Lodi's Hutchins Street Square rose from ashes
Lodi's Hutchins Street Square rose from ashes

When the old Lodi Union High School burned down in an arson fire in 1974, many thought the beautiful buildings would never be rebuilt.

Thirty-four years later, the area known as Hutchins Street Square is an integral part of community projects and learning in Lodi.

The square, filled with historical and modern architecture, offers a variety of classes, a preschool and a park, among other programs.

After the fire, on March 6, 1980, the Lodi City Council voted to buy the grounds from the school district for $475,000, according to material provided by the city.

This allowed for community groups and individuals such as Omega Nu Sorority and the Old Lodi Unified High School Site Foundation to become involved in making the square a place for families to come together.

The foundation became an important part of reconstructing the old school and started having fundraising days to pay for the site.

One of these events was the Field and Fair Day, an all-day event that started with the release of hot air balloons

Please see Hutchins Street Square,

Page 51 before dawn and included pig and kid races and a cow-plop throwing contest.

Another creative fund-raiser Foundation members held was the bachelor auction, where 30 bachelors balancing wine glasses and bidding cards were sold to women, with the highest selling for $1,150.

In 1984, Bennett and Compton Inc. built a house and sold it to a family to raise money for the square's continued construction. The project made a net profit of $33,677.81.

Aside from offering the community a place to hold conferences and events, Hutchins Street Square also offers a variety of classes. Courses in these subjects are offered to all ages and occur throughout the year.
  • Painting
  • Digital photography
  • Wheel thrown pottery
  • Dance, including ballet, hip-hop, tap and jazz
  • Music, including violin, viola, chamber music, guitar, singing and piano
  • Leisure, including Circuit Conditioning for the Mature Male, Relaxation Yoga, Stroller Moves (a stroller fitness class) and Wine Tasting
  • Culinary, including Dinner for Two, Cooking for Kids and Dinner Dilemma 1, 2, 3 (a course in quick meals for families)

After years of raising money, the foundation was able to pay off their debt to the school district for the property in 1984, and the group turned fundraising efforts toward paying for renovations and improvements.

During recent years, fundraising efforts have continued and the square has received money from the sale of "Ruby," the city's antique fire truck, and the sale of theater seats in the new auditorium.

Also, the square has benefited from individual donations, like the $2.4 million given by the late Lodi industrialist William G. Holz. This one-time gift was used to turn the former girl's gymnasium into the Senior Complex and renovate the indoor therapeutic swimming pool.

By 1996 nearly $6.5 million had been raised and used on the Square's reconstruction. The Square now offers a variety of rooms and areas for different activities.

Kirst Hall had its plaster peeled off the walls during the renovations in 1990, and now features brick walls that complement the polished wood floor. The hall has a catering kitchen and is connected to a conference gallery and rotunda for conference events.

The square also has an outdoor amphitheater, featuring classic Greek columns and a grass stage for formal and informal performances.

One of the unique artifacts is the old high school's seal.

Right before gutting the building, maintenance crews cut the seal from the interior of the building and had it restored. It now hangs in the entry way of the square.

Another interesting story with somewhat of a mystery behind it has made its way into the square's history.

When the construction on the Square began, a man came in and gave the director a large brass ticket grate and explained he had found it. He didn't leave his name, but said he thought it should be included in the new design.

A year later, a different man, who also remained nameless, found a second grate at a garage sale and bought it for the square. The two grates now frame the information booth in the center of the building.

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