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Home > Lowell Alumni Newsletter > History : First Quarter Century

The First Quarter Century
Lowell High School from 1900 to 1925

There were 65 graduates in the Class of 1901: 42 boys and 23 girls.
  • John R. Cahill '01 founded the Cahill Construction Company and left much of the San Francisco skyline as his legacy: Bank of California, Wells Fargo Bank, S.F. Hilton & Tower, Huntington Hotel, and St. Mary's Cathedral at Geary and Gough Streets.
  • William C. Crittenden '01, UCB, was in the Pioneer Class of American Rhodes Scholars (first from California), 1904. He read at Trinity College, Oxford.
A 19th Century high school phenomenon continued into the 20th - Fraternities & Sororities. Turn-of-the-Century Annuals contained group pictures of the school's sororities and frats. The 1904 yearbook had photos of five fraternities and three sororities.

By 1909, all reference to the societies in school publications had disappeared just as surely as three-quarters of the city had vanished three years before. The reason - a communication from the Supt. to the students of Lowell High School, "A law passed by the State Legislature in March, 1909, makes it unlawful for any pupil, enrolled in any elementary or secondary school to join or become a member of any secret society, fraternity, sorority, or club. Failure to comply may result in suspension or expulsion." Suspicions are strong that the societies went underground and were social and political forces on campus well into the Fifties . . . but that's another story.
  • Milton B. Badt '02 was Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court.
  • Sam Hellman '02, UCB, editor of The Lowell and of Cal's Daily Californian, was a screenwriter: The Three Musketeers, Frontier Marshall, and several Shirley Temple films.
  • Walter DeLeon '02, editor of The Lowell. UCB, wrote campus musicals at Cal. Hollywood screenwriter: Union Pacific, Tugboat Annie films, and screenplays for Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, George Burns and Jack Benny.
1903 - Lowell changed from a three-year to a four-year course of study (until 1962 when it returned temporarily to a three-year school. In 1978 the ninth grade was restored. At this writing in 2002, the school offers four years of study).
  • Cedric Cerf '05 was the captain of both the Lowell AND Cal football teams.
In 1905 the Scroll & L Honor Society was founded by student, Cedric Cerf, and teacher Archibald Cloud (who became president of City College; Cloud Hall on the college campus honors him).
  • Walter Haas '05 became President/Bd. Chrm. of Levi Strauss Company. The Haas Graduate School of Business on the Cal campus honors him.
April 18, 1906 - An earthquake and fire destroyed much of San Francisco. Lowell that was located on Sutter Street between Gough & Octavia was spared by the fire that was stopped 2 blocks away at Van Ness Avenue. Graduation ceremonies were held in Golden Gate Park. Girls High on Stockton Street was burned to the ground. For the next three years Boys & Girls High students shared the Sutter Street building while Girls High was being rebuilt.

  • Edith Pence '07 was a Lowell student and editor of The Lowell when the earthquake struck. She went to Cal, became a Lowell teacher, SFUSD administrator, the last principal of Girls High in the late Forties, and the only female principal of Lowell High School, 1950-1955.
  • Dr. Barbara Nachtrieb Armstrong '07 was the first alumna to attain the rank of full professor at Cal (Law); awarded an honorary LL.D. in 1961.
1n 1908, the presidents of Berkeley and Stanford dropped a bombshell on the college and high school football scene. Presidents Wheeler of Cal and Jordan of Stanford decided the American game was too dangerous and that henceforth the schools would play by rugby rules. The presidents may have agreed but almost everyone else connected with the game disagreed. The issue simmered for five years when Cal decided to return to the American game. For the next four years there were no Big Games. Finally, in 1919, Stanford adopted the American game once more. Football as we know it today was here to stay.

Shortly after the turn-of-the-century, the Stanford Board of Trustees wished to establish a Medical School. An existing college was the privately owned Cooper Medical College of San Francisco. Stanford President David Starr Jordan favored a merger of Cooper's facilities with those of his college. He negotiated with the Cooper Dean (later President), Dr. Henry Gibbons. In 1908 Professor John M. Stillman of the Chemistry Department was given the task of designing a curriculum for the proposed Medical School. He recom-mended that the first three years of study be taken at Stanford and the last five in San Francisco. Dr. Gibbons was appointed Professor of Obstetrics and gave the inaugural address to the first class in Medicine. Thus, in 1909 Lowellite Henry Gibbons, Lowell's first graduating Class of 1859, and John Stillman '70 were teaching colleagues on the pioneer faculty of the Stanford Medical School.
  • Maurice "The California Comet" McLaughlin '09 was a tennis phenomenon who learned the game at the Golden Gate Park tennis courts. His credits include captain of the Davis Cup team, U.S. Men's Singles title won at Newport, RI, 1912, 1913; U.S. Men's Double winner, U.S. Mixed Doubles winner. He was important historically: the first Westerner and public parks player to win the U.S. singles title; introduced an aggressive, hard-charging style and a "cannonball serve" that helped popularize the game. He and "Little Bill" Johnston '12 are the only Lowellites in the Hall of Fame of a professional sport (U.S. Lawn Tennis Association Hall of Fame, Newport, RI).
  • Daniel E. Koshland '09 was president of Levi Strauss Company and co-founder of the San Francisco Foundation (a $750 million nonprofit serving civic needs). Philanthropist. UCB Alumnus of the Year, 1968. The Daniel Koshland Park at Page & Buchanan Sts. honors him.
  • James D. Zellerbach '09 was president of the Crown Zellerbach Corp.; Marshall Plan administrator in Italy, 1948-49; U.C. Berkeley Alumnus of the Year, 1949; U.S. Ambassador to Italy; Zellerbach Auditorium on the Berkeley Campus bears the family name.
1909 - The Shield & L Honor Society was founded. Still "going strong" 92 years later!
  • Robert M. Underhill '11 was secretary and treasurer to the U.C. Board of Regents. He helped guide the growth of the U.C. system after World War I: UCLA, Davis, Irvine and Santa Barbara.
  • Before World War I, the Rabinowitz brothers had a lock on the Forensic Society. Ralph was president in 1910, Bert in 1912, and Herbert in 1916.
  • William "Little Bill" Johnston '12 learned to play tennis on the Golden Gate Park tennis courts. He was ten times Pacific Coast Champion, twice the U.S. Men's Singles Titlist, Davis Cup playing partner with "Big Bill" Tilden during the 1920's, and the only Lowellite to win the Wimbledon Men's Singles championship, 1923. The William Johnston Clubhouse at the Golden Gate Park tennis courts honors "Little Bill". He is enshrined in the U.S. Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, R.I.
  • Dutch Ruether '12 can be seen in a pre-WWI yearbook in a group picture of the Lowell baseball team. He was drafted by a professional club after his soph year. He enjoyed a 15-year career in the majors. A remarkable coincidence gives him special significance. In 1927 as his career was winding down, he was picked up by the New York Yankees. When he reported for duty he must have been surprised to find another Lowellite on the roster - Mark Koenig '22. The schoolmates had the good fortune to play on that great 1927 American League Champion "Murderers' Row" team with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, Earl Combs, et al. Ruether won 13 games that year and retired at the age of 33.
  • Joseph Meyer '13, Tin Pan Alley songwriter, wrote that rousing favorite, California Here I Come.
1875-1913 - A graduate of 1897 described the old wooden Lowell on Sutter Street, "The building was painfully plain . . . the exterior was darkened by the years and I doubt it had ever been painted, it looked fifty years old although it had been in use only 19 years . . . desks were much scarred by the jackknives of if industrious students striving to leave to posterity the initials of their names, and some of those names became very famous . . . each desk had an ink pot, as fountain pens were a rarity at the time . . . grim and forbidden, it reared it gloomy, barn-like silhouette amid an otherwise rather attractive group of homes . . . the school yard was a drab place, all floored with rough boards, with sheds in the rear for protection from the rain. . . No flowers were ever seen in this gloomy building."

Mary Ada Pence '07 put her feeling into verse:

What matters that old Lowell stands
A wooden building, grim and bare,
If at the light of learning's lamp
Ambition's fires be kindled there.

1913 - Lowell moved from Sutter Street to a city block at Hayes & Masonic Streets in the Haight Ashbury section of the city. Their new school would be called the Old Brickpile by generations of Lowellites. In the fall of 1913, the school had no library, no playing fields or tennis courts, no music or choral rooms, no gymnasiums, nor auditorium. It did have good teachers and motivated students who helped build the national reputation for academic excellence enjoyed by the school today. The old wooden building on Sutter Street (between Gough & Octavia) became a SFUSD warehouse until it was torn down in 1930. The vacant site was known as Lowell Park. A Red Cross building occupied the site for many years until it was replaced by the Coventry Park Assisted-Living Facility. A memorial bench in the courtyard honors the teachers and students (1875-1912) who once made the neighborhood one of the liveliest places in town.
  • Wilson Meyer '14, businessman and civic leader, donated the George Wilson Meyer Memorial Library to Lowell in memory of his son, George '43, who was killed in Germany in April 1945. The names of 18 Lowellites who gave their lives in World War I are inscribed on a memorial plaque.
The Sept. 1915 school newspaper headlined, "Cadet Company Planned for Lowell. Mr. Nourse Behind Movement." With the advent of WWI, teacher Nourse was commissioned Major and a Cadet Corps was organized. The Presidio granted the cadets use of a rifle range so cadets headed there almost every day to shoot. Cadet encampments were enjoyed in the summer and many Lowellites were retained to instruct students from other schools. In the heyday of the JROTC program in the 1920's & 30's, the Lowell Battalion would boast more than 400 cadets (in 1924) or about 40-45% of the boys. Later, the Army limited the Battalion to 265 cadets. The annual Regimental Competition & Review sponsored by the 91st Infantry Division, USAR, was the highlight of each year. At this writing in 2001, the JROTC is still going strong, having survived the anti-military sentiments of the Vietnam War era without losing the support of Lowell students. The big change is that women cadets have found a happy home and may fill as many as half the cadet billets. Several recent Cadet Colonels (Brigade Commanders) were girls.

In 1915 the first Lowell in newspaper form published a schedule of classes called the Announcer. Today, students still eagerly await their Announcers so they can plan their classes and choose their teachers.

One of Lowell's prize items of memorabilia is a trophy won by the track team at a high school meet celebrating the opening of the Panama-Pacific Exposition in the Marina, 1915. Three Lowellites had a connection to the Exposition: Congressman Julius Kahn '78 was the driving force in Washington to have San Francisco named the host city; Alexander Calder's father, sculptor Stirling Calder, was in charge of the statuary; and Mike Voyne'16 was captain of the aforementioned Lowell track team.
  • Alexander Calder '16 was a sculptor whose soaring creations were called "mobiles and stabiles" by fellow-artists in Paris. Calder sculptures are admired in art museums and in the forecourts of numerous public buildings throughout the world. A dramatic example of his work is the epic mobile that dominates the rotunda of the East Wing of the National Art Gallery in Washington, D.C. In 1997 the U.S. Post Office issued a series of stamps featuring Calder's artistic creations.
The Hellman Tennis Center at U.C. Berkeley honors Isias Warren Hellman '16, former Pres./Chrm. of the Wells Fargo Bank. He was a major donor for such Cal landmarks as the Bancroft Library, Alumni House and Barrows Hall.

  • Malvina Milder Reynolds '17, BA, MA, PhD in English Literature at UC Berkeley, folk song writer and political activist wrote Little Boxes, Turn Around and other songs popularized in the 1960s by Harry Belafonte, Pete Seeger and other singers.
The 1918 Yearbook was dedicated to the eighteen Lowellites who gave their lives for their country in World War I. Their names are inscribed on a memorial plaque in the Meyer Library.

When came the call for volunteers,
Her sons went forth 'mid shouts and cheers -
To face the test
These honored few who heard the call
Upheld her name and gave their all -
When they went West.
  • Alvin H. Getz '20 was the Guinness World Record Holder for SOLO table tennis, returning the ball back and forth 5000 time without a miss. Don't ask, he never explained the rules of the game.
1918 - Principal Frank Morton, a Dartmouth graduate, retired after serving for 30 years, the longest tenure of any Lowell Principal. He was succeeded by Mr. Fred H. Clark '78, the first Lowell graduate to be Principal.

The name of Ms. Eugenie Lacoste will be familiar to alumnae between the World Wars. She began her tenure as Dean of Girls in 1919 and would be the arbiter of manners and morals at the school for the next 25 years. Miss Lacoste was followed in the Deans office by a Lowell grad, Ms. Gladys Lorigan '20, 1946-1960.
  • Mike Voyne (Vucosavlievich) '16 was President of his class, JROTC officer, football (rugby) & track star (years later when the Olympic Club sent a rugby team to the British Isles, Mike Voyne was chosen to be coach). In 1920 he was persuaded by Principal Clark to return to Lowell to coach football (American style). For the next 30 years his colorful personality dominated the prep football scene (7 AAA Championships). In 1980, Lowell honored the legendary coach by naming its football field, "Mike Voyne Stadium". A plaque in Legends' Corner in the gym honors his achievements. In 1984, Coach Voyne was one of the first selectees to the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame and Lowell Sports Hall of Fame.
Three Lowellites have won Olympic Gold Medals, all in rugby: Charles Doe in 1920, and Doe, Ed Turkington and Caesar Minelli in the 1924 Paris Games (U.S. 13; France 5). No Lowell athletes have been Gold Medalists since. (Herc LaBorde '28 won the Silver in the discus in 1934 at Los Angeles).
  • Cyril Magnin '18, businessman & civic leader, left in his sophomore year to work in his father's store. He became president of the Joseph Magnin chain of retail stores. Given the sobriquet, "Mr. San Francisco" - philanthropist, actor, bon vivant, S.F.'s Chief of Protocol. Fifth Street North was renamed Cyril Magnin Street in his honor.
  • Donald "Scotchy" Campbell '19 was the only Lowellite known to be captain of the Lowell AND Stanford football teams.
  • Mark Koenig '22 was a shortstop who batted just before Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the 1927 New York Yankee "Murderers' Row" lineup. He hit .500 in the 1927 Series, leading all batters. Mark was drafted by a professional ball team after his sophomore year. He can be seen in a yearbook on the Lowell team. Eventually Koenig played for several major league clubs. In 1988 he returned to his high school where Principal Fibish awarded him an honorary diploma. Mark left a mint set of 1927 Yankee baseball cards to the school. The cards were mounted on a poster and are displayed in the Meyer memorial Library.
  • Irving Stone '20, biographical novelist, was author of such best-selling novels as Lust or Life - Vincent Van Gogh, The Agony and the Ecstasy - Michelangelo, and The Passion of the Mind - Sigmund Freud. UCB Alumnus of the Year.
  • Mathew Tobriner '20, attorney & judge, was a Justice of the California Supreme Court; in 1982 an annual guest lectureship was established in his honor at the Hastings College of the Law.
In the early 1920's Mr. Mirzah Mehdy opened a drug and stationery store across from Lowell on the corner of Hayes & Ashbury Streets. Two generations of Lowellites will remember the kindly Mr. Mehdy who called his establishment the Lowell Drug Store. Students bought rich, creamy milk shakes and sodas at the old-fashioned counter that has gone out of style now. In the spring of 1962 as Lowell prepared to move to Lake Merced, Mr. Mehdy was invited to a courtyard rally and presented with an honorary Lowell diploma.

Until 1922 the newspaper staff published the end-of-year Yearbooks, called The Lowell just like the paper. In 1922 the Yearbook was given its own editorial and business staffs. Ever since, the school newspaper has been called The Lowell and the Yearbook, the Red & White.

  • Norton Simon '23 was an industrialist and art collector; the Norton Simon Art Museum in Pasadena houses one of the outstanding art collections in the West.
  • Edmund G. "Pat" Brown '23, former District Attorney of San Francisco, Attorney-General of California, Governor of California, 1959-1967; president of the Lowell Debating Society; founder of the Lowell crew which "ruled" San Francisco Bay until the advent of World War II caused its demise. The Edmund G. "Pat" Brown State Building at Golden Gate & Van Ness is a tribute to the popular Governor.
  • Bernice Layne Brown '24 was the wife of a California governor and the mother of another one (son, Jerry). She was a loyal Cal alumna as evidenced by her memorial, the Bernice Layne Brown Gallery in the Doe Library.
  • Dr. Albert C. Shumate '23 was a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University and practiced for over half a century at St. Mary's Hospital in San Francisco. His vocation was medicine but his avocation as historian and author was equally impressive. He was a recognized authority on San Francisco history. One of his books, Rincon Hill and South Park, is on display in the Lowell Library. In 1992 the California Historical Society honored its President Emeritus at a luncheon at the Palace Hotel. At Lowell, Albert was President of the Scroll & L Honor society.
  • Maj Gen. Robert Frederick '24 was one of America's most decorated soldiers in World War II, including: Distinguished Service Cross (2), Distinguished Service Medal (2), Silver Star, Croix de Guerre (France), Liberation Cross of Haakon VII (Norway). The West Point graduate was a major general at the age of 37, the youngest officer to hold that rank. He commanded the army's first special service force (1962 movie The Devil's Brigade w/William Holden) and the 45th Thunderbird division. Wounded eight times in the battles of Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio. Winston Churchill called him "one of the allies finest fighting generals".
  • Marvin Lewis '24, flamboyant attorney & civic leader, former Supervisor; former representative of the City of San Francisco in Washington, D.C.; honored in 1986 by BART and Bay Area officials for his visionary efforts in creating the Regional Bay Area Mass Transit System; an inscribed plaque honoring him is on the wall of the Embarcadero BART station.
  • Louis Heilbron '24, UCB, attorney & civic leader; former President, Calif. State Board of Education; first President of the Board of Trustees, CSU system during the growth and turmoil of the 1960s & 70s; former president of the Calif. Historical Society; LHS: president of the Scroll & L, captain of the tennis team; Editor of The Lowell.
  • Joseph A. Moore '25, UCB, Stanford MBA, businessman and civic leader; member of the Board of Education, 1957-67; Regent, UCB; Mills College Trustee

In the early Twenties, Lowell's role as an academic, citywide high school was seriously threatened. The Richmond District was beginning to resemble the populous region we know today. The School Board drew up a citywide plan in which Lowell, only nine years at the Hayes Street site, would be moved to a new plant in the Park-Presidio at 18th & Anza Streets. It would have a comprehensive instructional program like the other city schools. The battle lines were drawn as students, parents, and alumni united to fight the proposal. Louis Heilbron was President of the Scroll and made an impassioned plea in The Lowell to preserve the nature of the school that had served the city well for the past 75 years. Alums rallied to the cause including Professor Monroe Deutsch from Cal and former teacher (now Lieut. Governor) Clement C. Young, who addressed the Board. The upshot was a tumultuous meeting in the spring of 1924 as headlined in the march, 1924 Lowell, "Board of Education Calls Meeting of all Interested Parties at George Peabody School. The auditorium was crowded to capacity, people standing three and four deep about its sides and into the hallways and the courtyard beyond, ignoring the biting cold in order to keep the Lowell banners flying. Attorney Milton Marks '10 read a manuscript of some thirty pages prepared by the Save the Lowell Committee." A headline in a Sept. 1924 newspaper read, "SCHOOL BOARD QUITS PLAN FOR RICHMOND SITE".

It would be 37 years (1961) before another Superintendent has a "better idea" about the nature of Lowell High School. The actors in the struggle would be different but the scenario was to be a rerun of the 1924 confrontation.

By the end of the quarter-century, San Francisco's unique academic high school had established itself as a seedbed of well-qualified, college-bound students.

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