Polytechnic High School




50 Year History


Fifty Years.... We started calling this the "fifty year book" because we planned to talk just about the last half century. But once we started delving in the past, we couldn't stop, it seemed. We've had a long and inspiring history. We think you'll be interested, too, so here goes. Poly, really nearer eighty years old than fifty, grew from the old Commercial School established back in the sixties. Sometime between 1894 and 1897 (most authorities agree on 1895) technical subjects were added to the curriculum and the name of the school changed to Polytechnic.

Mr. Jordan joined us in 1899; the commercial students and teachers left in 1900 to found what is now the High School of Commerce and 150 of us were left in the old wood and brick buildings down on Stockton and Bush. The first issue of the newspaper, called "The Polytechnic" then, was issued in 1902. The editor addressed the students as "Pollywogs," and the most exciting story dealt with the chess contest with Lowell.

The fire and earthquake wrecked the old school; the graduates of 1906 got their diplomas at Golden Gate Park Music Stand, and the new enrollees in the Fall started classes in some borrowed quarters at the Affiliated Colleges. Shacks which had been used to house the homeless after the fire were moved to the west end of our present lot on Frederick Street, and Poly had a home of its own in 1908 to hold its 300 pupils and 19 teachers. No one who spent time in those shacks will ever forget them, built as they were on sand dunes with windows stretching from floor to ceiling.

The study hall particularly was a source of unending sport. The foundation was unstable and the occupants discovered that by a universal swaying it was possible to make the building rock back and forth. It is believed that at least eleven substitutes became mental cases after a day in those shacks. Class bells were rung by the hand of Mr. Jordan, so regularly, that it was generally believed that if he were absent there would be no school. The shacks were our homes until 1913, when the new shop building was erected and some of the luckier ones enjoyed it while the others paddled through wet halls and recited lessons to the accompaniment of rattles, creaks, umbrellas, and pneumatic hammers pounding on the walls of the Academic Building.

The remains of the shacks went up in the flames of a ceremonial bonfire celebrating the completion of new structure in 1915. Just 30 years ago the POLYTECHNIC was reborn from the old "Poly Spirit" which had appeared occasionally the previous year. During the flu epidemic, schools were closed and Poly teachers washed laundry in the county hospital; ex-Polyite Allan F. Bonnalie got the BDSO for extraordinary bravery in the air; we had 294 liberty stars in the service flag, including one for Yeomanette Marie Pike.

With the war well over, Poly got back to its rigid academic code, and in 1920 about 75 pupils were suspended on the ground that they "failed to make a passing grade in their studies." Calm descended until the new year when the president of the Board of Education declared: "Lipstick! I think it is the last word in bad taste..."

But times move on, and keeping up with them, Mr. Coon, teacher of a wireless course, declared in 1922 that he was sure radio was not "just a passing fad." Furthermore, he presented at the Open House a radio phone set as a "treat" because few people had ever seen one. In 1923 the girls' rifle team nearly topped the boys' record, and the following year Kezar was begun, and dedicated by ex-student body prexy James Ralph III. Dave Painter won the sixth annual Shakespearian contest at Cal; the following year, Dave Molinari earned the Hoover Cup for the best amateur radio station in the United States. Janet Gaynor got her diploma that year, too. Incidentally we can claim Paul Terry of "Terry Toons" and George O'Brien among our movie celebrities.

John Chuckanzess came right back in 1926 by being selected as the best high school orchestra conductor in America. The ROTC won one of its many commendations as the "best in the city." Attendance rose in leaps and bounds and the school planned for 1400 was soon carrying 2500 with a faculty list of 100. The entire ninth grade (400 of 'em) were stuffed into an old mansion at the corner of Stanyan and Carl Streets; they stayed there until the gym and music buildings were completed in 1929. During the thirties we went through the depression like everyone else. Nothing especially unusual happened, really, except that Betty Russell earned another first for Poly by winning her wings as the youngest commercial pilot in the United States* and we continued taking Championships in athletics and ROTC.

The second world war came along, and we lost a lot of our best in the fight for democracy. As we look back we find we have much to be proud of and we pledge ourselves here and now to live and work so that fifty years from now the journal class will be as proud of Poly and of Polyites as we are now.

* 21 Century Addendum: Helen Ritchey was the first documented and verified female pilot to be hired to fly as a pilot of a commercial scheduled passenger carrier when the U.S. carrier, Central Airlines, hired her on December 13, 1934. The pilots wouldn't allow her to join the all-male pilot union so she was forced to resign in October of 1935.


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