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Part 2 — The Age of the Vikings: La Jolla High School builds and expands a community

Belle Baranceanu's mural stood in the La Jolla High School auditorium before it was torn down in 1976.
An undated photo shows Belle Baranceanu’s mural that once stood in the La Jolla High School auditorium before it was torn down in 1976.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

This is the second part of a La Jolla Light series marking the school’s 100th anniversary. Many alumni marvel at all the changes on campus over the decades.

La Jolla High School, part of the San Diego Unified School District, opened in September 1922 and has remained an educational fixture in the community. This is the second part of a La Jolla Light series marking the school’s 100th anniversary.

Though its location a few blocks from the beach at Windansea hasn’t changed in 100 years, the campus of La Jolla High School has undergone significant modifications.

The school opened Sept. 18, 1922, at just under six acres for students in 10th through 12th grades. It expanded to ninth-graders in 1990.

La Jolla High School, part of the San Diego Unified School District, opened in September 1922 and has remained an educational fixture in the community.

LJHS now occupies 14.4 acres in The Village, serving about 1,300 students.

From new buildings to athletic venues, many alumni marvel at the changes.

“All my friends that come back [say] ‘Wow, this doesn’t look like the same place anymore,’” said Gary Frank, a member of the class of 1990.

Frank not only spent three years as a student at La Jolla High (the school added ninth-graders the fall after he graduated) but also has taught P.E. and coached baseball at the school for 27 years.

In the 30-plus years he’s been on campus, Frank has seen many new buildings. Adding the freshman class meant the school needed space for about 300 new students.

“All my friends that come back [say] ‘Wow, this doesn’t look like the same place anymore.’”

— Gary Frank, La Jolla High School class of 1990

A page from the 1971 La Jolla High School yearbook shows the campus that year (bottom) compared with decades before.
A page from the 1971 La Jolla High School yearbook shows the campus that year (bottom) compared with an undated shot from decades before.
(Courtesy of Beth Brust)

Where the Coggan Family Aquatic Complex now stands was once a compound of bungalow classrooms that were moved when construction on the pool began in 2002, Frank said.

The bungalows went to the lower field while the pool and new math and science buildings were put in, he said. That killed the grass and necessitated installation of artificial turf on the lower field once the bungalows were moved away.

Over the decades, older buildings were renovated and remodeled, the football field was redone and the locker rooms were rebuilt, Frank said.

“With technology, we’ve added … a spin room [indoor cycling] for more of a classroom-type setting for P.E.,” he said, and the weight room has been upgraded.

The school is “changing with the times,” Frank added.

Beth Brust (born Beth Wagner), a member of the LJHS class of 1972 who lives in La Jolla, has been noticing the changes over time and said the campus, which used to have vast open spaces, has a “whole different feel” now.

La Jolla High School, pictured in 1959, has undergone many changes in 100 years.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

One of the changes noticeable to those who attended La Jolla High during its first half-century is the absence of “Mural of the Seven Arts,” which Brust called “stylized and significant.”

The mural, painted in the school auditorium in 1940 by San Diego resident Belle Baranceanu, was approved as part of a federal Works Progress Administration program from 1935 to 1943 to fund visual arts projects nationwide.

Baranceanu also painted the 1930s-era La Jolla post office mural.

It took Baranceanu seven months to paint the 575-square-foot “Mural of the Seven Arts” in the auditorium.

A 1973 report from the San Diego Unified School District, which operates La Jolla High and four other schools in La Jolla, stated that one-third of the school’s structures, including classrooms, administration offices and the auditorium, were unsafe for earthquakes.

The auditorium, built in 1924, was demolished in 1976 with the other structures deemed unsafe.

Despite attempts to save it, “Mural of the Seven Arts” was sent to a landfill, though historian Carol Olten of the La Jolla Historical Society said drawings of the mural were saved by a private collector.

A 1976 photo shows "Mural of the Seven Arts" among the last part of La Jolla High School's auditorium to be demolished.
(Courtesy of La Jolla Historical Society)

The new auditorium wasn’t built until a few years later. Rising costs meant private donations needed to be raised.

LJHS and district funds paid for the stage and backstage portions of the new theater building. Donations from La Jolla philanthropic group Las Patronas, the La Jolla Civic Center Corp. and the Parker Foundation covered the rest.

The 500-seat Parker Auditorium opened in October 1980.

“Through all the changes, through all the growth, the core of the community of La Jolla is still the same and it’s such a tight-knit community,” Frank said.

The school’s gym is one of the most notable places in the district, he added. “When you walk in there, all the banners from all the championship teams are there from the 1920s all the way to now. I’ll take the baseball teams in there and [say] ‘It’s bigger than just you and what we’re doing right now. You’re part of a family, of something that’s bigger and deeper and richer.’”

Frank said he hopes students walking the campus now realize they are connected to generations past. “We’re all linked together. That’s pretty cool.” ◆