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Los Angeles, California

(1873 - 1923)

From the
Summer 1923


The Present Court House Site
(1873 - 1882)

The many fascinating tales which center around the development of Los Angeles from a drowsy Spanish pueblo of adobe huts to a thoroughly modern city of the world, form also the source of much of the history of Los Angeles High School. These traditions paint elaborate word pictures of the beautiful and sunny Spanish life of Southern California – where all was romance, joy, and hospitality.

La ciudad de Los Angeles between 1840 and 1850 was a typical Spanish settlement and was characteristic of the civic and educational life of the Spanish pueblos of California.

To this little Spanish town many Eastern settlers came, one by one. With every stranger the old civilization was gradually altered, until in about 1854 the need of schooling was finally revised and modernized.

In 1855, under the new system, the first public school was built on the northwest corner of Spring and Second Streets. Later this building became the Girls’ School, as co-education was not permitted even in the grammar grade at that time. The boys had their own school, which was located at the corner of Bath (now North Main Street) and Alameda Streets. In both these schools, students were advanced according to their abilities, because there was, as yet, no authorized method of grading.

The system grew so rapidly that in 1870 at the first Teacher’s Institute, plans for a high school were discussed. As an outgrowth of this movement, with the money voted in the first bond issue in 1873, the Los Angeles High School, the first in Southern California, was built on the Loma de Mariposas (Hill of the Butterflies), where the present Court House stands.

This plain, two-story frame building commanded from its lofty location, a view of the surrounding town and country. Even this unpretentious structure had a tower, and, although a small one, it proudly supported a large clock. Leading up to the school from the front was a pair of precipitous wooden stairs, and from the sides several paths were cut up the steep banks. The streets were of adobe soil, and as there were no street cars, during wet weather the pupils were often forced to wear rubber boots.

The meager school grounds provided little or no space for athletics, and when the boys did play, it was in the neighboring streets. Just in front of the building a little triangular stretch of lawn, surrounded by a picket fence, composed the entire cared-for section of the school property.

Near the junction of Temple and New High Streets, a narrow canyon called Canyada de los Muertos (the Canyon of the Dead), struck terror into the hearts of many a passing pupil, as it was here in the early fifties that numerous uncoffined criminals were placed after being hanged. The school also overlooked the jail and court yard.

In spite of the frontier background, much serious and valued school work was accomplished during the administration of Dr. W. T. Luckey, who was the Superintendent of Schools, and the first principal of the High School. Mr. A. G. Brown had been elected principal, but on account of illness he resigned the office in the early part of the school term. Dr. Luckey, who was assisted by Miss Emma Hawkes, was an able educator, as he had been the principal of the San Jose Normal School.

After much shifting, three classes were formed: the Junior, Middle, and Senior. The regular course was three years in length, and during that time pupils were drilled in Latin, English, grammar, history, mathematics, and the fundamentals of several elementary sciences. The object of the entire training was to give the students a background or basis for their future development.

It must no be understood that the entire eight-room building was occupied by the High School, because for several years only one room and a small office on the second floor were used for this purpose, the rest being a grammar school. All the pupils, however, proudly claimed to be high school students, and the structure was designated as the High School Building.

Every morning a meeting was held at which a chapter of the Bible was read by the principal, and songs were sung by the students. School assembled at nine o’clock, and at half-past ten was dismissed for a few minutes’ recess; at twelve o’clock it was dismissed again for noon, the pupils reassembling at one. Another recess was held at half-past two, and four o’clock brought the close of the school day. The order of the recitations greatly resembled a modern grammar school, as the students alternated study and recitation in the class room.

Commencement was then, as it is now, the gala time. Some of the first classes gave plays or performances during the graduation week, besides the regular exercises. The first class graduated May 28, 1875, and was composed of seven members – two boys and give girls: Yda Addis ( Storke ), Henry O’Melveny, Jessie Peel ( Church ), Lillie Miliken ( Coulter ), Mary Thomas ( Brown ), and Henry Van der Leck. In the class of ’76 there were only four graduates, all of whom were girls; and during the entire first ten years, there were only one hundred and forty-two graduates.

At these first exercises, every member of the class contributed something to the program. Usually orations were delivered by each graduate, but at other times some of them entertained the audience with musical selections.

When the classes grew so large that one performance could not accommodate them all, those who had the highest scholastic records spoke in the evening, and the others in the afternoon. Debates were sometimes given in addition to the regular speeches. As the High School had no accommodations for the large crowds which attended every graduation, these exercises were always held in a meeting place such as the Turnverein Hall. It is interesting to note that each graduate received many bouquets of flowers, and one class of girls is reported to have worn trains on their long, white cotton dresses.

When student activities are mentioned, the Star and Crescent Society is one of the first to come to mind. This club was formed by the class of ’79 with the object of promoting an interest in good literature. Meetings were held on Friday afternoon, and many people from the town came to hear the reports or the original work of the young writers. Student as well as faculty critics judged the labors of these pupils.

As the first school paper was connected with this organization, it was also called “The Star and Crescent.” It was published by the class of 1881, and gave many interesting facts relating to the school life of that time.

In this first paper an article told of the formation and the first meeting of the new Alumni organization. This was formed to combat a movement in the city against the High School. This somewhat hostile attitude was the result of labor troubles after the coming of the railroad. The new State Constitution, which provided that high school education should be taken from the state and be put in the control of the cities had been adopted in 1879. When the labor troubles arose, the workers claimed that the High School was ultra-aristocratic, and that it should not be supported by the money of the common people. During this trouble, Latin and Greek were removed from the course of study. The wise teachers made up for this loss, however, by doubling the amount of mathematics. When the alumni realized the gravity of the situation, they organized and worked together so that at election time the High School was safely removed from the care of the state to that of the city.

Upon this foundation so ably laid by these worthy “Pioneers” during the trying days of early settlement, was erected the institution of civic usefulness which has become the Los Angeles High School.

(1882 - 1891)

The High School moved in the Fall of 1882 to the Normal School Building. This edifice had just been completed, and three rooms on the second floor were leased for the High School by the principal, Mr. F. H. Clark. Two rooms were also rented for the Junior class in Lecks' Hall. This building was situated about two doors south of Saint Vibiana's Cathedral on South Main Street.

In about 1885, the Old Spring Street Grammar School became the home of the entire High School. This was a typical two-story red brick school building. It faced both Spring and Fort (now Broadway) Streets, and was located where Mercantile Place is now. The High School at first occupied two upper rooms and a small office, the remainder of the building being used by grammar school pupils. Soon after, one of California's famous real estate booms brought many people to the town and new pupils to the High School. It then became necessary to occupy the entire second floor. A few years later, the High School closed a one o'clock in order that these rooms might be available for grammar school classes in the afternoon.

The educational opportunities had increased during these years as had the number of students. The first experimental studies in chemistry and physics were introduced. The work was given by the principal, who had for his apparatus a few pans and gas bottles. A more advanced method of teaching English literature was also put into practice. Not only did the selection of subjects increase, but the faculty was also greatly enlarged. In the early years of the school, the three positions of Superintendent of Schools, Principal and teacher in the High School were all filled by one person. The superintendency and principalship were divorced a few years later, but it was not until about 1887 that the office of vice-principal was created. To Mrs. Margaret Frick the honor of filling this position was first given.

There were no real student activities during this period of the High School's development because of the very crowded and unfavorable conditions. Plays and entertainments were frequently given, outside of the school, by groups of students, and these fostered the spirit that has developed into the student life of today.

No only did the final examinations determine whether a pupil would be advanced with his class, but the honorary positions at the Commencement exercises were also subject to these dreadful ordeals. The valedictory speech was given by the student holding the highest scholastic average during his Senior year, and the salutatory by the pupil with the next highest record. Even after the classes had grown to considerable size, all the students spoke, and in 1885, fifteen pupils delivered orations in the afternoon and thirteen in the evening. Two years later, however, a much needed regulation was adopted, by which the number of speakers was limited to ten. Until 1890 only one class received their diplomas each year. Commencement exercises were usually held in the finest theatre of the city, the Grand Opera House, located near the corner of First on South Main Street.

The years from 1882 to 1891 marked the beginning of the tremendous and remarkable growth of the High School. This period also prepared the way for the future development of the school by cherishing and fostering old customs.

(1891 - 1917)

Fort Moore, which witnessed the final struggle for the American possission of California in 1847, was then chosen as the site of the high school building. This edifice had not only a historical background, but, for the sake of economy, a very gruesome one. The building itself was erected on the unused portion of the City Cemetery; while on the north was the Masonic Cemetery; on the south the Odd Fellow', and on the west the occupied section of the City burial ground - indeed a very unique location for the most eminent school of the West.

This four-story red brick structure composed of forty rooms was completed in 1891, and although it was equipped to accommodate six hundred pupils, only four hundred attended at that time. It was estimated that a sum of seventy thousand dollars was pent in providing excellent equipment.

The enrollment increased so rapidly that in 1900 it was deemed necessary to construct, on the east side of Hill Street, opposite the school, the first new addition to the once spacious building. The ninth graders, and those studying under the newly established commercial course, were housed under the roof of these very crude quarters, which contained fourteen rooms.

Five years later a lunch house was erected to take the place of a Temple Street delicatessen store, and of ice cream and tamale venders, who, up to this time had furnished the hungry students with eatables. This room provided a comfortable place for the pupils, who had formerly devoured their lunches while sitting on the tombstones. This building was replaced in 1911 by a larger and more modern cafeteria to cope with the increasing demands of the student body and faculty.

The old L. A. "never-say-die" spirit which has been characteristic in every Los Angeles High School undertaking and has helped to "spread far the fame of its fair name" was exemplified in the early athletic history of the school. The first attempt toward obtaining space suitable for carrying on athletics was in 1898 when a small tract of land was purchased adjoining the school on the west. The boys then conceived the idea of raising money in order to hasten the building of their gymnasium. The means they adopted was an athletic performance which was given in Hazard's Pavilion, then located on the present site of the Philharmonic Auditorium. Other entertainments were given until a nucleus of five hundred dollars was formed. It was at this time that the enterprise became of public interest, as shown by the fact that City Council gave a gift of five hundred dollars to the fund. With this thousand dollars the boys approached the Board of Education, asking for one thousand dollars more. Owing to the lack of ready money, this request could not be granted, but the Board promised to duplicate any sum the boys might raise. Spurred on by this encouragement, they succeeded in increasing the amount to two thousand dollars. The Board of Education considering it an act of economy, then fulfilled its promise and granted two thousand dollars toward the building of the first gymnasium at a total cost of four thousand dollars, a sum at this time considered very great.

In 1900 there was no athletic field, and as a consequence the boys pursued their sports on college grounds until it was discovered that the title to the land opposite the school had reverted to the city; and through sincere efforts of the Board of Education this land was procured. It was enjoyed but for a few months, however, as the ground was then utilized for the annex before mentioned. About six years later the space on the north was given to the boys for their new athletic field which they used for one year, until the ground was occupied by the erection of the Science Hall.

In 1910 the girls of the school dedicated a gymnasium situated on the south of the campus and amply equipped to meet their every need. In about 1915 the boys again concentrated their forces toward the acquisition of another tract to the west of the High School. It was on this field that the boys of the school and the men of the faculty worked at noons and after school building their own bleachers. These they used for the last two years of their sojourn on North Hill, and then moved them to their new home, the present Los Angeles High School

In 1907 the new Science Hall and a row of small bungalows marked the final additions to the School during its abode on North Hill Street. Besides adequate chemistry and physics laboratories, this hall contained a roomy auditorium and provided space as an armory for the military organization formed in 1905.

Meanwhile, the course of study had been expanding with equal rapidity. One of the most conspicuous features of this expansion was the introduction of French, German, and Spanish in about 1892. The first material change to the selection of subjects, however, occurred three years later when the Commercial Course was introduced at L. A. At first only one year's work was offered, but soon, because of increasing popularity, the course was extended to three years. In 1896 accommodations were provided for the commercial students by the addition of four rooms to the California Street School, a structure formerly located on the site of our present Court House, and occupied by the first Los Angeles High School. With the completion, in 1900, of the annex, across the street from the main building, this department again transferred its location, and, although still a unit of high school it enjoyed the privilege of having its own student body officers and activities. The intense rivalry of the two divisions, and the extremely crowded conditions made inevitable the erection of a new home. Two years before this demand was answered by the erection of the present Polytechnic High School building, this department had been designated the Commercial High School.

Manual Arts is also a "chip off the old block," for during it early history it was under the supervision of the Los Angeles High School. Dr. Wilson, a teacher of the high school, organized a new ninth grade in the old Olive Street building. At the close of each term, the next year of study was added, until in four years a new school was established, which grew into the present Manual Arts.

The modern plan of extensive specialization was not in practice in our High School at this time, for it was with the greatest of difficulty that the Board of Education was able to maintain one athletic director, one drawing instructor, and one music supervisor for the entire school system.

The first library was also most inadequate, being a small room used for recitations and study purposes and also library work. Not until the year 1903 did books appear on open shelves around the room. The popularity of the library so increased that in 1910 a course of library instruction was begun.

To keep abreast with educational progress, vocational subjects such as commercial and home economic studies were added from time to time, although our first and foremost educational objection has always been to emphasize college preparatory work. In 1889 the Los Angeles High School was fully accredited to the University, being the first institution of Southern California to merit such an honor.

A prominent feature in high school development was the establishment of the Los Angeles Junior College in February, 1912, the purpose being two-fold: first, to provide two years of college work for those students not desiring to leave home immediately; and, second, to afford opportunity for advanced studies to pupils not wishing to attend an institution of higher learning. Not only did Los Angeles High School students avail themselves of this opportunity, but students from the entire county were likewise instructed. At one time the enrollment numbered about four hundred students actively participating in regular college work and enjoying college honors and privileges. In 1920, after the founding of the Southern Branch of the University of California, there was no longer a pressing need for a Junior College, and the work was discontinued.

In the nineties student activities were very prosaic, consisting almost exclusively of the meetings of the Star and Crescent Society, and a few class diversions.

It was, at this time, the custom to give certificates, presented in the auditorium with due form and ceremony, to all pupils who had completed the ninth grade. This signified that one was actually in high school, for until this time he had been called a sub-Junior and was not a member of the high school, although pursuing his lessons under its roof.

Student body government developed in a rather peculiar way, for the same general plan that was in operation in the athletic association of 1904, was adopted.


With the laying of the cornerstone of the present building, seven years ago, the High School entered upon a new era. It was taken from the noisy, crowded city and located among the fields of grain on a section of an old Spanish land grant.

When the building was completed, all the dreams and desires of former classes were realized. A large auditorium, offices for the Semi-Annual and Weekly staffs, and rooms for the Senior Boards were built, besides the various executive and departmental offices. In fact, the many conveniences which made the building more comfortable and modern were made possible through experiments of the school in its former locations.

The road to the high school's present status has not been smoothly paved, and even after the purchase of the present site, many obstacles had to be removed. One of the first of these was the securing of land for the athletic field. The Board of Education refused to buy more than sixteen acres for the school. They, however, asked the Rimpau estate to cut through a street to the west of the building, and it refused to do so, unless the school would buy the adjoining land. The Board finally bought five extra acres, which gave ample room for the present track.

The question of grading and fencing the field was then encountered. Mr. Housh pledged three thousand five hundred dollars of the school's money for the grading, and one thousand dollars for the fencing. The Board of Education returned the larger sum, but the expense of fencing has always been borne by the school.

The cafeteria, the first addition, was erected soon after the opening of the main building. This lunch room is a very large structure and is equipped with many modern labor-saving devices. A regular crew of workers with the assistance of a corps of pupils serve lunch daily to twenty-five or twenty-seven hundred pupils and teachers.

At various times splendid tennis courts and a pergola, besides the new, spacious gymnasium, have been constructed for the girls. The boys, moreover, through Mr. House, have pledged ten thousand dollars toward the erection of their gymnasium, which is now under construction.

It is hoped that the Board of Education will vote more money toward this building, for otherwise it must remain a semi-enclosed structure.

Besides the acquisition of land for an athletic field, the students of the school in 1922 raised twenty-one thousand dollars to buy a section of land across the street, which has been dedicated as a Memorial Park.

The World War had a tremendous influence upon the school. Many of the pupils and faculty members left school and joined "the Colors." The Red Cross also claimed as active members many of the girls. They made bandages and knitted sweaters, socks, and helmets for the soldiers besides taking turns in assisting at the Red Cross Tea Rooms.

Entertainments were given by all the pupils, and enough money was raised to send an ambulance to France. These student interests did not wane with the signing of the Armistice, but the problem of reconstruction engaged their attention. French orphans were adopted and cared for and money was generously contributed to the Near East Relief and the Disabled Veterans Funds.

The Reserve Officers' Training Corps took the place of the old military organization in 1919. Under this plan the boys received appropriations from the government and were placed under command of an army officer.

In 1921 two very handsome bronze tablets were dedicated in honor of the boys who left the High School and Junior College to answer the call of their government and never returned. The Memorial Park has also been dedicated to their honor and will represent for all time the respect and the love the students hold for these valiant souls.

Many of the old customs of the school have proved impractical, but they are still held dear to the hearts of all as a part of the school's history. Tree planting has not been the custom for several years, but the House of Representatives has set aside the sum of one thousand dollars to be spent in the planting of trees and shrubbery. In the lath house, as this book goes to press, many of these plants are sheltered, having waited only for the final settlement of the location of the boys' gymnasium.

Other important changes have been made in the organization of the school. From time to time the curriculum has been widened, until now a student may choose both classical and vocational subjects.

The student activities show the interests of the pupils. Two of the most scholarly achievements of the students are the recently published Latin and Greek papers. The Nuntius, when issued in 1921, was the first high school Latin paper in the West. The Greek publication, The Symposium, also merited an equal distinction, when it was first published last term.

The entire Student Body in 1921 co-operated with the printing department in the installation of a five thousand dollar linotype machine. The expense was defrayed by the Student Treasury, while the cost of installation was met by bonds bought by individual pupils. The machine has more than paid for itself, as all the school's printing is done by this department.

The spirit of progress so characteristic of the school is again evidenced in the reorganization of the Student Constitution recently completed.

The brilliant record of the accomplishments of the Los Angeles High School during the past fifty years forms a basis on which to estimate its future. The watch-word of the past has been co-operation, which will continue to hold its influential position under the guise of the school's motto: "Obedience to law, respect for others, mastery of self, joy in service - these constitute life."


1817   Opening of the first pueblo school of Los Angeles under Spanish rule.
1827   The Mexican governor provides for a pueblo school in Los Angeles.
1855   The introduction of the American system of education by the erection of the first public school on the northwest corner of Second and Spring Streets.
1860   Founding of the Board of education of the Los Angeles City Schools.
1870   First meeting of the Teachers' Institute of Los Angeles.
1873   The introduction of secondary education by the founding of the Los Angeles High School.
1875   The first commencement exercises of the Los Angeles High School.
1879   The Star and Crescent Literary Society organized.
1881   The printing of the first school paper, "The Star and Crescent."
1883   The moving of the High School to the Normal School Building. - - Accommodation for the first year students made in Leck's Hall.
1885   The entire school moved to the old Spring Street Building.
1889   The accrediting of the Los Angeles High School to the University of California.
1891   The location of the High School on the North Hill Street site. - - The first real periodical, "The Idea," was published.
1895   "The Lyceum" started as a rival paper. - - The Commercial Course established.
1896   Both papers discontinues.
1897   The publishing of the first Semi-Annual
1899   The beginning of the helpful work of the Girls' Scholarship Fund.
1900   The erection of the first new annex opposite the High School.
1903   Books appear on open shelves around the walls of the library. - - The Commercial High School (present Polytechnic) formed from the old Commercial Course of 1895.
1904   The formation of the Athletic Association.
1905   The same method of control used in the new Student Body Movement as in the Athletic Association. - - The founding of the present Forum Literary Society. - - A Lunch House provided for the pupils. - - The organizing of the High School Cadets.
1906   The first high school gymnasium in Southern California, dedicated by the Los Angeles High School.
1907   The erection of the Science Hall to the north of the main building.
1908   The Book Exchange begun in the old Trophy Room.
1909   The adoption of a new Student Body Constitution.
1910   The completion of a larger gymnasium for girls.
1911   A more modern cafeteria erected.
1912   The launching of the Blue and White Weekly upon its career. - - The Junior College opened so as to provide an available means of higher education. - - Establishment of the Big Brother and Sister Movement.
1914   The inauguration of Student Managerships.
1916   The laying of the cornerstone of the present Los Angeles High School.
1917   Students and teachers leave the High School and Junior College to join the "colors." - - Occupation of the present building. - - Commission plan of government introduced.
1918   Opening of the new cafeteria - - The tennis courts completed. - - An ambulance sent by the High School to France.
1919   The Reserve Officers' Training Corps established.
1921   The dedication of the Memorial Tablets. - - The installation of the linotype machine. - - The publishing of the first high school Latin paper west of the Mississippi.
1922   The pupils raise twenty-one thousand dollars for the Memorial Park.
1923   The publishing of the Greek paper. - - The adoption of the new Constitution. - - The dedication of the Memorial Park at the Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration. - - The Pageant of the History of the Los Angeles High School given.

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