Escuela Bella Vista is a private coeducational N-12 International school located in the city of Maracaibo, in western Venezuela. It was originally run by a consortium of international oil companies prior to the nationalization of oil resources by the Venezuelan government under the administration of President Carlos Andrés Perez in January of 1976. It started in September of 1934 as part of the Inter-Company school system. It was reorganized as an independent non-profit corporation in 1949, finally emerging as a private stock-owned school in September, 1950. The roots of the school can actually be traced as far back as 1896, when an American School was established by an individual named Heráclio Osuna.
EBV and the Roberts School were “THE Schools” to many Americans, Europeans, and Venezuelans whose parents lived and worked there. Today, EBV is a private organization governed by a Board of Educators composed of nine (9) members. The members are elected annually by the shareholders of Escuela Bella Vista and are representative of U.S., host country, and third country communities that the school serves. The school still follows an American curriculum, having maintained accreditation by the SOUTHERN ASSOCIATION OF COLLEGES AND SCHOOLS since 1960. It's also an Associate Member of the EUROPEAN COUNCIL OF INTERNATIONAL SCHOOLS (ECIS).
Venezuela is a land of natural beauty, rich resources, and warm & friendly people, and those of us who once lived there hold very fond memories of the years we attended school there and the people that we met. In many ways, Venezuela was, and still remains, a “Second Home” to us all.
When I (Chuck Clausen) lived in Venezuela in the '60's, the world appeared so much easier and carefree back then. Of course, much of that had to do with youthful innocence. But at that time, so many years before, in stark contrast to the current oppressive, divisive, self-serving and destructive “democratic dictatorship” of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela had responsible democratic leadership. The Venezuelan political situation was stable and had been for many years. The Bolivar had been pegged at Bs. 4.25 to the dollar for almost twenty years, so 1 Bs had real buying power, and the “fuerte” - the silver 5 Bs coin - was king. Crime and personal security were non-issues back then. One could go pretty much anywhere at any time, day or night, without having to be concerned about personal safety. The occasional burglar - often Colombians who would take their loot & dash to the border - was about the only real security concern in those days. The streets were safe.
The Venezuelan population was happy, proud, harmonious, optimistic, and forward-thinking. It was not the fragmented, divided society that exists today. It was a time in our lives that was filled with stability, youthful innocence and exuberance, and seemingly unlimited possibilities appeared to exist in the future for all of us. They were wonderful and memorable years, and even though, as we reflect upon them today, they almost seem like yesterday, they also now seem, in retrospect, to have passed by so quickly.
I attended EBV from 1963 to 1965, and graduated in 1965. In those days, the school only went up to the 9th grade - the end of junior high. Afterwards, I continued on to high school at the Roberts School, graduating from the 12th Grade in 1968. Unfortunately, this wonderful school, where so many great Maracaibo memories continued on for three more years, no longer exists.
In 1995 I had the good fortune of returning and visiting the school again for the first time in 27 years. The Superintendent at that time, Dr. Bert Webb, and his wife very graciously allowed me to freely walk the grounds once more. What wonderful memories returned !! Following are some photos of what EBV and Maracaibo looked like in 1995 for any EBV or Roberts alumni, or any other “ex-Maracucho” resident who may happen to travel through to these pages and who haven't seen the school for many years.
If you should ever have the opportunity yourself of traveling again to Maracaibo and plan on visiting EBV, because of security concerns, I'd strongly recommend that you make sure to phone, fax or write ahead of time to let them know of your plans. The address is:
ESCUELA BELLA VISTA
And now. . . . . on to the photos! All were digitized from Hi-8 videotape using a video digitizer. Sit back, relax, and forget about everything else for a moment. Take this short period to go back in time and re-live the memories that all of us once shared, remembering those things that were really important back then: who we would see and sit with at the club movies that night; when the next party would be and who would be throwing it; what the latest hits on the Hit Parade were, who the best and newest bands were and what their newest singles sounded like; how to keep from getting grounded; how to best sneak that POLAR beer without getting caught; who the latest couples were or who had just broken up; what we could do to become more “popular”; what plausible excuse we could come up with to tell the teacher because we hadn't finished our homework; what cool items to bring back from home leave, and then catching up on everything that had happened in Maracaibo once we returned - in short, all those wonderful things that constituted our daily lives during our years in Maracaibo!
For an enlarged view, just click on any of the photos for more detail.
How many times did we trek up & down these front stairs? And who could ever
forget them? We'd climb them every morning when school started, after lunch or
P.E., or coming back from the library, and we'd descend them again every
afternoon when school ended. Often, we'd stand at the top of the stairs shouting
out goodbyes to those who were getting into cars or the buses at the end of the
Note the high-rise apartment buildings across the street in the background where there once was only blue sky.
Another Angle of the Front Staircase
I was walking down the hall to the left of the staircase (behind the tree in this view) when I first heard that President Kennedy had been shot in 1963. Everyone was let out early, and we didn't find out that he had actually been assassinated until after we got home. In those days, all the breaking, “live” news at home came to us through shortwave radio from The Voice of America, Armed Forces Radio, or the BBC World Service because TV service didn't start until 6:00 PM, and the quality of TV news wasn't as detailed, thorough, nor as up-to-the-minute as the news received over shortwave radio. We also then subsequently listened to the funeral live on shortwave radio.
Note the security bars and the glass above the classroom walls, which used to all be completely open for air circulation. Those classrooms could sometimes get pretty hot during the day. Today, all classrooms are air-conditioned (!). In fact, I was told that the last ones to be converted over with air-conditioning were, coincidentally, being converted the week I was there in 1995. Not only does air-conditioning make the classrooms cooler, but it also makes them quieter as well.
The Lockers !
All of the old lockers are still there - exactly as we left them - and
they're still being used today. They're virtually unchanged except for new coats
of paint. And each locker still has those small door vent slits, which made it
possible to drop tightly folded notes into the locker of a friend or that
“special someone”, which they would then discover the next time they opened
The rear stairs always looked so fragile and flimsy, and while going up and down you could easily feel the vibrations of other footsteps quite strongly. Because of the vibrations, they always seemed to feel somewhat flimsy. Yet here the stairs are as they looked in 1995 - still standing strong. They've certainly withstood the test of time.
This is what the staircase looks like in 2003 courtesy of Alfredo Pérez, taken from the same angle. The new paint scheme changes the “look”, but not the form factor, of the stairs. But the grounds of the common area between the buildings has changed quite dramatically since 1995. There's been an extensive amount of landscaping put in with gravel pathways, brick borders, and plants added. The trees block a good deal of the view from the upper level, making it seem more “private”, and provide some nice shade to the area. It looks like a nice area to sit down under a tree and open a book.
Audrey Wynne Memorial Plaque (Gym)
(2nd Grade photo courtesy of Douglas Becker)
Do you recall this plaque on the front wall of the gym? You'd see it every time you went into the gym. I'd forgotten all about it, and seeing it once again really brought back memories of the thousands of times I went to the gym.
The gym was originally dedicated in October of 1955 as the Audrey Wynne Paris Gymnasium. I finally learned the tragic story of Audrey Wynne in an around-about way. Audrey's sister Diane also attended the American school in Amuay. An Internet friend of mine by the name of Randy Trahan, who hosts a website by the name of Oilcamps of Venezuela, attended an Amuay Reunion in Las Vegas in May 2000, where he met up with Diane. He was able to find out directly from her what the real story was, and a few other details have since emerged from other sources.
Audrey and Rita Bayne (Flowers), one of Audrey's best friends, both went to Coromoto hospital in Maracaibo in 1953 to have tonsillectomies. Something went terribly wrong, and Audrey unexpectedly passed away due to excessive loss of blood. Tonsillectomies were extremely common back then, and so it was, of course, completely unexpected that such a terrible thing could happen.
This plaque made Audrey Wynne a part of all of us who attended EBV. And so, in this way, she will never be forgotten.
(In September of 2003, I received confirmation from James Migues [Class of 1983] that this plaque has indeed been removed since my visit in 1995. Its whereabouts is a mystery. There's the possibility that it was moved somewhere else on campus, but James could not locate it at the time of his visit.
I'd like to think that EBV administration had the good sense to move the plaque to another location on campus in order to preserve her memory and also to preserve EBV tradition. I understand from Alfredo Pérez [Class of 2003] that a storage shed or building of some kind was built right where this plaque used to be. Considering the fact that the old gym was originally dedicated as the “Audrey Wynne Paris [Memorial] Gymnasium” in 1955, it's unfortunate that the plaque is no longer there, or at least readily visible nearby, so that her memory can be kept alive. Perhaps it was just missed during James' visit?
My personal thanks to James Migues and Alfredo Pérez for providing this information!)
The gym! It hasn't changed much, but note all of the classrooms behind it now where there was only green grass before, with only two small rustic huts that held scout supplies. I must admit that standing on that gym floor again after so many years was actually a pretty emotional moment for me.
Since I only lived a block away from the school, I spent many hours here shooting hoops when I was young. I practiced a lot after school, and often on weekends. There were also some pretty darned exciting night games between grades that were held here in the early to mid '60's. Family attendance was always good, so the bleachers were usually pretty well packed during those games. And each team - each grade - also had their own team cheerleaders. So the games were great fun for everyone. Sometimes the games would even get written up in the next day's The Daily Journal, which really made us feel as special as NBA stars.
I can still hear the cheering, and it seems like only yesterday....
There's now another gym next to the old one, with access to it on the other side of the dressing rooms. It's pretty much a carbon copy of the original gym, although it appears to be somewhat larger. It has double the number of bleachers compared to the old gym. The most immediately noticeable difference between the two gyms is that the roof on the new gym is considerably higher - perhaps twice as high - as the roof on the old gym.
2 Gyms Together
This shot shows the locations of the two gyms and their relationship to each
other. Also in front of the new gym are 2 full-size tennis courts - all where
nothing but the old “shop” classroom and asphalt that we used to walk across to
get to the gym used to be. School fairs often used to be held on that old
asphalt. I wonder where they hold them now? I also wonder where they moved the
old "shop" classroom to.
High Rises Across From The School
Would you believe all the high-rises that now exist across the street from the school? Whatever happened to “quiet, sleepy” Maracaibo ? For those of you who graduated later than I, I realize that this is nothing new. But for those of us who were there in the '60's, when most of us lived in regular houses and the number of apartment buildings around town was limited, it's quite a dramatic change. Home security back then wasn't the issue that it is today.
Hotel del Lago - From the Back
Even the Hotel del Lago now has a high-rise tower, visible in this view. Note
also the enclosed area in front of it where the old rectangular pool was once
located. It holds a fancy new restaurant/coffee shop and several large new
ballrooms. The old restaurant and coffee shop used to be quite small, and
previously only one smaller ballroom was located there. The larger parties, such
as the school proms, used to be held in the large Salon Caroní towards the right
front of the hotel. But I fondly remember that we had some great parties,
including at least two memorable Christmas parties, in that smaller old ballroom
Hotel del Lago - From the Front
You can see the high-rise guest tower clearly from the front of the building. The tower expanded the size of the hotel and the number of rooms available for occupancy considerably. It now has a total of 365 rooms, including 14 cabanas, 4 suites, and 9 junior suites. The tunnel that used to lead from the cabanas to the hotel basement is no longer there.
Hotel del Lago - New Pool
The new pool's considerably larger and nicer than the old rectangular one. This shot was taken from the window of my hotel room. Look closely in the background and you can see the refinery that was built across the lake. I don't know why that particular location was chosen as the refinery site, but I'm told that there are days when emissions from the refinery sometimes pollutes the air in Maracaibo if the winds are right.
Creole (Lago Maracaibo) Club - Remember the Pool?
Speaking of pools...how could we ever forget this one? It's still there, with a few changes. The two diving boards are gone, including the high dive that used to be so exciting to dive from. I've been told that there used to be a trampoline in this area as well - that's also long gone. In the back behind the pool there is now a cabaña. And the changing rooms to the right are now a two-story brick & concrete building, complete with a very nice weight and exercise room on the first floor.
Creole (Lago Maracaibo) Club - Pool and Movie Screen
How many Tuesday and Friday nights did we spend watching movies on “The Big Screen”? It's still there, and virtually unchanged. What wonderful memories came flooding back to me again as soon as I saw it! I remembered all the great socializing we used to do while the lights were on before the movie started, and how it would continue after the movie began if it wasn't a very good film. Then there were the films that were good, and how much we enjoyed them. Quite a number of school romances either started or ended at the club on movie nights! Many a pleasant warm Tuesday & Friday night was spent here with good friends in soft tropical breezes under the stars.
Creole (Lago Maracaibo) Club - Pool From the Opposite End
And there's the mango tree that used to sometimes dump mangos on us as we watched the movies ! That tree appeared to be full-grown when we were there, so I wonder how old it is now. Also, notice the improved gazebo-like roofs over the covered areas in the back next to the snack bar. Before, the roof covering this area used to just consist of simple, continuous, slightly-angled corrugated metal. It looked good and it worked well, but it certainly wasn't as attractive as these new roofs are.
A number of new high-rise apartments now overlook the Club from a distance. I found that the area around the club had changed quite dramatically with new homes and buildings - so much so that I actually found it difficult to drive around because so many of the old identifying features and landmarks had changed from the '60's. The empty fields across the street from the club entrance are now filled with housing. Many of the older CREOLE camp homes are gone, replaced with newer homes or apartment buildings. It was pretty much the same trying to find my way around the rest of Maracaibo as well. If it hadn't been for that "big dip" on Cecilio Acosta between the club and the school, both would have been considerably harder to find.
Putting Out Chairs For Tuesday Night Movies
I was fortunate enough to have visited the Club on a Tuesday during my visit, and, as has been done so many times in the years before, lawn chairs were being set up for the Tuesday Night Movies. To me, it was pretty exciting to see again after so many years. On the right, you can see the new building that contains the fancy new “Los Cristales” restaurant, a ballroom, and a children's outdoor playground. Behind and to the right of the fellow with the chairs (in line with the big bush) is the Club entrance, which is now pretty heavily guarded.
I also noticed that the red and white floor tiles in the movie seating area that all of us walked over countless times in the past were still the same ones that have been there since 1929. It's somehow reassuring to know that we can occasionally find some things in life that don't seem to change. It's significant that Marcos Salom, the former Chairman of the Board of the club, tells me that this floor was restored in 2001, and afterwards, it was declared a "historical patrimony" of the club so that future generations will recognize its importance as being the only part of the club that's left today from the original 1929 club construction. Because of this important recognition, this wonderful floor should be around for us to walk on again for many years to come.
This wouldn't be complete without a shot of Mi Vaquita ! It's still as popular as ever. By 1995, the bar had gone for a "high-tech" look with a wide screen TV and an impressive sound system. So they've managed to keep up with the times. At the time that I visited, exchange rates were unfavorable, things were a bit expensive, and an average dinner (May 1995) cost about $40-$50 /person. However, I last heard some time ago that an average dinner costs about $10-$15/person. Remember that this picture was taken in 1995, so I'm sure that prices have changed many times since then, particularly considering the severe economic problems and political upheaval that Venezuela has suffered under Chávez.