Student Life

Crystal’s Darkest Hour

By Wilson C. ’20

On a cold February night in Berkeley in 1974, 19 year-old UC Berkeley Freshman Patricia Hearst was kidnapped at gunpoint from her off-campus apartment, which she shared with her former Crystal Springs School for Girls math teacher (and fiancé) Steven Weed. Her kidnappers were the Symbionese Liberation Army, a terrorist cell of left-wing extremists who sought to punish the “elite ruling class.” Hearst, who was later found on a list of potential heiress kidnap victims made by the SLA, had graduated from Crystal Springs the previous school year. Her younger sister Vicki was a junior at the school at the time of the kidnapping. The media blitz which ensued tested the emotional and financial strength of the Crystal community, as well as its recently-hired head of school, Richard “Dick” Loveland. 

At the time of the kidnapping, Crystal was in financial ruin. The school was struggling to keep its doors open, and the annual tuition of $1,800 wasn’t helping. “The school would accept anyone with a check,” Cindy Shanholt ‘74 recalls. “Only 12 students were in my 7th grade class.” Loveland himself was surprised when arriving at the school in 1973, as he discovered that the school was in much more debt than the board had let on: more than $300,000 of it ($1.75 million in 2019). The school had attempted to rent out the property to various organizations during school breaks, providing funds to keep the school afloat, but Hillsborough residents complained of excessive noise and traffic from the tenants, and eventually these plans were scrapped, leaving the school with an ever-unreliable stream of revenue.

One reason for the school’s financial troubles was the fact that the school was having a hard time recruiting new students, especially from outside of these extremely small and affluent communities, as well as their status as an all-girls school. There were plenty of viable alternatives to Crystal Springs at the time, including Branson in Marin and Castilleja in Palo Alto. Shanholt also remarked that the school was seen as a “finishing school” in the local community — a school reserved for rich white girls — which made the school unattractive both financially and culturally to the surrounding cities of San Mateo and Burlingame. In fact, despite the school being in one of the more socially liberal areas of the country, the school did not graduate its first African-American student until 1972, reflecting a troubling lack of diversity which continued to render the school unmarketable for some time. 

Because of the financial troubles, as well as the somewhat negative perception in the surrounding community, the school was also having trouble recruiting talented faculty, and sometimes had trouble recruiting any faculty at all. The salaries were incredibly low, as the school board did not have much to offer, and most teachers didn’t stick around for long. Fluctuating numbers in class sizes year-to-year also meant that the school may have had too many teachers in a department one year, and not enough the next. Shanholt recalls a time when a history teacher left the school, and the school didn’t have the money to hire a replacement, so the students taught themselves for an entire semester. These relaxed standards of academics would be unrecognizable at today’s Crystal, but in the school’s early decades, it was commonplace. 

Discipline also became an issue under Headmistress Francena Hancock in the early 70s. Students wore uniforms, but were often suspended for attempting to alter their uniforms into mini-skirts. Many would sunbathe on the Mansion roof during free periods. Shanholt also recalls that some girls would often smoke marijuana behind the bushes on the Mansion back lawn in-between classes. Even acid was occasionally done in the school bathrooms. Crystal Springs girls were known for playing pranks on faculty; in one month during Hancock’s term as Headmistress, students called in fake bomb threats in three consecutive weeks from a Mansion pay phone. A group of students also poured bleach on The Menlo School’s field to spell out “CSSG” (Crystal Springs School for Girls). Most shocking, however, was that Hearst’s well-documented relationship with math teacher Steven Weed wasn’t the only teacher-student relationship. Shanholt remarked that a few girls had relationships with teachers at the school, and that this was common knowledge among students.

Although the academic and behavioral standards weren’t terribly tight, the community certainly was. Shanholt noted that almost everyone knew each other’s families, and they all got along pretty well. Crystal parents shared tight bonds, because they were all invested in the success of the small, cash-strapped school. Many were trustees, and they would often sponsor school ski trips, and even sent the school’s mime troupe to compete in Hawai’i in 1973 (where Cindy Shanholt ‘74 won first prize!), further strengthening the loving bonds between the girls. These bonds would soon be tested when the Hearsts, one of the families in this tight-knit community, were bombarded with a media firestorm upon the kidnapping, as well as when Patty was involved in various crimes during the course of her captivity. The Loveland administration was set to be tested as well; in addition to maintaining the school’s financial viability, it would become Loveland’s job to prevent the school community from completely unraveling, and to prevent the ultimate dissolution of the beloved school.

The morning after the kidnapping, Shanholt recalls media crews promptly descending upon the Hearst family home, as the grieving parents prepared to make a plea to the kidnappers for the safe return of their beloved daughter. She remembers dropping her bicycle on the front stoop and wading through reporters in order to console her best friend, Anne Hearst ‘73. From this stoop, the Hearst family would deliver frequent media updates and pleas to the kidnappers.

The media ruthlessly descended on the school as well, seeking to uncover as much dirt on the Hearst family as possible. Loveland found the media harassment of the Hearsts, as well as faculty and students who they were seeking to interview, absolutely repulsive, and often comforted the family’s patriarch, Randolph Hearst, in the Headmaster’s office. Loveland made sure the administration did its best to protect the Hearsts and avoided revealing anything lurid to the press, further strengthening his rapport with the Crystal community and the trustee families, and doing well to eliminate his initial perception as an “interloper.”

After the kidnapping, parents asked for armed guards to be posted at the school, a request which Loveland denied. After discovering FBI agents accompanied Anne Hearst ‘75 to class, some parents hired personnel to take children to and from school. Tension was high at the school, and many girls feared they might be next. Loveland did his best to decrease these tensions. He repeatedly drove media out of the school and kept the front gates locked throughout the ordeal. “He was less concerned with education than with helping the families… he wanted everyone to feel safe,” Shanholt recalls.

While the saga progressed at the school and in the surrounding community, there was infighting within the SLA. They had intended to kidnap Patricia Hearst as a political statement, but had clearly not planned out thoroughly what they were going to do with her during her captivity. Donald DeFreeze, a.k.a “Cinque,” the leader of the SLA, suggested that the group request some sort of ransom in return for the safety of the heiress. They eventually decided on a broad demand that the family use their wealth to “feed the poor” in order to ensure Patty’s safety, but not necessarily her return. The SLA eventually forced Randolph Hearst to donate $2,000,000 ($10.5 million in 2019 dollars) to the People in Need charity, a San Francisco food bank. 

There was just one problem with this donation: the People in Need charity did not have the resources or the volunteers necessary to distribute $2,000,000 worth of food. So, hundreds of Hillsborough socialites associated with the Hearst family, many of them from Crystal Springs, made the drive to San Francisco to assist with the distribution at Dr. Loveland’s request. Shanholt recalls an almost comical cultural dichotomy within the packing warehouse: on one side, Hillsborough socialites stood in their Sunday best, and on the other side stood convicts fulfilling community service requirements. She points out, however, that she was not nearly as foolish as some of those in the Hillsborough community, and instead donned the sensible outfit jeans and a sweater for the volunteer work.

Despite the donations, however, the SLA’s behavior continued to escalate. The biggest shift in public opinion during the Hearst kidnapping took place when Hearst was spotted standing guard with an automatic weapon while other members robbed a San Francisco bank. The group also released audio to the press where Hearst claimed that her new name was “Tania,” and that she had joined the SLA for good. Over the next few months, she committed other various robberies in coordination with the SLA. During her 19 months of captivity, Hearst would go on to participate in various SLA crimes, although she was usually complicit rather than the main actor. 

By the time Hearst was released from captivity, public opinion had turned sharply against her. Many disregarded the claims that she had been brainwashed by the SLA in exchange for the idea that she was a privileged heiress who had a revolutionary adventure with the group, but the school and its students stood firmly behind the Hearst family and Patty. While Stockholm Syndrome was not well-documented at the time, the commonly-held opinion in the Crystal community was that Patty had been unwillingly forced to commit these acts. Although the community stood by her until and throughout her trial, Hearst was sentenced to 35 years in prison for her crimes. Her sentence was eventually commuted, and the Hearst family moved east. 

Loveland was integral to holding the school community together during this turbulent episode, and kept it from collapsing completely. He protected the student body from the media and provided unwavering support to the families at the school. He prioritized emotional and physical health over academics so that the community could begin to heal. He mobilized the student body to assist the Hearst family with whatever they needed. Finally, aware of the anti-authority state-of-mind sweeping the nations’ teenage minds, he neglected to take a public stance on “Tania,” instead allowing for the students to continue to heal without his interference. 

With the Hearst saga largely over, and the school community more solidified than ever through his strong and unwavering leadership, Loveland soon began implementing various financial reforms around the campus, one of which was the hiring of Lyn Laird Hennion ‘61 as the director of Alumnae Affairs. She helped to greatly increase alumni giving at the school. Loveland also opened a nursery (which hosted Crystal’s first male students in 1974) that did moderately well before it was closed a few years later. Dick Loveland also continued to be an emotional leader to the school, and in order to increase the strength of the community, organized an all-school trip to Jones Gulch in La Honda in 1974, a tradition which the senior class has carried to this very day.  

Furthermore, Loveland’s decision to add boys to the school in 1978 improved the quality of education and public perception of the school. Distinguished faculty members like Tom Woosnam and Kent Holubar were hired in the early years of Uplands, the name which Loveland chose for the boys’ school after realizing that the name “Crystal Springs” might not attract male students. Enrollment reached new heights, and the school slowly built up an endowment. He facilitated the construction of the theater and a new gymnasium, in addition to raising funds to restore the mansion. By the time Loveland was reaching the end of his 16-year term at Crystal Springs, he had transformed the school from a struggling establishment with declining enrollment and no endowment to a thriving elite institution with world-class faculty and passionate alumni. Had Loveland not carried the school with humility, strength, and caring through its “darkest hour” during the Hearst kidnapping, it’s unlikely that the school would exist in the same capacity that students and faculty enjoy today. “He was an amazingly kind man,” Shanholt remembers. “One-in-a-million…he was the right man at the right time, and he saved our school.”

Special thanks to Cindy Shanholt ‘74 for agreeing to be interviewed for this article.

Additional research from Through These Arches: 50 Years at Crystal by Wells Wadleigh.

Categories: Student Life

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2 replies »

  1. Actually incredibly interesting- as I crystal alum I didn’t know much of the schools history and just barely knew of the kidnapping. Fascinating how a school that once almost went bankrupt and was reserved for the Hillsborough upperclass now is one of the most competitive and diverse private schools in the nation.


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