Historic listing sought for Killefer​

The surplus Killefer School building, sold to a developer by Orange Unified, currently in escrow and slated to be replaced with townhomes, may have gotten a reprieve from the wrecking ball.

The Old Towne Preservation Association (OTPA) has informed the Orange Unified School District that it is working to have the site placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  It has enlisted a preservation consultant to handle the nomination through the State Office of Historic Preservation.  If Killefer is registered as an historic place, it cannot be torn down.

OTPA believes the site has historic value because it was one of the first schools in California to offer integrated classes for Hispanic and Caucasian children.  The school was desegregated in 1944 when the nearby Cypress Street School, reserved for the children of Mexican-American farm laborers, closed.  Killefer opened its doors to children of all races three years before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that segregating Mexican-American children was unconstitutional.  The landmark decision was born of a lawsuit filed by five farm worker fathers against the then-Westminster School District.  

Use it or lose it

OUSD closed Killefer 20 years ago, and it was subsequently used by Santiago Canyon College for continuing education programs.  The college moved out in 2004 and the building has stood empty for 10 years.  It was declared surplus in 2008.  The Olson Company offered the district $5.1 for the 1.7 acre parcel in April of this year, and intends to build 30 townhomes on the property.

The district is selling a portion of its surplus property to raise funds to renovate and repair its four aging high schools (along with hoped-for funds from the Measure K school bond voters will decide on in November).  Killefer was the first property sold and is in an 18-month escrow.  With OTPA’s bid to preserve it now underway, the district’s transaction with the Olson Company is on hold.  

“The Orange Unified School District appreciates the position of the Old Towne Preservation Association with respect to the Killefer School building,” Superintendent Michael Christensen said in a written statement.  “Due to the contractual agreement, the district is unable to take any position that would appear to impede the actions of the buyer.  We believe that the City of Orange will consider what is best for all concerned as it shepherds the Killefer property through the project approval process.”

Photo by Tony Richards

Killefer School opened in 1931 and served the Orange Unified School District for more than 60 years.  Declared surplus in 2008, the district sold it to a developer in April of this year.  The Old Towne Preservation Association recently notified the district that it intends to have the school site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.