HISTORY MATTERS…Public Education in San Marino

Today San Marino boasts four of California’s best public schools. In this community of highly educated adults education is, and has always been, a high priority. Leonard Rose Jr. recalled attending school as early as 1867, a school in the countryside among a grove of oak trees. Joseph Heslop and his wife Francesa, the daughter of Michael White, had donated an old adobe on two acres of land for a school. Although only 20 children attended this school on the southeast corner of Huntington Drive and Del Mar Avenue, it marked the beginning of San Marino’s commitment to education.

This was an era of growth in Southern California and a new facility was soon needed. In the 1890s Washington School was built on San Marino Avenue to serve the expanding population of children in San Marino and surrounding areas. All that remains of that three-story structure is the bell that signaled the start of the school day. Future general George Patton rode his horse two miles to attend Washington School.

San Marino incorporated in 1913 and within four years it was time for our very own school district. Children between 5 and 17 now numbered over 50. In 1917 ,the Mayberry House at Oak Knoll and Monterey Road was rented from the Huntington Land and Improvement Company for $35 a month. Sixty-five students between the ages of 5 and 17 attended. The first, second and third grades met in the dining room, the fourth and fifth grades met in an upstairs bedroom and the sixth, seventh and eighth grades met in the living room.

Another surge in population followed World War I and the newly formed San Marino School District acquired a five-acre portion of the Cooper ranch to build the city’s first grammar school. Located on the south side of Huntington Drive, the San Marino Grammar School cost $39,258 to build. In February 1918, school opened with four classrooms, an auditorium, library and rooms for cooking, sewing and manual arts. In the first year, 41 students attended. This school was later renamed Henry E. Huntington Middle School.

In 1928, as the result of a 600 percent increase in student population, Stoneman Elementary School was constructed at Granada and Huntington Drive, land once owned by former Governor George Stoneman. San Marino children attended Stoneman School until 1983 when the district closed the school due to insufficient funding from the state and a decline in student enrollment.

During the 1930s Depression, the federal Works Progress Administration (WPA) built an addition to Huntington School to accommodate more students. The extension was built parallel to Huntington Drive and joined the original structure by means of a long tile-roofed corridor. The new addition opened in 1938 to 400 elementary-aged children and was named William L. Valentine School after one of the city founders.

Post-World War II population growth raised the need for a third grammar school. In 1947, construction began on an 18-acre property along Huntington Drive, between Winston and Gainsborough. The land was purchased in 1928 for $125,000 to build a future high school. Addressing 1947 needs, the district built a school for Kindergarten through fifth grade, K. L. Carver Elementary School, named for a 19-year school board member. Students attended this facility until the “new” K. L. Carver School was completed on San Gabriel Boulevard in 1955. The young students moved to the new site making room for incoming high school students.

The San Marino School District, organized in 1917, served children in Kindergarten through eighth grade. High school students attended Alhambra, Pasadena or South Pasadena high schools. In 1921, San Marino voted to partner with South Pasadena and form a new high school district with its campus in South Pasadena. This arrangement continued for three decades until San Marino declared the two cities “hopelessly incompatible.” A major dispute developed over repairing buildings damaged by the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. The bond measure for repairs failed due to lack of support by South Pasadena and San Marino chose to go its own way. Once they received approval from the State Board of Education, an election was held and the San Marino Unified School District created.

With resident’s approval, San Marino High School was set to welcome its first freshman class. Property purchased in 1928 for a future high school now had a relatively new, but empty, elementary school on it. A science wing, an auditorium and a swimming pool were added. During construction, these freshmen attended classes in the district office and at Huntington School. In June 1956, they were the high school’s first graduating class.

By the 1970s, enrollment had grown to over 3000, however growth was stalled. By 1980, the district confronted two significant issues – declining enrollment and compromised funding as a result of the passage of Proposition 13. By 1983, the district reluctantly closed Stoneman School, assigning all elementary students to Carver and Valentine Schools.

Throughout our history the community has played an important role in education. As programs and services were being cut, the community came to the rescue. In March 1980, the San Marino Schools Foundation was created to raise money to balance the district’s budget. They did more than balance the budget though. Generous community support allowed the district to move into the “new” technological age with upgraded science labs and computer technology. The foundation’s annual fund raising drive helped the district survive and prosper.

Few communities are fortunate to have the support of such an organization. Since its inception in 1980, the foundation proved we are a community dedicated to academic excellence. But there is more to good education than raising money. In spite of challenges facing education today, our district has a highly skilled, committed teaching staff, a diverse and talented student body and enthusiastic parents who annually donate numerous hours of volunteer service to the schools.

The Board of Education approved a Master Plan in 1988 to implement facility projects, faculty and staff enhancements, and program improvements to keep in tune with the changing times. Funding of $2.5 million was needed and a Major Gifts Campaign began. “Building Excellence for the 21st Century” began construction and modernization projects at all sites in 1996. Twenty years later the district is again moving to implement changes in facilities and programs to ensure San Marino schools continue to excel.

Do you have a story of historic interest for San Marino? Send comments and suggestions to historyofsanmarino@gmail.com