The San Ramon Valley High School

San Ramon Valley Historical Society Plaque #17

Parents who wanted their children to have a high school education in the San Ramon Valley, managed to have the County’s first high school from 1860-1868, the Union Academy.  This Academy was a boarding high school (with day students) initiated by the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and built between in Alamo and Danville along the County Road.

The three-story Academy was the largest valley building of that period, an accomplishment which was remarkable for its time. Its curriculum was based on the advanced San Francisco School Department academic standards which sometimes meant the rural parents found certain aspects such as music instruction and calisthenics difficult to understand. In 1861 George McCamley's San Ramon farm diary talks about going to church and to other events in the “School House.”

Drawing by John S. Hamel, based on descriptions of the Union Academy

According to the Contra Costa History of 1882, "It had a short life, and died a natural death; it was too far in advance of the times and the wants of the community who then resided in the beautiful San Ramon valley." The Academy burned down in 1868 during school vacation.

For forty years, high school, students were sent to board in Oakland, Berkeley or San Francisco. R.O. and Mary Baldwin's son Robert went much further and became a physician. William Langdon went to Sycamore and San Ramon grammar schools, received a higher education and ultimately became a California Supreme Court Justice.

In 1909, citizens from the Danville Grange set up a committee charged with organizing a public high school in the valley. After much discussion, a year later voters from the Alamo, Danville, Green Valley, San Ramon and Sycamore Grammar School District formed the San Ramon Valley Union High School District.

A teacher and principal were hired and school began in a Danville house in 1910. Thirty students attended, using three rooms. Six courses were taught at first: commercial, history, English, German, mathematics and physical geography. In 1912 a fourth room was added for a chemistry and physics laboratory.

Just east of this house, the Grange and International Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) built a new Social and Fraternal Hall late in 1913. This hall hosted the high school graduation of five girls the following spring; they were the first students attend San Ramon Valley Union High School for 4 full years. The new Fraternal Hall left vacant the old IOOF hall which was upstairs in a building owned by Lillian Close on Front Street. After some renovations, the high school’s 48 students and 4 teachers moved to the three new rooms on August 10, 1914.

The School Board had been searching for a new high school site and, in 1915, they settled on a 10 acre location just north of the village of Danville. A $15,000 bond for the school passed by 254-7 in 1916. Architect Norman R. Coulter was hired, the school was built and classes began in March of 1917.

This handsome mission-style school was built around a court. The Contra Costa Gazette for Feb. 15, 1917, said “…the trustees plan to make it a model agricultural high school. It is located in the center of a 20-acre orchard.” In 1920 Tassajara and Highland students joined the District.

San Ramon Valley Union High School  1948
San Ramon Valley Union High School 1948

Gradually more buildings were added to the campus: home economics (1927), shop (1936), gym (1939), sport fields. In 1949 the original building was declared unsafe, a bond act passed for $250,000 and the building was taken down the next year. In 1950 the new classroom building was ready as were more athletic fields. Other additions were: 4 tennis courts (1951), more classrooms (1951), music building (1953), swimming pool (1953), more classrooms (1953-54) and new boys’ gym (1957.)

The valley’s population had hovered around 2000 for the first part of the twentieth century, but after World War II the numbers swelled. In 1950 there were 4,630 people, in 1960 – 12, 702, in 1970 – 28,090, in 1975 41,095. The 1951 elementary population was Alamo 302, Danville Union 675 and San Ramon 50, according to the Walnut Creek Courier.  Total school population was 7,200 in 1968 and 14,500 in 1985. New schools were built to meet the new residents’ needs.

In 1964, the SRV Unified School District was created by voters in the two grammar school districts, one union school district and one high school district. The new District had six elementary schools, one and one-half middle schools and one high school. Two new high schools were built soon after -- Monte Vista High School in 1966 and California High School in 1973. With unification came a whole new era in valley schooling.

On August 8, 2003, the SRV Historical Society dedicated plaque #17 in front of the high school.

 

By Beverly Lane 2019

 

Sources

 ~Butz, Inez, The Founding and Early Years of the San Ramon Valley Union High School, Danville, California; talk on May 1, 1984; Contra Costa County History Center: notebooks on schools; Histories of Contra Costa County 1882 (p. 434, Union Academy) and 1926 (p. 31, attendance figures; Jones, Virgie V., Historical Persons and Places … in San Ramon Valley (1977); Museum of the San Ramon Valley: school archives; George McCamley Farm Diary (1861, San Ramon); Newspapers: Contra Costa Gazette 3-11-1875; Walnut Creek Courier 9-27-1951