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RFK Assassination Site Revived as School Campus

Students check on their new class lists, at The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex in Los Angeles on Monday, Sept 13,2010. The site where Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated opened Monday as a complex of schools for thousands of students after years of disputes over historic preservation. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)
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The site where Sen. Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated opened Monday as a $578 million complex of public schools for thousands of students after years of disputes over historic preservation.

The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex resembles the once-stately Ambassador Hotel, where the New York senator was slain in 1968 moments after declaring victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.

Many parents of the 3,700 kindergarten through 12th grade students were impressed with the six small schools on the 23-acre site in the crowded immigrant neighborhood west of downtown.

"They made it like a museum," said Maria Vilar, mother of a fifth-grader.

Marta Reyes said she loved the new school, which features a competition-level swimming pool, two gyms and a 580-seat auditorium that will be available for community use.

"It's beautiful," said Reyes, mother of a sixth-grader. "It was a little complicated finding our way around because it's so big, but it's very nice."

The two-decade effort to turn the location into an educational complex involved expensive legal disputes with conservationists who wanted to save the historic hotel from demolition, and with Donald Trump, who wanted to build the world's tallest building at the site.

The Kennedy family was a booster of building the schools but opposed efforts to save the hotel pantry where the senator was shot by Sirhan Sirhan. The pantry was disassembled and placed in storage.

"Robert Kennedy, in his final days, said poor kids needed good schools in order to break the cycle of poverty," said Paul Schrade, a former adviser to RFK who represents the family. "I believe you can see that today. The quality of education is going to be very good there."

The Ambassador Hotel opened in 1921 and became a focal point of Los Angeles culture. Movie stars and presidents - from Herbert Hoover to Richard Nixon - stayed there.

The hotel's posh Cocoanut Grove ballroom, now incorporated into the center's auditorium, served as one of the earliest sites of the Oscar ceremonies.

The Ambassador closed in 1989, its luster long faded.

The school complex was designed to recall the landmark's place in history, with murals of its namesake in the library and a public inspiration park that features talking benches and a wall of memorable quotes from Kennedy and other civic leaders.

"It reminds you of the soul, the social justice mission of Robert F. Kennedy," said Monica Garcia, school board president. "We have a story to tell here."