This pamphlet does not pretend to be a complete history of Oakland High School. It is no more than a combination of various student papers, which were submitted in the spring semester of 1979 based on materials, which were available at the school. Because of these factors not all of the facets of Oakland High's history could be covered. Additionally, errors and misinterpretations may have been incorporated in the original papers and, by extension, into this work.
It is hoped, though, that the materials presented here will not only give a general view of Oakland High School throughout its existence of over one hundred years but will also give the students of "OHS" a feeling for the traditions of the institution.
Obviously thanks are due to all of the students who participated in the development of this project. Listing sixty-seven names is a bit more than seems necessary though. For those who are interested in such a list, check the enrollment for California History for the time period indicated above.
Finally, for those who discover that their favorite fact (or fiction) from Oakland High's history is not included or that an error in factual information has been made--contact the school and let us know. We may publish another edition of this in another fifty years.
Oakland High School: The First Hundred and Eleven Years
On July 12, 1869, twenty-nine students and one teacher, J. B. McChesney, met in one of the rooms of the old Lafayette Elementary School at 12th and Jefferson for the opening of a new era in Oakland's public education: a high school. This marked the founding of not only one of the first secondary schools in Northern California, but an institution which continues to exist to the present time.
As Oakland gained in population, size and importance due, among other things, to the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the single room became inadequate and Oakland High received its own structure. Located at 12th and Market, it was soon filled with seventy-five students and an additional teacher. This new "home," opening in the fall of 1871 continued in use until April 6, 1889 when it was destroyed by a fire. Investigation showed that the fire had been set by an arsonist but this information was of no value to the students and teachers who were now without a school. The student body was quickly relocated to a local synagogue through a rental agreement and was, additionally, placed at Hamilton Hall at the corner of 10th and Jefferson. Reconstruction of the old building was started and while the students attended the two sites improvements were planned for the re-opening. On October the fifth the school reopened. It remained open for sixteen days. Another fire, also caused by arson, burned down the second story and the students and teachers went back to Hamilton Hall.
The School Board, accepting what seemed to be inevitable, and also looking at the growth of the school population of Oakland, decided that rather than attempting to rebuild again, the High School should have a totally new structure: not only modern and up to date, but fireproof as well. After much discussion the cornerstone of the new building was laid in 1893 and construction continued for two years. Over $175,000 was spent in building and equipping the new school and when it was completed in 1895, it was one of the finest school structures in the United States.
Mr. McChesney, now in his seventy-sixth year, opened the doors of the new four story building in January of 1895 and Oakland High students finally had a home that would remain constant for the next thirty-four years. The "Old Brick Pile" on the corner of 12th and Jefferson became known throughout the region as one of the finest schools in the state, carrying on the academic traditions established from the beginning of the institution. The old building(s) had, after all, graduated such people as George C. Pardee, Class of 1875, who, along with Frank Merriam, '82, would be Governors of the State. William Starey, Class of 1877, President of the Western Pacific Railroad, Guy Earl, Regent of the University of California, Franklin Lane, Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of the Interior, Robert G. Sproul, President of the University of California, and Henry Melvin, a Justice of the California State Supreme Court. With this kind of tradition behind them the new school's students attempted to surpass what had gone on before.
As the population continued to grow in the city the need for additional high schools was soon seen and the Board of Education established a Polytechnic high school and, eventually, others based on the Oakland High model. Unfortunately for Oakland High, its location was now in the midst of the business district and the building itself was old and somewhat inadequate.
Civic pride was called upon and the citizens of Oakland responded with the recommendation that a new Oakland High School be constructed. One major consideration was that the new structure was to be moved out of the downtown area and closer to the center of probable student population above Lake Merritt. A site was chosen on the corner of Park Boulevard and Hopkins Street, construction was started in the mid-twenties and the new building was completed in June of 1928. Part of the new building was, in point of fact, an old building. The Susan B. Anthony Junior High School was revamped into science classrooms and tied into the new structure. Little expense was spared in making the new Oakland High an impressive building. The general impression when the construction was finished and classes moved into what was to soon be called the "Pink Palace" was that Oakland had received excellent value for the $780,000 that had been spent. The new school not only had a classical flavor, it was also richly covered in architectural detailing; guardian bears on the steps from Park Boulevard, battlements, pseudo-gothic spires, stucco reliefs of students reading, studying, playing games on the outer walls and a general feeling of impressiveness. Better still, the school had a football field. Dirt, to be sure, but a field.
The school opened in September of 1929 and remained in used through the Depression years of the thirties, the Second World War, the post-war years and was continuing into its forty-fifth year when news came from Sacramento that it was not earthquake proof--or at least that it might not be. By this time the school as well as the nation had gone through considerable changes. A series of industrial education shops had been added when the school district had decided that all Oakland high school should be comprehensive rather than specialized by the education offered; the school had received the gift of Ferris Court from the senior class of 1946, who had name it after the principal; a swimming pool had been built by the City of Oakland and was used by the Physical Education Department and the State of California had constructed the MacArthur Freeway virtually across the street.
With the earthquake safety problem and the overall age of the building to be considered, a decision was reached to consult the community as to what should be done. Essentially two choices were available: to rebuild the present structure to "safe" standards or to build a whole new school. A new school on the same site was decided upon and a firm of architects was hired to develop plans.
When these were eventually submitted to the School Board for approval, they were far too expensive for the monies budgeted for construction and the result was the replacement of the original architects by another firm. Between the original decision to build, the committees involved, the necessary approvals and the drastic pruning made necessary by cost overruns and inflation, the new building took a long time to get underway. At last construction was started and the new Oakland High is scheduled to open in the fall of 1980.
The new Oakland High will not really be new though. Any institution with over one hundred years of tradition and history will have developed a sense of itself. Whether this feeling will be continued at the new school is not altogether certain. It will depend upon the students and the opportunities available to them for carrying on in the spirit of Oakland High. One of the more important factors in this regard will be the publications, organizations and clubs operating, many of which have a long history at the school.
While no means an exhaustive list, the following may give some indication of the varied extracurricular activities available to students through Oakland High's history.
The Aegis was started in the fall of 1886 and has continued publication almost continuously since that time. Originally it was a combination yearbook and student magazine. Since that time the name has been retained by the bi-weekly newspaper while the yearbook has been re-titled The Oaken Bucket. The literary magazine, newest of the school's publications, is named Oak Leaves. All of these have received awards for excellence throughout the years.
Drama productions apparently started in a formal manner around the turn of the century. Originally they were presented by the drama club, "The Masquers" and this was continued for a number of years. Eventually the senior class began to give productions also. This led to some confusion and eventually "Term" plays were given with any member of the student body eligible to take part. Since 1900 plays from authors ranging from Shakespeare through Arthur Miller have been given, usually with excellent results. It has become traditional that the spring production be a musical comedy, given in collaboration with the Oakland High Music Department.
One individual who came out of the Oakland High drama program and became a success in show business is Ralph Edwards, noted as the host of the radio and television program "This is your Life." Mr. Edwards returned to his alma mater in 1944 for the Oakland High School seventy-fifty anniversary "Diamond Jubilee" and acted as host for a program that was attended by over 5,000 persons. Eddie Anderson, who played "Rochester" on the Jack Benny program is another who became involved in the drama program at Oakland High.
During the period when Paul W. Pinckney was principal (1947-1968), a determined effort was made by the school administration to increase the importance of both student organizations and student government. The school day was often organized around a "club period" and every student was expected to belong to at least one organization, which would meet his or her interests. Among the various clubs and organizations operating at different times in the school's history were: The Marquettes (for male students) and Monarces (for females) which were based on outdoor activities such as camping, The Chess Club, The Drewer Radio, The Congress Debating Society, Sound Crew, Youth Conference, Rally and Dance Committee, Honor Society, Audio-Visual Club, Acorn Council, The Block "O" Society (for individuals who "lettered" in sports), The Gold "O" Society, who not only had to win a block letter but win a scholarship as well, and Big Sisters. The Key Club, which was organized at Oakland High in 1934, continued on, and a sister organization, The Keywanettes, was formed in 1975.
During the last twenty years Oakland High has seen a drop in the total number of clubs available to students, although many new clubs have been formed to partially replace many of the organizations that fell by the way-side. Among these are the various Ethnic organizations such as The Black Student's Union (now Black Student's Coalition), The Asian Student Alliance, Filipino Students' Organization and the LaRaza, Mexican-American group. All of these groups have filled students' needs and have made presentations to the student body at various assemblies.
In addition to the club and organization emphasis, Mr. Pinckney was deeply interested in student government. Under his leadership Oakland High developed a form of student government that has been a model for many other institutions. In addition to the usual Student Body President and Cabinet, Oakland High has a Delegate Assembly made up of representatives from the various classrooms who meet to discuss student affairs. Generally, it is accurate to say that faculty and administrative interference in student government has been at a minimum over the years.
One area in which certain members of the faculty have taken an active interest in over the years is sports. Sports, both inter-mural and inter-scholastic, have been a basic part of Oakland High School for a very long time. Football, Baseball and Track were among the earliest forms of "official" competitions for Oakland High. Later, Basketball and Tennis were added. More recently, Wrestling, Golf, Badminton, Soccer, Swimming, Volleyball and interscholastic competitions for females have been added to the school's program. For a period Oakland High was even competing in Crew.
Although it is debatable who the greatest of Oakland High's sports heroes was (or is), some names stand out over the years: Frank Sobero from the class of 1930 who went on to All-American honors in football; Jackie Jensen, "The Golden Boy" of the forties, who not only went on to college fame at the University of California but has the distinction of being one of the two individuals in history who have played in both the Rose Bowl and The world Series. Zoe Ann Olsen, another Oakland High star of the forties, won an Olympic Silver Medal in swimming and eventually married Jensen. In more recent times, Ken McAlister, who was named an All-American in two sports in the same year, and Lloyd Moseby, who was chosen in the second round of the Baseball Draft, have carried on the winning tradition of the school. A check of the athletic records held by Oakland High students and graduates and the overall successes of the school's teams give testimony to the importance and interest shown by both students and faculty.
One other area in which Oakland High has competed for a number of years is in the ROTC program. This was started in 1920 and by 1922 had over one hundred "cadets" enrolled. By the start of World War II in 1941, the program had prepared a large number of young men for what was to be a bitter long struggle. After the war, ROTC continued and at the present time includes female cadets as well as males. As with the sports program, ROTC has been successful in its competitions.
Of course life at Oakland High School was not exclusively made up of clubs, organizations, sports and so forth. There were always the problems of fads and styles to deal with. By and large the students of the school managed to follow the fads set by the greater community and over the years, have involved themselves with goldfish swallowing, hot rods, anti-establishment views and other indications that they knew what society was doing. Fashions followed the same trend. Short skirts for female students were popular in the "Roaring Twenties" and came back, much shorter with the "Mini-Skirts" of the sixties. Male students can be seen today wearing what were called "Harvard Bags" in the twenties. When the school opened in 1869, it is assumed that the students wore adult attire and this trend was followed through the end of the "teens." This meant long, elaborate dresses for the female students and coats and ties for the male students. During the 1950's "chino" pants and angora sweaters tended to be the most popular items of apparel. The sixties showed the beginnings of the anti-establishment trend of the times in the clothing worn by Oakland High School students. "Love" beads, long hair for males, "Granny Glasses" and "psychedelic" fabrics were all popular. It is accurate to say that the typical Oakland High student over the years has dressed and acted much as other high school students in the Bay Area.
Oakland High School students have not followed the usual pattern in two important areas however. One is scholarship, the other is in maintaining a positive attitude towards not only education but towards Oakland High itself.
In the turmoil of the middle 1960's when other high schools in the area were plagued with violence, Oakland High School had no riots, no massive protests, no assaults and managed to continue about its business. This remarkable record can be seen as an indication that the students, the faculty and the administration all managed to agree that whatever occurred in the greater world, they would continue to get along with each other at school. What is even more remarkable about this is that the student population of the school was changing from a predominantly white to a predominantly minority racial composition. It would be untrue to say that there were no racial incidents during this changeover; it would also be untrue to say that it was accomplished without stress. What is true, though, is that the overall record was one of solving problems in a peaceful and low-key manner.
Perhaps the generally calm and academic atmosphere of the school can be attributed to the excellent record in scholarship established by Oakland High students. The school developed a fine reputation from a very early period and has continued this to the present time.
The first Oakland High was designed as a college preparatory school with little or no attention being paid to vocational education. As the years went on however, commercial courses and industrial training classes were added to the curriculum. Over the years, the totally academic, college bound program was increased by these additions until Oakland High was offering a wide range of courses in many subject areas. Generally speaking, the influence of the early years with its emphasis on excellence is still very strong.
Some of the credit for this must go to the faculty. While the school has changed from one room to many, and the faculty from one to over one hundred, there has been a consistent general excellence among the teaching staff who have tended to be very qualified in their subject fields and motivated to do good work. One indication of this is that the Oakland High faculty has a very high proportion of advanced degrees and has suffered fewer personnel changes over the past few years than most schools.
One faculty position has been especially important in giving Oakland High School students help in both entering college and getting scholarship help: the scholarship advisor. This has been an invaluable help to many students who have used the services provided and have received well over fifteen million dollars in scholarships since 1969. With the growing number of scholarships and grants available both from private and public sources, having a teacher who can spend considerable time with students helping them in this area is another indication of the Oakland High pursuit of excellence.
Since its first graduating class of 1869, Oakland High School has graduated in excess of thirty-four thousand students. Many of these have gone on to become highly successful in many fields of endeavor. Despite the changes that the years have brought to the school, new buildings, new fads, new academic areas, new faculty members and new administrators, Oakland High has continued to be a school with a great past and a great future.
The Pink Palace will be demolished in the summer of 1980 and, as has happened before, students and faculty will pick up and move to a new building. They will carry with them one hundred and eleven years of history and tradition--a history and tradition that has been outstanding in many respects. A history and tradition that has provided a "home" for learning as well as a place for enjoyment. A history and tradition of winning, both in athletics and scholarship. A history and tradition of tolerance for the ideas of others and inter-group understanding.
Good-bye Oakland High
Hello Oakland High
OLD OAKLAND HIGH
How fondly I have grown to feel for you,
These dear old halls, these panels dull with age,
These red brick walls that seem to live anew
the memories of long past, better days.
The low'ring hour shows that you stood the test,
and these old rooms, and glamour-laden nooks
that rung with echoes long since laid at rest,
tell stories like old, worn edged, dusty books.
Too soon the glorious echoes all shall die,
and I, for one, shall sadly turn away,
passing your dear, worn image by,
to greet what men would call a better day.
--Oakland High School Aegis