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Streetwise: Remembering School Days in the Outside Lands

by Frank Dunnigan
September 2022
Frank Dunnigan, WNP member and columnist. -
The start of a new school year each September was carved in stone for many of us. With the first day of classes always scheduled just after Labor Day, we traditionally enjoyed an early holiday in the school year when California Admission Day rolled around each September 9th. Today, classes generally begin in August, and Admission Day was eliminated as a State Holiday in 1984 in favor of a “personal holiday” for State employees. Nevertheless, September is a good time to take a look back at school days of the past.
Children in schoolyard at West Portal School, September 1940 - Courtesy of a Private Collector.
West Portal School on Lenox Way opened in 1926 and had two separate wings, including the one in this photo and a similar one out of sight to the right. That second wing was demolished in the 1970s, and today, West Portal School is a K-5 institution. Here, a proud teacher gathers with her class of 25 students at the start of the 1940 academic year. Can anyone from that era tell us why five of the girls appear to be wearing paper crowns in the photo?
Children entering Anza School on first day of classes, September 3, 1952 - Courtesy of San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library.
Anza was one of San Francisco’s newer schools from the post-World War II era, built in the new Anza Vista neighborhood that replaced Calvary Cemetery, shown here on the opening day of the 1952 school year. Based on shifting attendance numbers, Anza became a public high school in 1981, named for American-educated Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who efforts saved countless European Jews during the Holocaust.
Kindergarten class at Sutro School, 1974 - Courtesy of Matthew LaBounty.
By the mid-1970s, many San Francisco schools, both public and private, began adding full-time teacher’s aides to their classrooms, including in this pre-K class at the Richmond District’s Sutro School in 1974.
Principal and cafeteria staff at Lincoln High School, 1940 - Courtesy of San Francisco Pacific News.
Once an important part of San Francisco schools, “Cafeteria Ladies” dispensed hot meals to students, faculty, and staff on a daily basis. By the 1970s, many locations that once offered “manual food service operations” as shown here, had been converted to vending machine service. Today, most schools utilize off-site food prep with on-site cafeteria staff members dispensing pre-packaged meals that emphasize healthy eating choices.
Lincoln High cheerleaders posed in McCoppin Square, 1952 - Examiner Negative Collection / Courtesy of a Private Collector.
Cheerleaders were a regular feature at school sporting events, including this squad from Lincoln High School in 1952. Many private schools for boys called the position “yell leaders”.
Students on the steps of Presentation High School, 1967 - WNP image.
After the school day ended, there might be a ride home in a friend’s car or a trip on MUNI—such as for these Presentation High School students at Turk and Masonic who were waiting for the 31-Balboa bus in the 1960s. Presentation closed in 1991, and the site was acquired for its classroom and theater space by the adjacent University of San Francisco (USF).
Washington High School class of 1968 - Courtesy of Thompson Photography, Los Angeles.
Gathering on the school’s field for a pep rally, football game, running laps in PE, or for a class photo was a ritual at many schools, including George Washington High School in 1968.
St. Ignatius High School production of Pajama Game, 2002 - WNP Image.
Whether a Fall play or a Spring musical, stage performances offered many opportunities for student participation—including singing, acting, dancing, lighting installation, prop handling, and set construction. Here, St. Ignatius students put on a performance of Pajama Game in 2002.
Students on steps outside Lowell High School, January 23, 1996 - Jason Doiy, photographer - Richmond Review Newspaper Collection / Courtesy of Paul Kozakiewicz, Richmond Review.
For most students, hanging out with friends outside the classroom resulted in the most treasured memories of high school days, such as with these Lowell High School students back in 1996.
Review of the School Safety Review at the Polo Fields, May 23, 1968 - San Francisco Examiner Image.
Band was a popular activity for thousands of students and some schools, such as Herbert Hoover Middle School, placed a special emphasis on music in the 1960s. Here, a band made up of musicians from various schools performs at the annual end-of-school-year Safety Patrol gathering at Kezar Stadium in 1968. Read this Streetwise article for reminiscences of many people who were involved in the School Safety program. Although there is a widespread perception that the participants were mostly “traffic boys” more than one-third of the comments supplied for the article came from former “traffic girls”
School dance card, date unknown - WNP Image.
School dances and proms were an important social activity for many, and often resulted in permanent attachments long after school days were over. Read the 2005 reminiscences of long-time WNP member Rosemarie Marshall Green on the subject of school dances.
West Portal School graduation photo, 1961 - Courtesy of Vallery Feldman.
Whether pre-school, elementary, middle, or high school, graduation was the long-anticipated goal. Here, the Class of 1961 at West Portal School poses with diplomas on the big day.

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