Philip P. Baker Elementary School
PHILIP P. BAKER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
by Kirk Hastings
The Philip P. Baker Elementary School, the first educational facility in Wildwood Crest, was built in 1928 by Folsom, Stanton and Graham (architects), Lynn H. Boyer (associate architect), and Warren C. Runyan (builder). Named after the founder and first mayor of the borough, it opened on September 10, 1928 with a student enrollment of 15.
The teaching staff consisted of Adelaide Paola, who taught 1st and 2nd grades; Oleta Fagan, who taught 3rd and 4th grades; Frances Chester, who taught 5th and 6th grades; and J. Elwood Chester, who taught 7th and 8th grades (as well as being the first school principal). The original building contained six classrooms, an auditorium, a shop, and a home economics room.
During the 1930’s the total enrollment of the school was 63 students and four teachers: Miss Hunter, Miss Fox, Mrs. Blizzard, and Miss Langley. The students made up this verse to remember the teacher’s names: “The Hunter shot the Fox on Langley field during a Blizzard”!
In 1953 a new wing was added, consisting of four additional rooms. With student enrollment continuing to climb in the 1960’s, an new school building was constructed in the Crest in 1963, as Philip Baker had no more open ground to expand onto. The new facility was named the Wildwood Crest Memorial School. Spearheaded by then School Board President James A. Batts, the new school on St. Louis Avenue in the southern end of the borough opened its doors in September of 1963. As the student population in the Crest continued to grow, additional classrooms were added onto this facility in 1973 and in subsequent years.
After an all-time high in school enrollment in 1975, the Crest student population began to decline in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. With still another addition planned for the Memorial School and upkeep expenses rising on the 60-year-old Philip Baker facility, plans were made by the Crest School Board to close the older building and consolidate all students into the newer school. In an attempt to unload the Philip Baker school building and the property it stood on, a public auction sponsored by the Crest School Board was held on March 29, 1988, but it was surprisingly unsuccessful. Nevertheless, amid a great deal of expressed concern by the Crest community for the eventual fate of the historic building, on June 15, 1988 the Wildwood Crest School District vacated the Philip P. Baker facility for good.
But the school named after the strong-willed founder of Wildwood Crest refused to die. In September of 1988 the Philip Baker School (against all expectations) once again reopened, this time housing handicapped students aged 10 to 14 from the Special Services School District, who had made a deal with the Crest Board of Education the previous summer to lease the building for a period of three years while they awaited the construction of their own brand-new facility, to be built on the mainland. For the time being at least an almost inevitable date with a wrecking ball had been averted by the Philip Baker school building.
After the contract with the Special Services School District expired in June of 1991, the Philip Baker School’s future was again up for grabs. But again fate intervened to rescue the time-honored educational facility from almost certain doom. Due to its own increasingly severe overcrowding problem, the Wildwood School District voted in the summer of 1991 to rent the Philip Baker School for a period of not less than two years, using its facilities to house their overflow 4th, 5th and 6th grade students, until they could solve their own space problems.
But by 1993 time and age had taken its toll on the Philip Baker facility. No major repairs or renovations had been done on the school structure since 1984, and in November of 1992 the New Jersey State Department of Education recommended to the Crest School Board that the school not be used for public education anymore. In April of 1993 the School Board resolved that, unless a “satisfactory utilization of the building” could be found before September 30, 1994, the school would be demolished.
Unfortunately, no such utilization was found. The school closed for the final time in June of 1993. On Monday, January 30, 1995, the razing of the school building began, and by Friday, February 3rd the demolition was complete. An empty lot was all that remained of the Crest’s first educational institution. However, there was one bright spot. The cornerstone of the building (inscribed with the date of the school’s construction — 1928) and the facing of the front of the building (with the words “Philip P. Baker School” on it) was saved from the wrecking ball, along with two massive stone owls that framed the inscription. These pieces were used to construct a small memorial to the school, which now stands on a small plot of ground on New Jersey Avenue directly across the street from the Crest Memorial School. And so, a small part of Philip B. Baker Elementary School remains, a constant reminder to its former students of the many pleasant hours they spent preparing for intellectual adulthood within its friendly, protective walls.
Philip P. Baker School Memorial, located at Washington and New Jersey Avenues, across from Crest Memorial School.