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
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
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.
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.