In the 1880's, Fresno was in a period of tremendous agricultural and economic growth. There were a number of young people who wanted an education, and the people of Fresno realized that some type of institution for learning must be provided. A few secondary subjects were being taught in a building called the “White School”, but so few were accommodated that the classes could not be given legal status. In 1889, the city’s first high school was organized by T.L. Heaton and was named Fresno High School because is served all the high school age students in the Fresno area.

The first Fresno High School classes were held on September 12, 1889, on the second story of the K Street School (Emerson Elementary School) on the corner of Santa Clara and K (now Van Ness) streets. The student body consisted of 50 students, three teachers, and three grade levels (ninth, junior and middle). The senior class was formed a year later by those who passed the third level. At that time, it became a four-year school. T.L. Heaton, the superintendent of the Fresno City Schools, served as the first principal. The curriculum was classical, with four years of Latin as well as English, history, science and math. In June of 1891, the first commencement exercises were held in the Barton Opera House, on Fulton and Fresno streets with seven graduates, consisting of Olive Vogel, Russie Martin, Julie Roff, Mable Cory, DeWitt H. Grey, Edward F. Greeley and E. Leroy Chaddock.

When the school’s first home, the K Street School, became unsafe because of the instability of plaster ceilings, classes met for six weeks in the Old Congregational Church. Repairs made it possible to return to the K Street building for a short. A second condemnation made it mandatory for another move to a combination bathhouse and store building at the corner of N and Mariposa Streets. Finally, rapid growth forced relocation of the high school to new quarters in the Central (White) School, which stood on the present site of the Memorial Auditorium. This move in 1892, was only temporary, because plans for a permanent campus were underway.

As enrollment continued to grow, it became increasingly apparent that a larger campus was needed. Students even came from outside the local district and paid tuition so that they might obtained the quality education offered at Fresno High. A bond election was held and the site (city block) on O Street between Stanislaus and Toulumne Streets was purchased for $7750. Many parents thought the site was too far from town and that the site was too expensive. (Note: the block was sold in 1961 to Frontier Chevrolet Company for $287,000.) In September, 1896, the new O Street brick structure and the center part with it’s distinguishing clock tower, opened with a student capacity of 400 at a cost of $53,000. The building was equipped with a library, chemistry lab, gymnasium, and a theater-style lecture room. The Tuolumne Street addition was build in 1910-11; the shops in 1914-15; the Stanislaus addition in 1916-17. As years passed, the Fresno High School student body increased and in 1915, the O Street campus was declared overcrowded. Two other institutions were also holding classes on the site. Fresno Junior College started in 1910 and Fresno Normal School (became Fresno State College later) in 1911. This increase of the student body brought about the selection of another site outside the populated Fresno area located on Echo Avenue.

In 1919, to meet the needs of the schools increasing population, three classic architectural style buildings were designed for the N. Echo Campus. They would bear the names of Josiah Royce, American philosopher, Joseph LaConte, geologist and naturalist, and Alice Freedman Palmer, American educator. In the Fall of 1921, classes were moved to the new million dollar campus with a dedication of the buildings on February 18, 1922. After the move of Fresno High in 1921, the ‘Old’ high school was called Fresno Technical High School from 1921 to 1949, after which it ceased to exist. Fresno Junior College, occupying the same campus, was directed by high school principals from 1910 to 1949. Erwin Dann became it’s principal for one year in 1949-1950, followed by Mr. Blakley 1950-53, and Stuart White 1953-58.. Fresno Junior College remained in the same building as the high school until the ‘Old’ high school building was condemned and abandoned in the Fall of 1952, then demolished in 1953. The junior college was housed in temporary bungalow classrooms until 1958, when it was moved to the old Fresno State College campus at Van Ness and Weldon Avenues and became known as Fresno City College. Today the Cesar E. Chavez Adult Education Center stands on the ‘Old’ high school site.

Many changes have taken place over the years. Fresno High School has been both a three year and a four year high school. Alexander Hamilton Junior High School and Fort Miller Junior High School at times occupied sections of the school plant on Echo Avenue while their new schools were under construction.

During the 1960's as Fresno High School’s student enrollment increased, it became apparent that an expansion of the campus was needed. In the late 1960's, plans were made to meet the increase in enrollment. During the 1971-72 school year, Palmer and LaConte Halls, the gymnasium and the north and south wings of Royce Hall were demolished because they did not meet the earthquake standards of the Field Act. The south side of the campus was expanded to McKinley Avenue by the acquisition of two blocks of homes. While the new single story north and south replacement buildings and the new gymnasium were being constructed, Fresno High students attended the McLane High School campus during the afternoon session. In the Fall of 1972, students returned to the new Fresno High buildings and the remodeled Royce Hall.

Information compiled from various sources, some of which include: Fresno-Past & Present, FCCHS; Your Guide to Fresno High School, 1959-60; Fresno High School Owls, various years; and Fresno Bee newspaper articles.

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