SILVERADO – It was the discovery of silver in the late 1800s that once defined this town, turning a sparsely populated rural outpost into a bustling mining hub.
As the silver prospectors moved on, the economy and culture predictably shifted. By the 1950s a new, unlikely center of the community emerged: an elementary school – the only one for miles around – that also served as a favorite gathering spot.
But a tight economy and relatively small student population doomed Silverado Elementary School. It was shut down in 2009. Five years later, many residents, some of whom fought that closure, lament that more than just a school was taken from them.
“It was heart-wrenching when the school closed because it was a fixture in our life growing up here. The school gave us a sense of community,” said Stephen Ephland.
Ephland, now 42 and living in Williams Canyon, recalls days as a kid venturing through Silverado and Modjeska canyons, spending countless hours playing and hunting for gold with friends.
On weekends, he, his friends and other locals would gather at Silverado Elementary for a game of softball or a picnic. The camaraderie that developed has lasted. Many who forged friendships at the school remain close today.
The school was a focal point. In its place, Ephland says, is a sense of disconnect.
A UNIQUE PAST
The school had long been central to the community. The town that emerged after silver’s discovery in 1877 eventually needed a place to educate its growing young population. A one-room schoolhouse with a wood-burning stove and a bucket of drinking water opened in 1903 on windy Silverado Canyon Road.
Silverado grew. In 1957, the school moved to a six-room building nestled in the hillsides on Santiago Canyon Road. It was part of the Orange Unified School District.
Over the years, some recall, the school’s community grew to be much tighter than you’d likely find at schools in bigger cities.
For one thing, almost every child who grew up in the Silverado area attended the school. That meant that kids who were about the same age living in rural areas across several canyons got to know each other.
At the school, parents got involved in campus activities. There were Easter egg hunts and awards ceremonies. At graduations, teachers read accomplishment essays written by each student as the audience cheered.
“The school really was a hub, and we have to remember that this is a very isolated community,” said Deborah Johnson, former president of Inter Canyon League, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the canyons.
A COMMUNITY STUNNED
The community was stunned in 2008 when Orange Unified, in a cost-cutting move, proposed shutting down Silverado Elementary, the smallest school in the district, serving 73 students.
Outraged parents attended board meetings and fought to keep it open, but lost. In June 2009, the century-old school closed.
Activists have tried to secede Silverado from the Orange Unified district and open a K-8 public charter school. Their ideas, so far, haven’t been realized.
The county has since bought the 11-acre property from Orange Unified for $2.1 million to open a library.
Upon closure, some Silverado children transferred to Chapman Hills Elementary School in Orange, 8 miles down Santiago Canyon Road. Others crossed district boundaries to attend Trabuco or Portola Hills elementary schools.
Synthia Chapman, 12, of Modjeska Canyon was in second grade when she switched from Silverado Elementary to Chapman Hills.
Her class size doubled at the new school. She was taken aback by the city-school vibe.
She also missed activities at the old school, including after-school games like the water-balloon toss on campus.
At Silverado Elementary, many students spent after-school hours playing together at the adjacent children’s center until their parents came to pick them up. At the new school, Synthia didn’t have much time after school to play with her friends before her mother showed up.
None of her friends could come to her house for her birthday party because their parents didn’t want to make the drive to Modjeska Canyon, she said.
“It hurt, you know,” said Synthia, now in middle school. “I do really miss that school.”
Ephland said he knew most of the children in the canyons growing up. His 10-year-old son knows one child in the area.
“The biggest impact of closing that school down is the total loss of the community togetherness that makes the canyon what it is,” said Charles Chapman, Synthia’s father. He grew up in Silverado.
Silverado residents are protective of their identity. They call themselves “canyonites” and outsiders “flatlanders.”
Some have lived their whole life in the mountains. Others moved there to escape the hassles of city life. Many pride themselves on being Orange County’s last bastion of country lifestyle, surrounded by nature and tight-knit neighbors.
They like to say that everybody knows everybody in the canyons, that when children get in trouble, parents know about it before the kids get home.
Most agree the canyons remain a distinct and unique place in Orange County. But without a school, some say, the community isn’t quite the same.
“The school tied all the canyons together, and now it’s kind of separated,” Charles Chapman said.
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Chapman Alum Ben York Jones is Destined For Success With Hit Movie “Like Crazy”
By Scott Martelle
Orange Coast Magazine
This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of Orange Coast.
The movie he co-wrote, “Like Crazy”, killed at Sundance. Paramount bought it, and it’s about to go national.
So far, 2011 has been a great year for 27-year-old actor-screenwriter Ben York Jones, with the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize behind him, and the national release of “Like Crazy” this month. But his is a movie career that almost wasn’t. Two-and-a-half years ago, Jones, raised in Irvine and an alum of Chapman University’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, found his ambitions had stalled. He wanted to write, direct, and act. Instead, he was living in Silver Lake, helping create music videos destined for obscurity.
After shooting a film with boyhood friend Drake Doremus, Jones packed up his stuff in March 2009 and headed to Santa Fe. He forgot about movies. He forgot about writing. He strapped on a tool belt and went to work alongside his father installing kitchen cabinets and doing home improvements. “I was just straight-up depressed and resigned to the fact that I might not work in film,” Jones says. “I had set out to do something and failed. … The real world was thrashing me around, and I didn’t know how to handle it.”
By summer’s end, Doremus, who grew up in Santa Ana and now lives in Marina del Ray, helped entice Jones back, telling him: “I have ideas and I can’t do them with anyone but you. … He just needed some space. It was good for him to think about things and come back refreshed.”
Jones moved to Corona del Mar, where he still lives, not far from his roots in Irvine’s Woodbridge neighborhood. He and Doremus resumed working on a movie about a pair of combative brothers on a road trip, which their producer at Super Crispy Entertainment saddled with the unfortunate title “Douchebag” to draw attention. Despite that—or perhaps because of it—the film was accepted at Sundance for the January 2010 festival, and received solid reviews.
The duo decided to make another movie, fast, to build on that success. “We had the post-Sundance blues,” Jones says, sitting outside an Irvine coffeehouse. “It’s like a parent having a baby and coming home—‘What do we do with this now that we have it?’ ”
Both Jones and Doremus were involved in long-distance romances, and “the theme on both of our minds was this starcrossed love story,” Jones says. The result was “Like Crazy,” about young lovers separated when a British college student’s visa expires and she’s forced to leave the U.S. They created a 50-page framework for the film in just six weeks, working toward an August 2010 submission deadline for the 2011 Sundance festival. Financing was arranged, the actors cast, and the film made. Elapsed time: 10 months.
Even before it won the grand jury prize for a drama (and a special jury prize for actress Felicity Jones, no relation), Paramount bought the film for $4 million, setting up this month’s national premiere. But Jones isn’t resting. He and Doremus are developing another project they hope will be completed by the time “Like Crazy” hits theaters. That would make three years in a row with a new movie, Jones says. “I don’t know a lot of other people who are doing that.”
More info on Netflix’s new series, Everything Sucks
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