Getting Schooled at Puente Union High School, 1928

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

One of the best ways to learn about what young people are like at any given point in time is through school yearbooks.  Today’s “Getting Schooled” entry looks at the yearbook of Puente Union High School (now La Puente High) from 1928.

At the time, the area known as Puente (it was not until incorporation in 1956 that the name “La Puente” was used) was a sparsely populated rural region.  Citrus and walnut orchards comprised much of the local landscape and the town was basically located north of Valley Boulevard, east of today’s Hacienda Boulevard, south of Temple Street, and west of what was called “P-Hill” or “Puente Hill.”  There was a small downtown of a few blocks in both directions with a couple of local banks, the hardware store, a small department store, a bakery, and other small businesses.

The title page to the 1928 edition of Imagaga, the student yearbook from Puente Union High School, now La Puente High.

When it came to education, there were two grammar schools, one called Hudson and the other Central.  Simply put, Central was for “Mexican” students and Hudson for “white” children, a strange artifact of the era, especially because, when it came to high school, there was just the one for all students.

Puente Union High was opened in 1915 with a Mission Revival style of architecture that was quite a showpiece for an agricultural town “in the sticks” twenty miles from Los Angeles.  The population grew slowly but steadily over the years and the high school’s student body correspondingly rose, though nowhere near modern suburban levels.  The student body was not far above 200 at the school in 1928!

A sample page of the listings of graduating seniors, including Alfonso Duarte, middle left, who lived at the Homestead then owned by his great-uncle, Walter P. Temple.  Alfonso died in a 1931 truck accident in Puente and was buried in the mausoleum at El Campo Santo at the Homestead.

The nickname for Puente High was the Warriors, which was intended to be a tribute to native Indians, though many today might question the use of the term.  The yearbook was called “Imagaga,” which, evidently, was supposed to sound like an Indian word.  Note on the title page below the yearbook name is the phrase “To Give Happiness,” though there is no such word known.

In any case, flipping through the yearbook’s pages we can see many different aspects of teenage life in the Flapper Age of the Roaring 20s, from hairstyles and clothing fashions to the lingo used by student yearbook staff members in their articles and by students in their inscriptions.   What might be seen and heard by teens in rural Puente could be very different, presumably, from their counterparts in urban Los Angeles.

The student body officers page, which included the listing of adviser and vice-principal, S. Chester McIntosh.  McIntosh, who joined the faculty in 1919 became principal in 1932 and had a long career at the school.

Reading about the clubs, athletic teams, and activities, though, you find pretty commonplace aspects of the era’s high school experience, some of which translates more or less to modern schools.  It is interesting, however, to note that Puente High’s boys basketball team won their league championship, even as most of the game scores have teams scoring in the 20s and 30s.  By contrast, nearby Chino Hills High School, ranked in the top five teams in America, rolled up 136 points in a recent game!

Another notable element in the yearbook related to sports had to do with Henry Lassalette, who was a star track and field athlete, specifically a champion high jumper.  Lassalette cleared 6 feet 4 1/2 inches in a meet to establish an intramural world record.  He went on, after graduation, to compete for the Los Angeles Athletic Club and become the American national champion and tried out for the 1932 Olympic Games held in Los Angeles, though he did not make the cut.

Star high-jumper Henry Lassalette set an interscholastic world record in 1928, became a national champion the next year while with the Los Angeles Athletic Club, and competed in the 1932 Olympic trials, though he did not make the track team for the Los Angeles games.

Whether it is the yearbook staff, Spanish Club, Girls League, orchestra, glee clubs, or others, there were plenty of activities to keep school spirit at high levels.  Notably, the orchestra conductor, Benedict Bantly, taught the Temple children, who went to private rather than local schools, their music lessons when they were home.  Some twenty or more years ago, I conducted an oral history with two of the Bantly children, which would make a good post for this blog someday.

Alfonso Duarte, whose grandmother Margarita Rowland was the sister of the Homestead’s owner, Walter P. Temple and who had a house on the western edge of the ranch along Turnbull Canyon Road, was a senior in 1928.  He went to work in the area as a truck driver, but, in 1931, was killed in an accident.  Alfonso was buried in the mausoleum in the Workman and Temple family cemetery, El Campo Santo, though he is not identified on the crypt plate.

Orchestra conductor Benedict Bantly, whose two daughters were in the ensemble, also taught the Temple children music when they were home from their private school during the last half of the 1920s.

The Homestead collection includes a number of Puente High yearbooks from the 1910s and 1920s, as well as yearbooks from schools through the Los Angeles region from about 1900 to 1930.  More of these will be highlighted in future posts in the “Getting Schooled” series.

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