Getting Schooled at L.A. High, ca. late 1870s

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

By now, many schools have started their 2016-17 year in greater Los Angeles, so this seems like an opportune time to showcase another excellent photograph from the Homestead’s collection.

This one is a stereoscopic view of Los Angeles High School, sometime after 1873 when it opened.  The school was built on Poundcake Hill and was at the intersection of Fort Street (later renamed Broadway) and Temple Street, in what was then a newly growing area (suburb?) of town.

The school was built not quite twenty years after the dawn of public education in Los Angeles.  The first public school opened in 1855 at Spring and Second streets and, in time, the girls’ grammar school was situated there, while a new boys’ school went up north of the Plaza.  In the late 1850s, the Catholic Sisters of Charity school opened, followed in 1865 by St. Vincent’s College, another Catholic institution which enrolled boys from junior high age up through college.

As Los Angeles grew rapidly in the post-Civil War years, with increased immigration and a burgeoning economy, the student population was such that, by 1870, talk of building a high school led to action.

Clearly, the location, with its commanding view of the expanding town, was chosen to showcase the pride the community had in its newest public endeavor and in the faith its citizens had in education.  William T. Lucky was both its first principal and the superintendent of the town’s public schools.

1880s Fort Moore Hill 1
This photo from the Homestead collection shows Los Angeles High School, completed in 1873, standing on Poundcake Hill overlooking the town.

Born in Kentucky in 1821, Lucky moved to Illinois as a teen and was a graduate of college there, where he also taught mathematics for two years.  He founded a high school and two colleges in Missouri and became an ordained Methodist minister.  In 1861, he moved to Vacaville in northern California to lead the Pacific Methodist College.  After five years, he served briefly as a high school principal and Oakland and then ran the state Normal School, a teacher’s college in San Jose (a second was later built in Los Angeles, where the Central Public Library now stands.)  He was also a chaplain at San Quentin Prison.

Lucky remained principal and superintendent in Los Angeles for three years and then resigned to visit the American centennial celebration at Philadelphia.  While returning, however, he became ill in San Francisco, and died there in August 1876.

In 1876, Los Angeles’ first growth spurt sputtered out when the economy tanked (including the failure of the Temple and Workman bank).  Six years later, the high school relocated to the new Normal School, mentioned above, while juniors attended at another location at Main Street near 2nd.  By 1885, the original two-story brick grammar school also doubled as the high school.

However, a much bigger boom, the famed Boom of the Eighties, took place in the last few years of that decade, necessitating a new, larger high school, which opened in 1891 on North Hill Street on Fort Moore Hill.  A quarter century later, in 1917, the school moved again to the mid-Wilshire district in west Los Angeles, where it will celebrate its centennial in that location next year.  Today, the student body numbers about 2,200 students, a far cry from the handful that included seven students in the first graduating class in 1875.

Notable alumni include author Ray Bradbury; actress Anne Baxter; four-term mayor Fletcher Bowron; modernist composer John Cage; singer Marilyn McCoo; actor Dustin Hoffman; city council member Rosalind Wyman; screenwriter Budd Schulberg; actor George Takei; and artist Linda Levi, among many others.

Look for more education-related items from the Homestead’s collection in future posts on this blog.


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