Everyone at Webster Elementary is celebrating a birthday this week, not for one student or teacher, but for all — past, present, and future. This week, the Malibu school is 50 years old.
Students were treated to a slice of birthday cake and had a chance to hear tales of Webster’s past from alumni. “It was different back then,” said second-grader Erika Moss-Martin, whose class was visited by students of the ’60s. “All they did was mostly math. They didn’t do as many things as we do now. They didn’t have as much free choice. School was very different.”
“Webster was very different but the auditorium was the same,” said Morgan Adams, also in the second grade. Looking around, he said, “The person that came was in this classroom in the third grade.”
“They only had one playground, and there were old, dirt roads,” added classmate Michael Vanderlip.
“Kids were interested in hearing about how things have changed,” said Colleen O’Beirne Brydon, Webster PTA co-president. “It’s been lots of fun to talk by telephone to graduates going back all the way to the original class. Several have referred to their time at Webster as a happy time of their childhood. It’s been fun to hear the stories and anecdotes.”
Malibu looked a lot different when Webster opened its doors in 1949. The main street in town was Malibu Road, and that stone building next to Georgio’s was a functioning courthouse. Presiding over the Justice Court was John L. Webster, who had served as justice of the peace for the previous 21 years.
Webster, who was affectionately called “Honest John Webster — The Biggest Little Judge in California,” was never a lawyer but had a reputation for honesty and fairness that earned him state and even national recognition. In 1947, he received one of the highest honors to be bestowed on a justice of the peace — the chief justice of the California Supreme Court appointed Webster to the state Judicial Council. As a member of that 11-man panel, Webster represented more than 475 California justices of the peace.
In 1949, he was given another honor — being namesake to Malibu’s new elementary school. More than 300 Malibu citizens attended the school’s dedication on March 12, 1949. That week, The Malibu Times reported, “His honor Judge Webster took the platform to say a few words and to thank the citizens of Malibu for the honor they had bestowed on him. There were so many lumped throats following the judge’s talk that the gathering had great difficulty with community singing of ‘School Days,’ the following feature on the program.”
Webster School opened with 120 students, a teaching staff of four, and six classrooms. Over the years, enrollment at Webster has fluctuated to extremes — at times, expanding beyond capacity, at other times, dropping extremely low. “Ann Ferguson taught a class on the stage one year,” said Principal Phil Cott. “That was their classroom. At other times, though, enrollment was so low, there was talk of closing the school.”
Currently, Webster has 449 students, 20 classrooms and 20 teachers. Nearly one-third of those teachers have been at the Malibu elementary school for more than 25 years. Among those is fourth-grade teacher Ann Ferguson, who has been teaching second- through fifth-graders at Webster for 43 years, and Bev Price, who has taught kindergarten there for 37 years.
A formal anniversary party is scheduled to take place Saturday, March 20 in a private residence in Malibu. For those who cannot attend, newspaper articles and memorabilia will also be on display during the school’s open house on the evening of March 24.