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Luther Burbank School for Boys
aka Boys Parental School

Article by Jane Meyer Brahm
Images courtesy of the Rand family

Boys' Drill In Front of the Admin Building
(Click for larger image)

If you walked around Luther Burbank on an afternoon in the 1930s or ‘40s, it would have been abuzz with activity. Morning classes were over and lunch had been delivered by heated wagons from the dormitories (cottages) where over 100 boys lived and ate.

Then the boys would be off to their various jobs on the working farm — weeding the vegetable gardens, moving hay, milking cows, feeding chickens, slopping the pigs, tending the orchards, picking grapes, tree fruit or berries, etc. Those who showed proficiency at the farm skills might get to go to the horse barn to tend the horses, and even take a ride.

It was a typical day at the Luther Burbank School for Boys (formerly the Boys Parental School), a residential facility run by the Seattle School District to handle boys committed there by the Juvenile Court of King County. The name had been changed to avoid the stigma of a “parental school” and to honor the memory of the noted horticulturalist.

Its longtime director, Willis Rand, added the farming component to the curriculum of the school, believing that it helped city kids learn about nature and farm work. “That connection with the realities of life and the pleasant associations with farm life had the effect of making boys think differently about their lives,” said Ted Rand, Willis’ son, who grew up at Luther Burbank.

The Parental School opened in 1905 serving, for the most part, boys ages 9-17, most who were from broken homes. It was run in a semi-military system with boys organized into three companies, each led by a captain and lieutenant. There was a brass band, which played for maneuvers and entertainment. Each boy had a small garden plot to plant and tend, and the boys were required to learn to swim in the swimming area along the lake.

There were at least 15 structures on the property, including three cottages (dormitories), a 15-bed hospital, a laundry, superintendent’s home and central kitchen, main school building, various barns and farm buildings, a smoke house, and the steam plant. At one point the Luther Burbank School had nearly 100 acres of property.

On occasion, a boy would escape from the school. Willis Rand knew the phone numbers of nearly all the people who lived on the north end of the Island, so he’d call to warn them to check their garages, outbuildings or boats for runaways. “Dad would go out hunting, and he invariable found the escapees,”Ted Rand said.

With a change in state law, the farming program was discontinued in 1957, and eventually the school moved to Preston to become the Echo Glen juvenile detention center.

In 1968 King County bought the Luther Burbank property for a park; ownership was transferred to the City of Mercer Island in 2002. Today only the brick dormitory, the steam plant and the ruins of the dairy barn remain, vestiges of long ago.

At Left: Posing for Picture Day -- At Right: Putting up One of the Crops
(Click for larger image)

The Farm
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The Band on the Admin Bldg Steps
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Summertime at the Lake
(Click for larger image)