Venice resident Dorothy Bellina opened the community’s first preschool in the 1950s
By Haley Beyer
In 1952, Dorothy Bellina and her husband Doug opened Kiddie Cottage, a preschool in Venice that was located on Lincoln Boulevard.
Preschools became popular during World War II because women were called out of the home to work, leaving their children in need of a guardian. After the war, many women continued working because they liked having the extra income, so there remained a need for child care.
The Bellinas ran Kiddie Cottage for over 30 years, which offered working parents a safe place to take their children, provided the Venice community with a school, and prepared students for an elementary education. The Bellinas retired in 1985 but they still own the building, which is now occupied by Morning Glory Preschool.
Just two months shy of her 93rd birthday, Dorothy fondly recalled all of the amazing memories she and her husband shared when running the first preschool in Venice.
When Doug came across an ad for a school that was for sale, he and Dorothy thought it would be a perfect idea for a business. Running a preschool would allow them to earn an income while also providing care for their young daughter, Debbie.
Doug built most of the equipment in the school yard because the things they needed weren’t available at the time. They also remodeled the interior of the building to maximize the number of children that could attend the school. 36 students were enrolled and there was an ongoing waiting list of kids waiting for their turn to attend.
“The most challenging part about opening and running the school was getting the best teachers and setting up the program that I wanted for the children,” Dorothy said. “My favorite part about running the school was teaching the children, but I also enjoyed playing the autoharp and singing with the kids.”
Debbie attended the day care until she was old enough for elementary school, but she eventually returned to work there as a teacher when she was an adult. She later purchased her own school in Orange County.
Mark Villarino attended Kiddie Cottage when he was 3 or 4 years old. He still remembers the fun times he had on the playground.
“They had a white duck that liked to torment me,” Villarino said. “There was an old hand operated water well pump attached to a tub that I liked to play with. I also recall one of the items that we played with in the yard was a stripped down old car.”
Villarino, who is still close to Dorothy, described their relationship as “unmeasurable.” They speak often, exchanging stories of the time at the day care, and he always listens intently to the amusing stories she shares.
“I would like to think that the values learned at the school laid a solid foundation upon which the characters of the students were built,” Villarino said.
“They possess a genuine and sincere capacity for caring that is rather rare to encounter nowadays. People today who watch some of the wholesome television family shows from the 1950s and 1960s see them as unrealistically idyllic, but Dorothy and Doug embodied the underlying messages contained within those shows. Those messages can be distilled down to the simple phrase: ‘Be excellent to each other.’”
Nino Posella, another former Kiddie Cottage student, also had fond memories of his
“I remember lots of activities and nap time,” Posella shared. “I also remember cutting up something and Doug coming in and catching me…oops!”
While at Kiddie Cottage, Posella formed several lifelong friendships. He also learned “the very valuable lesson that even though it’s quiet and you may think no one is watching, look behind you before you do something you might regret later.”
Having spent a portion of his childhood at the day care and a lot of time with the family over the years, Posella said that whenever he drove past Kiddie Cottage as an adult, it instantly brought back warm memories.
“Somehow I felt comforted that it was there, I remember years later that I felt a sense of loss when it had changed as I drove by,” Posella said. “The Bellinas were fine and conscientious people. Their daughter Debbie is a great example of the morals and ethics of the family.”
Proud of what she was able to do by teaching many children throughout the years, as well as serving the community of Venice, Dorothy retired in 1985 to explore other areas of life. She worked at the Museum of Flying in Santa Monica, where she restored the World Cruiser (Douglas Aircraft), helped build a Tri-Wing Fokker airplane, flew in a Bushmaster Tri-Wing Ford plane, and went to Dover, Delaware to find a downed aircraft.
Dorothy was also in a skit with Joan Rivers when she did extra work at the studios. Some of her favorite memories over the years include flying in the Goodyear Blimp, in addition to taking belly dancing, disco and ballroom dancing lessons. She also enjoyed riding her bike back and forth between Venice and Busch Gardens, which used to be in Van Nuys.
Dorothy shared one of the most important things that she learned during her time as a teacher. “The children are really smarter than you give them credit for,” she said.
And as a piece of advice, Dorothy added, “ Don’t ever take a wooden nickel.”