Western Neighborhoods Project is dedicated to the history of San Francisco's Richmond, Sunset, OMI and West of Twin Peaks districts.   read more ...

George Washington High School

Washington High Model

This article on George Washington High School's first ten years was featured in the school's 1947 yearbook, The Surveyor.

The Background of George Washington

"The foresight of San Francisco pioneers is reflected in the total investment for a section of the George Washington High School site, as far back as 1861, when 150 x 240 feet was set aside for school purposes under the provisions of the outside lands act. Out of this nucleus the remainder of the site was purchased by the Board of Education in 1925."

The above paragraph, an excerpt from a program of the Ground Breaking Exercises which took place November 4, 1934, at 31st Avenue and Anza Street, shows that our school was considered, planned for, back in the days when the Richmond district was sand dunes, when George Washington High School was a rock quarry. 1861---cable cars (or their forerunners) were pulled by horses, gold strikes were common occurrences, clipper ships sailed the Pacific; and San Franciscans of that day had the vision to provide for schools; and especially for one particular school, located at what is now 32nd Avenue and Anza Street.

Seventy-five years later, in 1936, financed partly by a bond issue, partly by the Federal Government, Washington High School was erected at a cost of approximately $2,000,000.

To relieve congestion in San Francisco's seven senior high schools was the main purpose of the new school. Although our present enrollment is only 1,740, it was originally planned that Washington would provide facilities for 3,000 pupils.

The Founding of George Washington

A comparatively small article appeared in the newspapers in this city on August 24, 1936, proclaiming the opening of George Washington High School. Although a part of the five-million dollar educational plan to build schools from 1930 to 1940, Washington was permitted to stand idle for the first six months of 1936 because of a furniture shortage.

General Plans, Architecture, Sculpture

The general plans for Washington called for a main academic unit, shops, an auditorium, boys' and girls' gymnasiums, football field, outdoor tennis and basketball courts, a music conservatory, a baseball field, a running track and a swimming pool.

Timothy L. Pflueger, architect of George Washington High School, died almost ten years to the day that Washington celebrated its tenth anniversary. Mr. Pflueger was world-famous in his field, having worked on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and many of the buildings of the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939. Union Square Garage was designed by Mr. Pflueger in 1942; Alamo and Jefferson grammar schools, and Roosevelt Junior High School were completed by him before 1930. His later projects were George Washington, then Lincoln High School, and the science building and gymnasium at San Francisco Junior College.

Mr. Beniamino Bufano was originally hired to do the frieze located on the wall of the football stadium, but the work was finished by Sargent Johnson. The ideas of both artists are incorporated in the work.


Over 1,300 square feet of murals, scenes depicting phases in the life of George Washington, cover the walls of the lobby. Victor Arnautoff, painter of these murals, did much research before starting the work to get the color and feeling of George Washington and the days in which he lived.

The murals are done in what the artists call earth colors, which are made from oxides. For instance, green is made from chrome, red from iron, and black from coal. The base of murals is lime, a very ancient method mural work.

George Harris and Gorden Langdon were the artists who assisted Mr. Arnautoff. Since murals have to be painted on a wet surface, Mr. Arnautoff had to follow right behind the plasterers, and a scene, once begun, had to be completed that same day, in order that the walls did not dry. Carpenters and plasterers worked all around the building, while Mr. Arnautoff was above on a scaffold. He suffered from drafts in all directions, for doors had not yet been built.

The artist was so rushed for time that he had to improvise as he was painting. Covering about nine feet of wall a day, he sometimes worked from ten to twelve hours a day to finish a given section. The murals took ten months to complete; ironically, the school was not opened until a full year later.

First Year at Washington

George Washington High was the pride and joy of the students and faculty when it opened; everyone admired the magnificent view and the handsome building, and the faculty and students were filled with enthusiasm in spite of the fact that they were sadly lacking in facilities. These pioneers realized that the responsibility for Washington's coming through the first year lay on their shoulders. Only they remembered all the difficulties that had to be overcome; but we, today, know that they emerged with flying colors.

The enrollment of the school in its first year consisted of the new low tens and students who had transferred from other schools. These students had to stand up or sit on the floor because of the lack of chairs and desks; the gym classes met in different classrooms, and the library was completely empty, save for one set of encyclopedias. These handicaps seemed minor, however, as compared to the terrible noise caused by the construction of the new gymnasium. This construction work, accompanied by the noise, lasted for two years. Despite these difficulties, at the end of the term there were 57 students on the honor roll.

The first student government at Washington was organized in the fall of 1936 with David Cunningham, president; Lois Samuels, vice-president; Jane Mayer, secretary; Howard Nielsen, treasurer; Richard Cohn, custodian; and Gordon Mailloux, head yell leader. The spring 1937 officers were: Hal Mendelson, president; Betty Hill, vice-president; Nancy Glaser, secretary; Richard de Graf, treasurer; Phillip Waxman, custodian, and Robert Kahn, head yell leader.

The first social event of the term was the Inaugural Ball, held on October 30, 1936, in the school library. The lack of a gym did not stop the students from having social affairs. The rallies were held outside on the courts. The first indoor rally was at Presidio Junior High School. At the first indoor rally held at Washington in 1940 in the newly built auditorium, the speakers had to stand on chairs. The platform had not yet been completed.

The first commencement took place at Commerce High School on December 16, 1937. Miss Kirwin had charge of the first graduating class consisting of 148 students. Five students completed their required course six months earlier, in June, but since there were so few eligible for the Spring '37 class, the graduation exercises were not held. These students came back in December to graduate with the Fall '37 class.

There were three girls and two boys in the first official graduating class: Marjorie Astredo, who had entered the school at its opening; Lois Samuel, Washington's first vice-president and one of the originators of the Girls' Service Society; Frank Hultman, Tod Saylor, and Eleanor Worken.

During the Fall '37 term the Senior Advisory Board was established and the Senior-Soph reception, which is now so popular, was first held in the school library. Because of financial difficulties and lack of space, a party was given at the Balboa Theater. Between the showing of films an amateur hour was presented with talented students from Washington participating.

On November 23, 1937, the Senior Luncheon was held in the school's cafeteria. December 11, was the date of the Senior Dance, now known as the Farewell Dance.

This class owed much of its success to Miss Kirwin, who was unanimously chosen to be in charge of all future senior classes.

Many of the teachers on the first faculty are still with us today. The following is a list of the original faculty: Mrs. Melanie Ainsworth, Mr. Donald Atherton, Miss Rose Avina, Mr. William Baker, Mr. Rufus Balaam, Mrs. Birchlyn Bannister, Mr. Eugene Barker, Mr. Bruce Bartholomew, Mrs. Mildred Bickel, Miss Bernice Bilafer, Miss Elsie Bowman, Mr. John Burke, Mr. Cecil Carroll, Miss Kathleen Cauley, Mr. Paul Chapman, Mrs. Lillian Clayton, Mrs. Alice Collins, Miss Jane Cook, Miss Margaret Coope, Miss Catherine Counihan, Mr. Dennis Crowley, Miss Laureate Cullinan, Miss Catherine Davis, Mrs. Margaret Denny, Mr. John Douglass, Mr. Arthur Fagan, Sgt. Feliciano, Miss Dorothea Forcade, Mr. Thomas Gates, Mrs. Birdeena Gowan, Miss Phylis Haley, Mr. Rex Harris, Miss Margaret Heaton, Mrs. Lenamae Herrick, Miss Eleanor Jackson, Miss Ethelinda James, Mr. Sylvester Kelly, Miss Marie Kerwin, Mr. Marion Knott, Mr. Lloyd Leith, Miss Mabel Lockhart, Mrs. Edna Logan, Mr. Harry Longaker, Miss Rachel Markley, Miss Doris McMillan, Mr. Willard Morton, Miss Catherine Newport, Miss Marian Ohleyer, Miss Eleanor Parsons, Mr. Seymour Pearson, Mrs. Margaret Poole, Mr. Henry Raphael, Miss Mildred Rauner, Miss Josephine Rausch, Miss Dorothy Reynolds, Mr. James Ripley, Mr. John Roberts, Mr. Marcel Rotchy, Miss Arline Scharff, Miss Florence Shearer, Miss Edith Silberstein, Mrs. Myrtle Swanson, Mr. Arthur Taylor, Miss Haidee Tobriner, Mrs. Jewell Torraeri, Mr. John Uhte, Mr. Eldred Vanderlaan, Miss Frances Vasilatos, Mr. Joseph Verducci, Miss Marie Weller, Miss Elsie Williamson, Mrs. Alice Wilson, Miss Gerta Woodruff.

First Administration: Mr. Ernest J. Cummings, Miss Edith Pence, Mr. William A. Wieland.


Although ten years is not a long period in which to build traditions, Washington High School has managed to establish many; some have survived the tests of time, other have faded, and yet still more are yet to be made...

The Dead Indian, meeting place for the whole student body, was the sleeping guardian of the Washington lobby back in 1937; and in 1957 students still will part with a reminder to friends---"Meet you under the Dead Indian." How this mural depicting a prostrate Indian (nobody is positive he is dead!) of George Washington's day became the Grand Central Station of the school is not known. But the D.I.---as it is abbreviated in the hectic, rushed days of 1947---has come to symbolize the entire lobby; any school day at 3:10 almost every Washington student can be found "Under the Dead Indian."

Tillie Mieseles, one of Washington's first students, wrote the school hymn in 1937; but it was this year, 1947, that the new ending was added by Mr. Knott, making that hymn more impressive, powerful, and complete. "Hail Washington, Hail!" Mary Trussell, in 1936, wrote "Fight On You Eagles," and the song was presented to the school for the first time over the radio, sung by Mr. Knott's registry.

George Washington Dance 1947

Mr. Lloyd Leith, former physical education teacher here, and now at Mission High School, taught the "tricks of the trade" to the first yell leaders who, in turn, passed on their knowledge and pep to those who followed them.

"Red, White and Blue, Boys, forever, will be up there for all to see." Those words could fit the "Fight On You Eagles" song; and red, white and blue were almost our school colors. By election , and a close one it was, scarlet and gray were officially adopted in 1936.

Many present Washingtonians were in on the beginning of some traditions. The first family dinner in Fall, 1945 was in the cafeteria. Parents spent an enjoyable evening---so enjoyable in fact that next year saw a repetition of the event. And once repeated, events are on their way toward becoming traditions.

May festivals, there have been three so far, are yearly occurrences IF earned by the students. In 1945 the May Festival project was obtaining blood donors; keeping absences and tardies down to a minimum has been the method of earning the day of fun, surprises, a rally, and a dance, this year and last.

Sport nights are recent additions to extracurricular activities---Fridays at 7:30 in both gyms for volleyball, badminton, ping pong, and even checkers. Another Friday-night event, too new as yet to be called a tradition---is the folk-dancing class.

The Spring Concert, when the real talent of George Washington High School is displayed, was first started in 1941 to raise money for choir robes. Classical music and folk songs are played and sung by the orchestra, girls choral, mixed chorus, and soloists.

The Christmas season is observed with three traditions: a beautifully decorated tree stands in the lobby, carolers in choir robes stroll through the halls imparting the Christmas spirit to all who hear, and a Christmas pageant depicts events in the life of Christ.

Heads bow in reverence. For whom? The high seniors, of course! The high senior class and its traditions are always the pride of George Washington.

The imposing list of senior traditions is headed by Senior Day. On this day a rally is presented to the student body by members of the senior class. The script, written entirely by seniors, has a serious, historical theme. All day the halls are filled with colorful, costume-clad seniors.

Other traditions exclusive to this class are the Senior Banquet, held in a hotel banquet room; the Senior Breakfast which is given in the school cafeteria; church services before the banquet; and the Senior Prom, usually presented in the Gold Room of the Fairmont Hotel.

The last activities in which the seniors participate before graduation are the Farewell Dance and the So-Long Rally. The dance is a student body sponsored affair dedicated to the graduating class. In the rally the seniors are afforded a last opportunity to entertain the other students, and to say "so long."

First Administration

Mr. Ernest J, Cummings was the first principal at George Washington, having come here in 1936 from Galileo. he attended private school and then graduated from Stanford. he taught at Lowell for a time and then went to Galileo where he taught Latin and Greek; he was also principal of the night school. Mr. Cummings served as Washington's principal until january, 1945 when he went to the Board of Education as Deputy Superintendent of Secondary Schools.

Miss Edith Pence came to Washington in 1936 as dean of girls. She is a graduate of Lowell and the University of California, has taught at Lowell, Polytechnic, and at Galileo as head of the language department and, prior to coming to Washington, she was at San Francisco Junior College. After leaving Washington she served as Director of Curriculum and then went to Girls' High in 1942 as principal. She has traveled widely and was a delegate to the Lima Conference.

Mr. William A. Weiland was Washington's first dean of boys. he attended Oakland High School and then graduated from the University of California. He served as a captain in World War I and stayed in Europe to help set up the Education Program for the army. upon his return to the United States he went to Mission High as a teacher; he came to Washington as vice-principal when it opened in 1936. Mr. Weiland died in 1944 as the result of an injury obtained from fighting a forest fire.

Student Government

George Washington students 1947

As in any well-organized government, George Washington High School has its written laws vested in a constitution. The completed constitution was adopted in 1941.

Under this constitution, the student body offices of president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, custodian, athletic manager, and yell leader were created. Recently established, the office of second vice-president was recorded in the constitutional amendments. To run for any of these offices, a student is required to submit a petition to the principal for approval at least five school days before the primary elections. The petition must be signed by at least twenty-five students and five faculty members. At the direct primary election the candidate who receives the majority of votes will be declared elected. If, however, no candidate receives a majority, the two candidates receiving the greatest number of votes will run again at a general election.

The Principal's Cabinet, an advisory board to the principal, and the Student Council, the legislative branch of the school, were also created. the Student Council consists of the elected officers of the student body, all elected class officers, plus necessary representatives to make the total representation six for each class.

The qualifications for candidacy are based on general conduct and scholarship. A passing grade is required in all subjects, and the citizenship marks must be satisfactory or better at the time the petition is filed. Any unsatisfactory marks will disqualify the candidate. An elected officer not keeping up the aforementioned requirements during his term of office will have to forfeit his position. All student body officers and delegates to the STudent Council serve for one term.

The constitution may be amended by proposal and two-thirds vote of the Student Council, and the majority vote of the members of the George Washington High School.

War Effort, Servicemen, PTA.

George Washington High School students, as one of their first contributions to the war effort, bought a bomber. Other activities, while not so momentous, were carried on faithfully and successfully by those who were "too young to fight." Washington procured blood donors for the Red Cross (some students donated blood themselves); they learned first aid and home nursing; they collected clothes, food, and tin cans; they bought war stamps and bonds, and sold them to others; Washington students graduated and went into the armed forces; the girls became nurses; and when the war ended, they did not cease their efforts to help stricken people in all parts of the world.

Fifty-five servicemen who at some time had attended George Washington High School were killed in World War II. On all the war fronts, in all branches of the service, Washingtonians, 1,700 of them to be exact, fought for their country. And fifty-five, in losing the personal side of that fight, helped assure the real cause---and gave their lives for the freedom of the people of the United States of America.

The Parent-Teachers Association, established in 1936 with Mrs. Car Hall ford as the first president, has supported many projects of the students of George Washington (in fact, that swimming pool is still on their "as yet unaccomplished" list). The principal objective of the PTA is to promote understanding among parents, teachers, and students.

Images: 1) Model of George Washington High School; 2) Hallway murals at Washington High; 3) George Washington dance 1947; 4) Dick Lewis and Nancy Uhler, voted most popular students at George Washington High School in 1947. (All from The Surveyor, Volume XV, June 1947).

Contribute your own stories about your neighborhood!

Page launched 31 December 2005.

Related Content

Save SF History