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Room 8, The Cat That Adopted An Echo Park School, Died 50 Years Ago Today

Press clippings and a painting of Room 8 line the halls at Elysian Heights Elementary School. (Photo: Lori Galarreta/KPCC)
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On the corner of Baxter and Echo Park Avenue, a sidewalk runs along the edge of Elysian Heights Elementary School. It spans almost an entire block, but if you look closely, you'll see messages of love carved into the cement.

Back in the 1960s, students left behind written tributes to one of the school's most beloved figures of all time: a domestic shorthair cat. His name was Room 8.

He died on August 13, 1968 -- 50 years ago today.

Room 8 first made his appearance in 1952, wandering into the elementary school during recess and ransacking the children's lunches. The students named him after the room where they found him.

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He lived at the school while classes were in session and then disappeared during the summer, returning again only when students did. For the 16 years following his arrival, he wove himself into the community and Los Angeles history.

As historian Paul Koudanaris put it to KPCC's Take Two, it wasn't that the school had adopted a cat -- "but that a cat had adopted a school."

Room 8 looking over his fan mail at Elysian Heights School on September 14, 1964. (Photo: Art Worden/Herald-Examiner Collection /LAPL Archive).

And this cat was popular. During his time at the school, Room 8 received more than 10,000 pieces of mail from all over the country.

In his life, he never took a permanent home. He was always technically a stray cat. So when he died in 1968, the students wanted to give him a permanent resting place.

The students set out to secure a burial for Room 8 at the Los Angeles pet cemetery in Calabasas. It's where celebrities like Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart laid their pets to rest -- and where famous animals like the MGM lion are buried.

When they put out a call to help raise funds, they were overwhelmed with the response. The money that came pouring in was enough to secure Room 8 one of the largest headstones in the cemetery.

Room 8 rests peacefully in Calabasas. (Photo: Courtesy Devan Brown)

"The whole history of Hollywood celebrities has their pets in that cemetery," said Koudanaris, "yet that cat, that homeless cat who adopted a school has a bigger memorial than any of them. And to this day, his grave is still the most visited."

Room 8 also made waves posthumously. His obituary in the L.A. Times took up three columns and included a picture. And in 1972, a cat shelter took on the name Room 8 in his honor -- it's currently in Riverside.

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And to celebrate his life on the school's campus, Elysian Elementary painted murals around the building, etched his name into the sidewalk, and hung portraits of him in hallways.

A distinguished Room 8 portrait, in color, at Elysian Heights Elementary. (Photo: Lori Galarreta/KPCC)
A freshly painted mural featuring Room 8 at the entrance of Elysian Heights Elementary School. Photo: Lori Galarreta/KPCC
Loving message for Room 8. It reads, "Without a name/to Room 8 he came/to give our school/the greatest fame." (Photo: Lori Galarreta/KPCC)
An inscription on the sidewalk outside Elysian Heights: "Home of Room 8, School Cat." (Photo: Lori Galarreta/KPCC)
A portrait of Room 8, outside room 8. (Photo: Lori Galarreta/KPCC)
Reminders of Room 8 are all over the school. (Photo: Lori Galarreta/KPCC)
A close-up of Room 8's grave in the pet cemetery in Calabasas. The headstone includes "Elegy to Room 8, School Cat," written by Henry C. Fry. (Photo: Courtesy Devan Brown)

Rest in peace, you glorious feline.

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