By Katherine Hon
It’s September! If you’re a student, that means it’s time for new school supplies, new friends and new assignments. (And maybe some new clothes and shoes, which was always my favorite back-to-school ritual.) For the North Park Historical Society, it’s time for nostalgia about original school architecture and old school traditions. What better way to indulge in that ritual than to raid our photograph archives for community donated snapshots of days gone by?
McKinley Elementary School on Felton Street has an active alumni group and a fine collection of memorabilia. Their traditional format for class pictures includes a photograph of the original school built in 1924. When shown a photograph of this classic building, current fifth-graders guessed it was a museum, or maybe the headquarters of the historical society (we wish!). They were amazed to learn it was their original school, which was designed by famed architects Richard Requa and Herbert Jackson.
The original McKinley School was demolished in 1973, during the Southern California wave of demolition and replacement in the name of earthquake safety. Too many other early San Diego school buildings also were lost in the 1970s, including San Diego High School, the “Gray Castle,” which was built in 1907 and torn down in 1975. Hoover High School, with its distinctive tower that became the site of Tower Book signings with the first graduating class, was constructed in 1929. On June 18, 1976, the tower fell to a two-ton wrecking ball that had to swing more than a dozen times to bring the structure down.
Old photographs are a fun way to ponder activities that seem quaint and even inexplicable by today’s standards. Are the students in their sailor suits and rompers practicing cheerleading stunts, or simply participating in a physical education class? What game are the circles of youngsters playing under the careful monitoring of the teacher? Without a date or other labels on the photographs, it is hard to know. But there is no confusion about the dedication and pride exhibited by the 1938 group of safety-patrol boys neatly dressed in their distinctive caps and sweaters. Helping assure that students crossed streets safely has long been an honor in schools throughout San Diego county.
For more photographs and history of North Park’s schools, see the North Park Historical Society’s latest book, “Images of America: San Diego’s North Park,” published by Arcadia Publishing Co. in 2014. This book, which tells the story of North Park from 1900 to now, is available in North Park at the Paras News newsstand, Kaleidoscope and North Park Hardware.
Also, the North Park Historical Society is building a “community scrapbook” page on its website, NorthParkHistory.org. If you have a photograph or other memorabilia we could scan and then return to you, we would like to share it on the website. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 619-294-8990 to share your documentation of days gone by.
—Katherine Hon is the secretary of the North Park Historical Society. Reach her at email@example.com or 619-294-8990.