by Frank Dunnigan
The OSFH photo archives contain a variety of images of San Francisco schools from the past—some of which are still in operation and some of which are no more. Many schools originally built in the years after World War I have undergone refurbishment and are still busy places in this millennium. A couple of weeks ago, I took a look at some of those schools in the western neighborhoods. Let’s take a look back at some scenes from the past across the rest of San Francisco.
The daily routine was similar in most schools—assigned seating, public safety posters, and the ever-present aroma of library paste and dozens of bagged lunches lined up the in “cloakroom”—along with the annual class photo. Shown here is the Low-4th Grade at Edward Robeson Taylor School on May 4, 1954. The school, opened in 1924 in the Portola neighborhood, was named for a San Francisco Mayor who had died in 1923. Today, it is a Pre-K-5 school with 600 students.
A co-ed group of Mission High ROTC students poses at the school in 1974. The broken windows remind us that the Mission High campus, built in 1925, was closed from 1972-1977 for an earthquake retrofit project that was made more complex by the fact that Mission Creek runs beneath the building. Mission students were temporarily attending classes at the then-closed Polytechnic High School campus on Frederick Street near Kezar Stadium while the work on the Mission campus was being completed.
The Commerce High football team, The Bulldogs, won the City-wide championship in the school’s final year of 1949-50. The field site was the former location of St. Ignatius Church and College (now USF) from 1880-1906. It remained open space for years after Commerce High’s closure until construction of the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall which was completed in 1980. Shown here, players in the 1949 East-West Shrine Game used the Commerce field for practice in December 1949.
Hanging out with friends before and after class, was a time-honored tradition then and now. This group of girls attended Galileo High School in 1929. Founded 101 years ago in 1921, the school has been known as Galileo Academy of Science & Technology since the 1995-96 school year and currently serves about 2,000 students.
McAteer High, named for a popular state senator who died at a young age in 1967, was built at the northeast corner of Portola Drive and O’Shaughnessey Boulevard and operated from 1973-2002. The buildings, which replaced a golf driving range, are now used by two newer public high schools, The Academy @ McAteer and the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts.
The office staff took care of adminstrative matters such as absences, student records, and disciplinary issues. School offices were often staffed by long-serving employees and administrators such as these two ladies at Grattan School in May of 1955.
Many San Francisco students walked to school on a daily basis, circa 1950. This street has now been buried beneath the US-101 freeway, constructed in the area later in the 1950s.
School busing was in place at private schools in San Francisco before being implemented in public schools. Here, many of the students at St. Paulus Lutheran School at Gough & Eddy Streets came from many different neighborhoods by a privately-operated school bus. Sadly, the church in the background was destroyed by fire in 1995. After many years as a vacant lot, a new high rise residential building, with a replacement house of worship contained within the new structure, broke ground in 2019, with completion of the new building scheduled for 2023.
Students from James Denman Junior High School (now Denman Middle School) had no on-site auditorium for assemblies, thus requiring the entire student body to walk several blocks to use the facilities at Balboa High School, as shown here in a posed publicity photo in 1948. Denman’s facilities were later expanded.
Population shifts led to the closure of many small Catholic girls’ high schools after World War II, including St. Peter’s (1966), Notre Dame des Victoires (1970), Star of the Sea (1985). When Catholic boys’ high schools in San Francisco converted to co-education, beginning with Sacred Heart in 1987, most of the Catholic girls’ high schools experienced declining enrollment numbers that led to many more closures—including St. Rose (1990), Presentation (1991), St. Paul’s (1995), and Mercy (2020). Notre Dame de Namur, shown here in 1930, was closed in 1981 and has since been renovated into a senior living facility.
Many San Francisco school buildings constructed during the years just after World War I, have stood the test of time remarkably well, often with just basic maintenance and some earthquake retrofits. San Francisco’s first Asian public school teacher, Alice Fong Yu, (for whom an Inner Sunset school was named in the 1995-96 school year) taught at this building in 1926. In 1998, this school was re-named for former San Francisco Supervisor Gordon J. Lau. Shown here in 1963 on Washington Street near Powell in the Chinatown neighborhood, it has since been expanded and is now a K-5 school with about 700 students.
The end of the school year is eagerly anticipated by students and teachers alike—as with these Commerce High attendees in June of 1939. After the school was permanently closed in 1950, the building has housed SFUSD administrative offices while the former playing field has been home to the Louise M. Davies Symphony Hall since 1980.