Getting Schooled with “The Poly Optimist,” the Los Angeles Polytechnic High School Newspaper, 4 April 1916

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

As noted in an earlier post on this blog, Los Angeles Polytechnic High School was founded in 1897 as a commercial branch of Los Angeles High.  For its first eight years, the school was situated on Beaudry Avenue to the west of Bunker Hill.  In 1905, it was relocated to the corner of Flower Street and Washington Boulevard and stayed at that site for some fifty years, during which the name was changed to John H. Francis Polytechnic, in honor of the school’s inaugural principal.  Finally, Francis Poly moved to Sun Valley in the eastern San Fernando Valley where it continues as a comprehensive high school.  The Washington Street campus is occupied by Los Angeles Trade Technical College, part of the city’s community college system.

It is always interesting to compare and contrast how people lived in earlier eras to how they do today and it can often be challenging to do this with teens, because of a lack of documentation.  One of the better sources, though, are materials generated from high schools, including yearbooks and school newspapers.  Today’s featured object from the museum’s holdings is the 4 April 1916 edition of The Poly Optimist, one of a set of eight issues in the collection from the mid-1910s.


Produced, as these usually were (and are), by the journalism class, the six-page publication reflects a myriad of activities coming towards the end of the 1915-16 school year.  The main headline was about a narrow victory by the Poly baseball team against its rival, Los Angeles High.

Played on the grounds of the latter school, which was still located on Fort Moore Hill, but moved the following year to its current location on Olympic Boulevard in the mid-Wilshire area, the game was something of an upset as Poly prevailed 8-7.  A statement inserted before the article, however, reported that the manager offered to forfeit the game because pitcher Ford Tally “has played Sunday baseball,” which appears to refer to playing games on the Sabbath which was either illegal or frowned upon through most of the country in those days.  The note, however, added that a Los Angeles High player was said to have done the same, so it was hoped “that the game [will] be [re]played later.”


Another front-page featured article was about the upcoming May Day event put on by the Girls’ League on, naturally, the first day of that month.  The article noted that “a dainty queen” was to be selected and that

the school grounds will be gayly decorated, a flower-decked throne will be erected upon the broad white front steps, overlooking the festivities, and the staid old flagpole will become a beribboned Maypole.

The school day was to be shortened so that the festivities could begin by a little before 2:30 and “games of all kinds, on both the boys’ and girls’ campus[es], will be played, after which the players and audiences will adjourn to the front of the main building.”  It is interesting to note the separate sections for the genders on campus.


Games included baseball, volleyball, basketball and tennis for the girls, followed by 3:15 with the procession of the queen and her court, heralds, and the athletic and gym clubs.  A maypole dance and song were to follow after which the queen was to leave her throne with her court and a Glee Club song and the singing of the school song would close out the festivities.

A third major article on the front page concerned an electrical engineering banquet the previous Friday in the school cafeteria.  Among the displays was “the loud-speaking wireless telephone, invented by Earl Hanson, a Poly graduate, and with which it was reported “any person standing one hundred feet from the phone can hear what is being said at the other end.”  A recent graduate, Leo Delsasso, exhibited an “oscillograph, an invention to show wave forms and characteristics of alternating electric current.”

20200404_133203 (2)

Among the speakers were a professor from the nearby University of Southern California, who talked about “The Promotion of Engineering Education” while another presenter, the district manager of Westinghouse Manufacturing Company, discussed “What is Expected of the Technical Graduate as He [not “She”] Enters the Business World.”  Music was provided by the Boys’ Glee Club and a mandolin orchestra.

Guests for the event included representatives from the American Institute of Electrical Engineering; the [Southern California] Edison Company; the city electrician; the dean of Throop Institute of Pasadena, soon renamed the California Institute of Technology; and the Pacific Light and Power Company.


For the arts, there was a discussion of a concert given the prior Thursday by a violinist, pianist and bartione singer, two being Poly graduates and the third a former student in the city.  It was noted that “selections were picked which could be appreciated by the average high school student” and included works by Wagner, Fritz Kreisler, as well as some popular tunes.  Vocalist Fred McPherson sung two encores due to the popularity of his singing, but violinist Jamie Overton followed and also came out for a pair of encores “and even then the audience was not satisfied” with having the performance end.  Another article cited some of the many humorous bits of dialogue in a rehearsal of the popular Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, Pirates of Penzance.

The sports section contained more about the baseball team and its chances of winning the Southern California championship, but there were a number of challengers, including Lincoln High in Lincoln Heights (formerly East Los Angeles) and San Pedro High in the city, while regional rivals included Pasadena, Pomona, Redlands and Whittier highs.


The following Friday, Poly was to play Lincoln at the Downey Playground near the latter school.  It was added the Poly’s home diamond at Washington Park cater corner to the school was no longer available because “the magnates [who own it] desire a bag full of shekels for the use of the park, while the ground keeper will not allow us to play unless he is to occupy a box and throw pennies at the players.”

Another main athletic article concerned for the Southern California high school track and field championships and it was noted that Manual Arts High “threw cinders in the eyes of a horde of other scantily-clad but valiant representatives of rival schools” to claim the title with more than double the points of nearest challenger, Pasadena High, while Poly tied for eighth with two other schools.


A name listed among “several ambitions ‘preps'”, including Poly’s best runner, Baxter Loveland, was simply given as “Paddock.”  This was a 16-year old star sprinter from Pasadena High named Charley Paddock, who went on to achieve fame at U.S.C., won the 100 and 200 meter titles at an international meet in Paris (leading many to call him the fastest man in the world), a three-time medalist (two golds and a silver) at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp. Paddock’s 10.4 seconds in a 100 meter race at Redlands the following year was not topped for nine years (the current record is just under 9.6 second.)  He took a silver in the 200 meters in 1924, his last Olympics appearance.

The issue’s editorial was a call for a campus swimming pool, which was considered a shame because Poly had the largest student body in Los Angeles, but “has to send its proteges to the Y.M.C.A., Bimini [Baths], or the [Los Angeles] Athletic Club.”  The lack of a pool was considered damaging to school spirit and prowess in water sports and the piece concluded by observing, “from now till the sands of time turn into sugar, the Poly students will be returning and looking forward expectantly to the time when a swimming pool graces Poly’s grounds.”


On the back page is a contribution by staff cartoonist Paul Krempel, who turned out to be a talented gymnast as well as an artist.  Krempel, whose architect father, John Paul, designed the Los Angeles Times building that was bombed in 1910 as well as the eclectic home of the paper’s publisher Harrison Gray Otis among many others, appeared in the 1920 and 1928 Olympic Games (the latter at Amsterdam), finishing as high as seventh place on the rings and was a judge in the 1932 games here in Los Angeles.  Krempel ended up working as an artist in the film industry in Hollywood.

Other contents in the paper include bits of humor and poetry; a call for some students not to arrive on campus too early “for the sake of our janitors, who are not afflicted with any such 4 a.m. mania [for waking up];” changes to a musical program from the Ionian Club; the adventures of a teacher learning to drive; and brief notes about students and faculty, including one that the Girls’ League officers and faculty adviser “have received an invitation from the girls of the Puente High School to go on a hike” the following Saturday.  Perhaps that excursion with students from a school that opened the prior year, 1915, was to be in the Puente Hills?


Finally, as was noted in the previous post featuring one of the Poly Optimist issues, it is remarkable how many advertisements are found in the paper.  One section, headed “Amusements” includes ads for local movie theaters, for the Los Angeles Roller Skating Rink on Broadway between 10th and 11th streets, for Echo Park (ideal for “moonlight boating parties”), and others.

Other ads are for opticians, grocers, sporting goods, ice cream parlors, and Cline-Cline Company, which offered its “convincingly different” bathing suits with a young model displaying a silk and wool model selling for $6.00.


As stated at the outset, publications like the Poly Optimist are among the best sources for information on teens in the Teens and we get a flavor of what high school students were up to as notable comparisons and contrasts to their descendants a little over a century later.

Leave a Reply