In 1913, Cardiff by the Sea’s founder, J. Frank Cullen, realized his growing town’s kids should probably have something better than a classroom in the MacKinnon farm’s barn. So he donated land and built Cardiff’s first school, named Cullen School in his honor.
A week ago, on February 6 — 100 years after the founding of Cardiff’s first school — 600 students, teachers, parents, alumni, and community leaders celebrated the anniversary by ringing the school’s old, steel, school bell 100 times.
In the 1920s, two school-board members traveled to Santa Ana to the site of a train wreck. They purchased the steel bell off the train for $20. The bell was already 100 years old, having been forged in 1820. A belfry needed to be constructed on the school building to house the bell.
In the old school days, at 8:00 a.m. the principal would ring the bell. It could be heard everywhere in Cardiff. The children knew it was time to finish their breakfast and run down the hill to start their classes.
In 1950, when the original Cullen school was to be replaced on the same property, plans did not include the old bell. The community protested, and when the current Cardiff School campus opened in September of 1950, the bell had been installed, at the location where it hangs today.
Over several decades, the bell had become unfunctional until principal Julie Parker led a restoration effort in 1999. It has been used only for special occasions since.
At the celebration last week, it was pointed out that the great-grandchildren of the original school’s contractor, Milton Smith, are currently enrolled at the school. Their mom, Catherine Blakestar, an alumnus, shared the story the Cardiff school bell.
The bell was rung ten times each, by ten representatives of the Cardiff community — school board members, teachers, library and business groups, and parents. Maisie Leeuw, a member of the Third Graders Club, represented the 350 students.