Flashback: Westlake staircase archive project opens to public


Mark Cho ’22 and Jade Stanford ’22 look at the Westlake archive display on the middle school campus. Credit: Kendall Dees/Chronicle

Sophie Haber

Alumni, faculty and staff will rediscover artifacts from Westlake School for Girls at the Westlake Archive Staircase ribbon cutting Sept. 18.

At the top of the staircase, an interactive kiosk features electronic versions of all Westlake yearbooks, profiles of notable alumni and stories of past teachers.

“I think it’s going to trigger a lot of memories for the women and they will see that now, finally, we are honoring those memories in a really professional, thoughtful way,” Senior Advancement Officer and Director of Major Gifts Jim Pattison said.

The walls along the stairs display items from the original founders of Westlake, graduation gowns and dresses, including the dress worn by Shirley Temple ’45.

Railings and picture frames are repurposed from wood used in the floor of Westlake’s great hall.

“On the one hand it was like going back to someplace like an old playground and discovering that they have replaced all your favorite swings with newer, fancier equipment,” photography teacher Kevin O’Malley said. “But then you see that the ancient drinking fountain is still there.”

Arlene Director Schnitzer ’47 funded the project in an effort to make sure the Westlake’s history was properly recorded, Pattison said.

As the second Jewish student to be admitted to Westlake school, Schnitzer faced adversity while at Westlake; however, she still felt her experience was meaningful and believes in the school, Pattison said.

Schnitzer gathered $300,000 for the project with the help of other Westlake alumni.

The exhibit was designed by Ulf Henriksson’s (Luke ’17) company, The Scenic Route, Pattison said.

“He was able, with his staff and the curator of the exhibit, to assemble a wonderfully powerful, emotional and evocative presentation of the Westlake story, really weaving together the strands of DNA that make up the school and the graduates,” Pattison said.

Some faculty members, including Admissions Director Elizabeth Gregory Riordan, who had been at the school since the 1970s, already had the opportunity to view the exhibit after it was completed in August.

“My reaction was unanticipated and surprising to me,” Riordan said. “I started to cry. Not weeping, of course, but tears came to my eyes as the memories flooded back. I was unprepared for the depth of emotion the Westlake Staircase engendered. Seeing Westlake again in the beautiful displays was at once joyful, nostalgic and beautiful.”

The information featured on the interactive kiosk is also available on the about page of hw.com.