Main School opened in the winter of the 1938-1939 school year, much to the relief of teachers and students who had spent the last two and a half years in tent classrooms. The tent school, erected in 1936 when the two-story Union Grammar and High School was condemned after being deemed unsafe for large earthquakes, proved to be cold in the winter, hot in the summer and dusty year round.
In June of 1938, district officials contracted for the construction of a new school at a cost of $91,900 with labor provided by the Public Works Administration. Funding came from a bond election, which voters supported in August of 1937 after a failed attempt earlier that year.
When the doors to the new school opened in 1938, the entire student body, led by the principal and three-time Olympic medalist Frank Wykoff, ran to the new school site on the 5200-block of 8th Street from the tent school on the 5300 block.
Technically the new school maintained the name Union Grammar and High School, but the community had started referring to the former school as the Main School, and that name stuck when the new school opened. Dr. Jim Campos, who was the principal at Main School when it closed in 2007, wrote about its history in the Carpinteria Valley Historical Society’s newsletter, “The Grapevine,” that year. Campos reasoned that the name Main School did not become official until the late 1960s.
Lescher Dowling, who attended the tent school and then the new Main School, recounted the transition in his contribution to the “The Grapevine.” “Moving into this new school was quite an adventure, with the smells of fresh paint, the strange odors of floor tile and wonder of wonders, water fountains in the hallway,” he stated.
In the tent school, students worked at tables of six, and Dowling recalled the novelty of having his own desk again as well as the pride of having helped to select the model. “Unlike the cast iron and wood desks we left behind in the old grammar school, these new desks were modern with chrome trim, still tubular legs, light maple tops and adjustable seats,” he wrote. “The new desk style was chosen by popular vote of the student body.”
Segregation was in effect in the Carpinteria school district during these years, and Aliso School served the Mexican students while Main School served the rest of the valley’s children. By then, a separate high school had been constructed along the Coast Highway—today’s Carpinteria Middle School.
Students from kindergarten to eighth grade attended Main until the late 1950s, when the campus was converted into a junior high school. At that point, Aliso, which was integrated in 1947, and Canalino School housed the elementary students.
The Foothill Road high school campus opened in 1964, which shifted the junior high school from Main to its current facility. Main returned to its original purpose as an elementary school, which it remained for the next 33 years.
In 2006, however, the Carpinteria Unified School District board of education voted to close Main School under the weight of budgetary pressures. Declining enrollment had substantially reduced district numbers, the recession loomed large, and the district decided that the cost of maintaining three Carpinteria elementary schools outweighed the benefits. The board’s controversial vote rocked the community, but despite an attempted reversal in early 2007, the original decision stuck. Main School shut down in June of 2007.
For the next few issues of Coastal View News, “Throwback Thursday” will continue to cover the history of Carpinteria schools. Much of the information presented in the series is from Jayne Craven Caldwell’s in-depth history of Carpinteria schools included in her book “More about Carpinteria As It Was.”