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The History of Brea Olinda High School

 

The History of Brea Olinda High School

A Long Way Back

Opened at its current campus in 1989, today’s Brea Olinda High has a history far longer than this. 

The hills and canyons of North Orange County were home to secondary students as early as the late1800s, but their only choice for 9-12 schooling was found at Fullerton High. In 1898 and 1903, residents of the booming oil town of Olinda and the scattered oil camps that would become Brea respectively created their own K-8 school districts, but it still took more than two decades before a high school came to town. Meanwhile, Brea and OIinda students kept heading south to Fullerton, at first traveling there in horse-drawn wagons, and later riding the trolley line’s red cars.

Changes made at Fullerton High’s campus in the 1920s, including cutbacks in such locally popular courses as oil production and horticulture, dismayed Brea’s civic leaders, causing them to look closely at their town’s growing student population---and to take steps to create a new north-county high school district. Early efforts to unite Brea with La Habra and Olinda to work toward a high school went down to defeat. La Habra soon was dropped from the plan, and Olinda lodged protests as well, but the topic was settled at the ballot box in March of 1925, when the Brea-Olinda Union High School District was formed.

Barley and Brick

Ninety freshmen and sophomores from Brea and Olinda soon began attending the new district’s first secondary classes, held that fall on the campus of Brea Grammar School (now Brea Junior High) under the direction of Principal I.W. Barnett. Backed by business leaders, bonds of $320,000 were approved for construction of a high school, but controversy raged over where it should be built. Olindans solidly backed a rural site deemed way too far out of town by most Breans, but Olinda’s vote carried the day. By 1926, Brea-Olinda Union High had begun its slow rise from an eastern barley field.

Pre-election bitterness soon was swept away as Breans and Olindans united to make their new high school one of the region’s finest. Architectural plans including an ornate portico and columns framing the school’s impressive entryway were adopted with a single change---the elimination of twin towers planned to crown the main building. Construction began immediately on the campus, and included a two-story building with offices, an auditorium, a cafeteria and classrooms, as well as a separate manual arts building and a gymnasium. Built with bricks made of Brea clay, the 23-acre campus was completed within a year, and opened to students on September 14, 1927.

Pride of the Wildcats

Early campus curricular offerings included today’s standard subjects, plus heavy doses of manual training for boys, and domestic arts and sciences for girls. Part of the Brea Grammar School building where the first local high school classes were held soon was moved to the new high school and renamed the Practice House. This neatly kept cottage near the edge of campus served generations of future homemakers as the only known full-scale, self-contained home economics lab in Orange County.

In its first full year of operation, Brea-Olinda Union High adopted a mascot (the Wildcat), published a small yearbook (the Gusher), gained a popular, long-time leader in Principal Carl Harvey, and found its first football success with winning coach Steward “Shorty” Smith. In June, the new school proudly sent forth its first 21 graduates as the “Class of 1928.”

Hard Times Hit Home

The despair of the Great Depression left few marks on Brea, but the aftereffect of a 1933 natural disaster changed the face of its schools. Although the district’s buildings suffered little apparent damage in the Long Beach Earthquake, they all soon were targeted for massive redesign as legislators drafted the Field Act, requiring stringent new safety rules for academic structures. 

The beauty of the new high school paid a high price for such safety, as its ornate facade was stripped off and its stately columns were carted away. More serious and costly repairs were required inside, as steel beams were inserted into walls and ceilings were stabilized. Dedicated just six years before, Brea Olinda Union High required repairs which equaled almost its entire construction cost. During twenty noisy months of renovation, youthful scholars studied outside in four huge tents on the school’s east lawn. 

The Depression years were difficult in many ways, but there were happy times too. One came in the decade’s early years, as Brea’s 100-member combined grammar school/high school marching band donned white slacks and shirts, gold sashes and sombreros and set off to play at the nearly new Los Angeles Coliseum. Another arrived at decade’s end, as popular BOHS student Bill Griffith raced away with top honors at Southern California’s 1939 soap box derby. 

The War and More

Former BOHS track star Paul Moore got 1940 off to a running start, setting a world’s record for the ¾ mile on a Stanford track. A second local star shone just six months later, as hometown-tenor George Stinson, a California Highway Patrolman turned San Francisco opera sensation, returned to sing for a sell-out crowd at the BOHS auditorium. Stinson vied for his audience’s attention amid a cast of strong-men and acrobats, adagio dancers, vaudeville stars and the award-winning, 70-piece school band, clad in all-new green-and-white uniforms.

The years of World War II saw an upswing in school activity, as Brea staff and students joined in military and civilian relief efforts. Two Army battalions lodged at BOHS during the summer and early fall of 1942, and soldiers studying the mechanics of oil drilling in nearby fields turned its classrooms and gymnasium into barracks and its cafeteria into a mess hall. The school’s machine shop swung into night production crafting anchor chain for the Navy, a small shack erected on the school roof served as a watch tower for spotting enemy planes, and the gym was readied for use as an aerial-attack decontamination station.

In line with serious times, many of the high school’s athletic competitions and extracurricular activities were suspended, and students instead turned their attention to the war effort. Campus clubs planted victory gardens, supervised salvage drives, organized community-soldier dances, and maintained the city’s service flag, which hung in the school’s main hallway and marked the names of those serving their country. Students and staff members alike sold war bonds and stamps in spirited drives highlighted by contests, rallies and assemblies featuring military personnel. 

Seasons of Change

Changes in leadership, curriculum and the campus itself marked the post-WWII years. Principal Carl Harvey, whose 18-year career stretched back almost to the school’s beginning, left in 1946 and was succeeded by Frank O. Hopkins. Responding to an idea born in town, Brea Olinda in 1947 became one of the first two high schools in California to implement both driver education and driver training, newly mandated for all 16-year-olds seeking a license. Other states followed California’s lead, and for the next four decades driver training routinely was offered at a majority of American high school campuses.

As the 1950s rolled in, a new school farm started small, but quickly grew, first to 30, then to 43, and finally to 65 acres. The second expansion came as the result of a controversial decision, when Brea (elementary) School District bought a citrus grove just east of the high school for a proposed, but never built, elementary school. Purchased for just $20,000, this land later earned Brea schools a smart profit when it was sold in the early 1980s at a price tag of $2.5 million. 

A decade that thrived on quiet ended instead in excitement, when, in 1959, the school opened a new stadium, pool and boys’ gym, its graduates gained access to a nearby four-year public college (newly opened Cal State Fullerton) and decades of bad football luck finally turned good. More than 4,000 fans packed the bleachers the night Brea took on Beaumont for the Southern Section CIF A-division championship. Local businesses closed down early and screaming fans lined the stands as the Wildcats trounced the Cougars 47-21---bringing 32-year-old Brea Olinda its very first CIF victory. 

Celebration, Unification and Support

Victor Hastings signed on as the school’s new principal in 1961. Wildcat football dominated its league in these early years of the decade, racking up three more CIF A-division championships between 1961 and 1963.

A countywide education reform movement in the mid-1960s promoted the unification of small school districts, and the three then operating within Brea’s borders (Brea Elementary District, Olinda Elementary District and Brea Olinda Union High School District) united to form the Brea-Olinda Unified School District. The City of Brea celebrated its 50thbirthday the following year, building a massive stage on the BOHS football field to present the Brea Story, a five-night, ninety-minute extravaganza of local history dramatized by a cast of more than 400.

Brea’s population grew, and planning for major campus improvements soon began. By 1969, the Main, Fine Arts and Industrial Arts buildings were refurbished, and a second story of classrooms was added above the auditorium.

Across the world, the Vietnam War escalated, and Brea students reached out to serve those in need. Focusing on prisoners of war or soldiers declared missing in action, students engaged in letter-writing efforts and a fund-raising swim meet, and 450 took part in a walkathon to Knott’s Berry Farm. A national POW/MIA remembrance-bracelet campaign kicked off at BOHS, with the chairman of the National League of Families (Carol Hanson, wife of Marine pilot/POW Captain Stephen Hanson) and actor Patrick Wayne appearing at the opening ceremonies. Captain Hanson later was declared killed in action, and a continuing BOHS scholarship was established in his name.

Time of Transition

The community’s rural past remained very much present in the 1970s at the BOHS farm. Still in its “hay day, “ this student-run operation on the northeast side of campus served as a barnyard home for 28 hogs, 35 beef cattle, 10 lambs and 500 chickens, and also included classrooms, animal units, a small orchard and a greenhouse. Students enrolled in the BOHS “Ag” program chose from an extensive list of courses---from horticulture and farm management to accounts and bookkeeping, nutrition and flower arranging. Many students owned and raised their own animals and extended their study through membership in the school’s Future Farmers of America club.

Always a source of down-home delight, the school farm nevertheless gradually gave way to progress, its acreage steadily shrinking as new development closed in around it. An early 1970s easement allowed State College Boulevard to pass through the farm north of Birch Street, and massive development to the south soon foreshadowed far greater changes to come. Though cows still could be seen on the northwest corner of Birch and State College as late as the mid-1980s, their grazing land each year became a more valuable piece of pasture.

BOHS originally had been built “out in the country” all by itself, and remained relatively isolated from other development for many years. In the 1930s and 40s, its campus was almost surrounded by orange, lemon and avocado groves, but these later gave way to post-war-era housing. The late 1970s brought a new principal to campus and the 57 Freeway to town. In 1977, the school celebrated its 50th anniversary in the shadow of an impressive new neighbor---Brea Mall. Guiding the high school through this era of change was former teacher/counselor/administrator Gary Goff, who was promoted to principal in 1971. 

A New Beginning

BOHS gained its first woman principal, Sue Rainey, in 1980. Its second, Jeanne Sullivan, signed on in 1986.

By the decade of the 1980s, the BOHS campus was filled to overflowing with 1,400 students and 19 portable buildings. Seeking solutions, the school district invited developers to submit proposals for either improving this crowded campus or building an entirely new school. When studies showed refurbishment would not be cost effective, the path ahead appeared clear. Though sentiment for the old campus ran high, fortune favored a move, and the nearby presence of Brea Mall had greatly increased the school’s value.

Thirteen locations for a new high school were considered before a hilltop site owned by Unocal (since 2005, a wholly owned subsidiary of Chevron Corporation) was selected at the well-under-market price of $30,000 an acre. 

Funding for the new high school project came from combined sale and long-term lease of the original BOHS site, with added assistance from the City of Brea Redevelopment Agency. The old school remained in use until its replacement campus was complete, and the first phase of Brea Marketplace opened on the site of the former football field.

The fifty-acre new high-school site, long part of Union Oil’s lucrative Stearns Lease, was prime real estate, with sweeping views (on a clear day) all the way to the Pacific. On Nov. 1, 1986, a parade of yellow school buses pulled up a steep slope to a small plot of level land, where groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the new Brea Olinda High School. Due to the terrain’s ruggedness, more than 250,000 cubic yards of dirt had to be moved before actual construction could begin. Superintendent of Schools Edgar Z. Seal spearheaded the school-building effort, former principal Gary Goff served as project manager, and Goff and Jeanne Sullivan teamed as co-principals in 1989 as construction ended and the new campus first opened to students.

Hilltop High 

Seven years after the start of planning and three years after ground was broken, Brea Olinda’s state-of-the-art, $35-million campus opened in September of 1989 as the first public high school in California built without state aid and at no cost to local taxpayers. Featuring a stadium, swimming pool, all-weather track, multiple gyms, a 350-seat performing arts center and classroom space for 2,000, it lost a planned ornamental tower due to budget cuts (just as Brea’s first high school had) yet still took design honors from the American Institute of Architects.

To symbolically connect the high school’s first and second locations, the original school’s cornerstone was removed and split, and the surface created this way was polished and engraved as the new school’s cornerstone. Both of these markers today grace the entrance to the new school’s inner quad. Standing guard at its entry is an updated bronze mascot, the Wildcat, carved in an outdoor studio on campus by Brea’s 1991 Artist in Residence Carlos Terres.

Its era ended, the old high school hosted an alumni “Last Hurrah,” and demolition crews moved in on its 63-year-old campus. A poster was commissioned to commemorate it, its bricks were salvaged and sold as souvenirs, and its former site was marked in the Marketplace by the BOHS Walk (and later Wall) of Fame.

The new campus showcased its assets, hosting the Harlem Globetrotters at a benefit game in the gym, and inaugurating its performing arts center with a concert by the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. In 1994, BOHS became the first high school in California to connect to the internet, and the campus and its cutting-edge PacBell Knowledge Network were spotlighted in a commercial broadcast during the Super Bowl. 

Decades of Academic and Athletic Success

A series of principals steered the school through this era of athletic and academic success, starting with John Johnson (1991-94), Kathy Beard (1994-99), Doug Kimberly (1999-2003), and Jerry Halpin (2003 to present). BOHS earned four California Distinguished School honors in 1992, 1999, 2007, and 2011. In 1993 and 2000, it was named a National Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education. In addition, honors continued with several teachers named Orange County Teacher of the Year including: Jeff Sink (1998), Scott Malloy (2000), Jeremy Mattern (semi-finalist 2007), and Amy Welch (2010). Malloy later went on to be awarded California Teacher of the Year in 2000. The BOHS Guidance Counseling Department is the only school in the nation to receive five consecutive Recognized American School Counselor Association Model Program (RAMP) awards. In addition, Becky Marchant was selected as the California Counselor of the Year in 2010.

During this time, BOHS athletics ascended to regional dominance, with virtually every team bringing home annual Orange League Championships. CIF Southern Section Championships followed in boys’ soccer, swimming and gymnastics, and girls’ swimming and basketball. Wildcat Football took the Southern Section championship for the first time in 38 years (2001). Brea’s girls’ basketball dynasty took its first run to the top in 1989, winning the California State Championship. Ten state and two national championships followed. The school currently competes in the Century League against Canyon, Century, El Dorado, El Modena, Esperanza, Foothill, and Villa Park high schools. The Pep Squad also made an impact, winning back-to-back national cheerleading titles in 2009 and 2010.

Academic excellence took prominence under the leadership of the BOHS administrative team. In 2005, BOHS was awarded a five-year federal grant worth over $700,000 to implement Smaller Learning Communities (SLCs). SLCs combined with built-in teacher collaboration every Wednesday morning through Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), helped BOHS annually increase its Academic Performance Index from 797 in 2004 to 861 in 2011 while continuing to meet all state and federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) growth targets. The school instituted two award-winning four-year academies, the Global Information Technology Academy (GITA) in 2005 and the Building Industry Technology Academy (BITA) in 2007. The school currently has eight career pathways in Advanced Sciences, Communications, Construction Technology, Consumer Sciences, Information Technology, Performing Arts, Public Services, and Visual Arts. Student achievement in standardized testing including the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), California Standards Tests (CSTs), California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), and Advanced Placement Exams (AP), reached remarkably high levels. The school produced many National Merit and Advanced Placement Scholars and proudly maintains a near perfect graduation rate with 90-95% of college-bound graduates. In addition, each graduating class has earned millions of dollars in college scholarships and grants.