Carpinteria Union Grammar and High School

The Carpinteria Union Grammar and High School cut an impressive silhouette, but its grandeur couldn’t save it from an early demolition at 20 years young.

Editor’s note: This series on Carpinteria’s early schools originally ran in CVN in 2011. Previously published nstallments can be found at coastalview.com.

In the early 1900s, with the seats in its scattered schoolhouses filled, Carpinteria started paying close attention to a new educational trend catching on across the nation—consolidation. At that point each of Carpinteria’s little schools—Aliso, Ocean View, Rincon and Carpinteria—represented its own district, and each served 50 or 60 students living in close proximity.

As the first step toward consolidation, three of the four districts became one union district (Ocean View remained independent until 1920). The new district’s school board decided that a modern school would be built on property along the Old Coast Highway, land occupied today by the Carpinteria Community Pool. Bonds paid for the new school, which amounted to about $33,000 by the time the doors opened to students in the fall of 1913.

Coming from one-room schoolhouses, Carpinteria students were doubtlessly impressed by the new Carpinteria Union Grammar School. Measuring about 70 by 120 feet, the two-story building and surrounding schoolyard took up a full city block. The new school boasted a sewing room, a cafeteria, seven classrooms, a 300-person auditorium, drinking fountains, a library, a woodworking room and principal’s offices. “The completion of the structure marks the beginning of a new era in the educational life in the valley,” reported the Carpinteria Valley News in 1913.

In its first year open, Carpinteria Union Grammar School taught a total of 147 students through the ninth grade. Many of the classrooms held a combination of two grades—Carpinteria, though growing, was still a rural community with only about 10 to 20 children in each grade.

Before the new school opened, Carpinteria teens had no opportunity to complete their high school education without making the long commute to Santa Barbara or paying for a private education at one of the tiny schools that operated out of local homes (records are unclear as to when these little schools were opened and closed).

In its first year, the Union Grammar School taught ninth-graders, and each year thereafter the school added a new grade until grades one through 12 were offered. By then, the school was called the Capinteria Union Grammar and High School. The high school classes were so small that in 1916 the local newspaper reported that a new student, Vera Rasor from San Joaquin County, had increased the senior class by 50 percent. Vera and her two classmates were the first to graduate from the school in 1917.

The Union School’s success, however, was short-lived. On March 10, 1933, the Long Beach Earthquake hit Southern California, destroying 70 schools and damaging another 120 (luckily it hit outside school hours, and no children were injured). The earthquake’s epicenter was too far to cause any damage to Santa Barbara area schools, but its political aftershocks eventually led to the demolition of the Union School.

The state enacted the Field Act after the Long Beach quake, which required new schools be built with earthquake safety measures. The Carpinteria Union School had survived the devastating 1925 Santa Barbara earthquake unscathed, but school officials decided that it was too risky to continue educating local youth in the two-story structure. In 1936, the building was condemned and demolished, leaving local students without a brick and mortar school for the next couple years. In the meantime, a tent school went up; this unique era in Carpinteria education will be the subject of next week’s “Throwback Thursday.”

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.”

To learn more about Carpinteria’s unique and interesting past, visit the Carpinteria Valley Museum of History, open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at 956 Maple Ave.

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