills just a few curvy blocks up the street from the Bishop's School, Andrew Cunanan's 1987 alma mater. The $11,300-a-year Episcopalian prep school has drawn much attention of late, all of it unwanted. The headline for the lead story in the July 24 edition of the La Jolla Light read, "The Bishop's School Parries Media Thrust." The lead story in the same day's La Jolla Village News was titled, "Bishop's Tries to Forget Cunanan Tie." Meanwhile, on a bulletin board outside an office on the school grounds, Logan Jenkins's July 21 column for the Union-Tribune hung like a stand of colors, the headline, "Bishop's Not Done Justice by the Press," a rallying cry to bolster the victims of the siege.
Watching the Bishop School's response to the media has been like watching a tortoise retract into its shell part by part. First, the head disappears - P.R. director Suzanne Weiner goes silent. Then, the front legs - faculty and students are ordered not to speak to the press. Finally, the back legs - alumni are called and asked "not to speak about a fellow alumnus," and the alumni Web site is first monitored, then temporarily shut down.
Nothing to do, then, but search for graduates who are still willing to talk and to take a stroll around the hallowed grounds.
After following the nine-foot hedge (punctuated by evenly spaced giant palms) around to the parking lot entrance and walking through the parking lot, I come upon the campus proper - a green expanse surrounded on three sides by various halls. Three of the main buildings on campus - Scripps Hall, Bentham Hall, and Gilman Hall - were designed by San Diego architect Irving Gill. As the campus has grown, it has remained faithful to his vision. His love of clean lines and poured concrete, his devotion to the inverted U of the arch, and his disdain for ornament are all in evidence here. Most of the walls, the color of which my wife compared to yellowed teeth, are unadorned. Variety is provided by ledges, which vary in depth without breaking the effect of sameness, and by the chocolate-brown window trim. A colonnade of arches rings the courtyard; the arches are echoed by indentations on the interior wall that surrounds doors and windows. A section of the colonnade is covered in thick ivy and shadowed by dense trees and shrubs. This, too, would have pleased Gill, who enjoyed the mingling of nature and buildings.
It is not a posh sight - blank walls of poured concrete are hard-pressed to appear luxurious. Lockers can be seen lining a wall, and the carpet of lawn is frayed at the edges. But the names on the halls - Bentham, Eva May Fleet, Scripps - the sheltered open space at the center of campus, and the unity and elegance of the buildings lend the place an air of stately strength and security. A 1992 graduate, I'll call her Sarah, talked about life inside these walls.
How does the school's religious affiliation affect campus life?
There were Hindu students, Jewish students - you didn't have to be Episcopal to attend. [Mandatory] Chapel was nondenominational. I'm not Episcopal, and it wasn't a big deal to me. There was a hymn, and there was usually a theme - whether it's Black History Month or dancers performing. Then a moral-to-the-story type thing.
How did the students see themselves?
Most of the students were pretty driven and motivated. Everyone went to college. Out of my group of friends, there were a couple at Harvard, a couple at Princeton, one went to Dartmouth, one at Northwestern, two at ucla. I was at uva. Harvard, Princeton, and Annapolis - they all come to graduation and present a couple of awards.
How did the school tell students to see themselves?
They wanted us to be respectable in the community, because it was in La Jolla. When we were in uniform, we were supposed to act a certain way, just to present a positive image on the surrounding community. Most people took a lot from the school, so when they told us not to speak about a fellow alumnus, they're following that.
What was the uniform?
Guys wore khakis and a polo; girls wore a black watch-plaid skirt, saddle shoes, and either a blue, white, or green polo shirt. Dress uniform on Fridays for girls consisted of a blazer and a gray skirt. For guys it was a blazer and gray slacks and the school tie. Senior tie was maroon with gold stripes.
Talk about life on campus. Was there social stratification?
We didn't have cheerleaders. Football players weren't gods on campus or anything. It was a pretty unified group. We had class retreats your 7th, 9th, and 12th grade year. Chapel was by class. Class meetings were held every week.
The big prank day was 100 days, when the seniors had 100 days till graduation. We got busted for ours. One year they took a Bob's Big Boy [statue]; another year, we had a bunch of construction signs. No harm was ever done.
Drugs on campus?
It was a very sheltered school. I mean, they always had their talks, and they always had d.a.r.e. [drug abuse resistance education] and that kind of stuff.