It is difficult to imagine the bustling metropolis of Los Angeles as anything other than a sprawling city, but Los Angeles hasn't always been a place of beauty and entertainment. Los Angeles started as a small, barely populated town called El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (The Town of the Queen of Angels) and became an official city in 1781. But it wasn't an American city or even a Mexican city until later. Spain built the City of Angels and is responsible for the first development in the area. In 1821, Mexico claimed the city and all of California after gaining its independence from Spain, but then lost the territory to the U.S. in 1848. The city’s rich cultural history can be seen in architecture, food, and art throughout the community.
Some of the oldest schools in Los Angeles are ancient, and actually opened their doors when the city was ruled by the Spanish crown. In 1817 Spain’s last governor to rule the City of Angels opened the first primary schools. Later in 1851, the first English-speaking schools opened, and a couple of years later, the first Board of Education was created, and from there, schools were built throughout the region.
Let’s take a look at some of the oldest schools in Los Angeles.
1. First Street School
First Street Elementary School was founded in 1890 and is still a running school today. Located in Boyle Heights, the school serves grades K-6. The Boyle Heights neighborhood is one of the oldest in Los Angeles and was originally called Paredon Blanco. The community was primarily Spanish and Mexican, and today is home to one of the largest communities of Mexican-Americans. The Mariachi Plaza, Santa Fe Hospital, and Boyle Hotel are just a few of the interesting landmarks in the neighborhood.
2. Old Farmdale School
The Old Farmdale Schoolhouse is a piece of history that is still standing. The schoolhouse was built in the rural farming community of El Sereno; the building stood out even then for its architecture. The schoolhouse was built in the Queen Anne Revival style and is one of the handful of schoolhouses still standing from the Victorian era. Throughout the years, the schoolhouse has served as a school, and later, when bigger, more modern buildings were built, it served the community in other capacities. The community of El Sereno is working toward putting the school on the National Register of Historic Places.
3. Castelar Elementary School
Castelar Elementary School is one of the oldest schools in the Los Angeles School District that is still operating as a functioning school. The school was built in 1882 and is the only elementary school in the neighborhood referred to as Chinatown. Over the years, the school has served the community and, at one point, was the only school connected to the public library. In 1973 Castelar Elementary hired the first Chinese principal, paving the way for more diverse educators. Today the school is a dual language Chinese school that serves students from K-8th grades.
4. 10th Street Elementary
In 1888 10th Street Elementary School was founded in the Pico-Union neighborhood. The modest school was upgraded in 1922 when the Spanish Colonial Revival Administration Building was constructed, giving it a new face. The school serves a multicultural student body of pupils from 1st to 6th grades.
5. Old Canyon School
The Old Canyon School was built in 1894. It was one of three schoolhouses in the Los Angeles School District. It was constructed in a vernacular Classical Revival style in Santa Monica Canyon. While the schoolhouse is no longer a school, it is still a part of the community as a children's library.
6. Berendo Middle School
In 1896 Pico Heights Elementary School opened its doors. Later the school’s name was changed to the Berendo Middle School, and it is the oldest continually running middle school in the district. The school is located just south of Koreatown, where it serves students from 6th through 8th grades.
7. Loyola High School
The school known as Loyola High School first opened its doors to male students in 1865, when it was established as a boy's school. It is the oldest continuously run private educational institution in Los Angeles. In 1911, it became a Jesuit school, and in 1917 the school relocated to its permanent location.
8. Los Angeles Senior High
Soon after the city began growing, the Los Angeles Senior High School began serving students in 1873. It is the oldest running public high school in Los Angeles. The school has moved locations several times. But the first structure was a two-story wooden building on Poundcake Hill. The school later moved, and at one point in 1891, it was moved to the land of an old cemetery that had been abandoned. Later in 1917, the school found its permanent home, where it still serves students today. The school has some notable alumni, including actor George Takei, writer Ray Bradbury, and actor Dustin Hoffman, to name a few.
9. San Fernando High School
San Fernando High School opened in 1896 and moved several times. The school is one of the oldest high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The school moved several times, and the San Fernando Middle School took over the original building. The grand auditorium was designed in the Neoclassical style with large columns, creating an impressively distinct building that stands out from the other schools in the area. The alumni list is impressive, with athletes and actors that have passed through the school over the years.
10. Hollywood High School
In the year 1903 Hollywood High School opened its doors; it is actually older than the film industry itself. The school is well known for educating future stars on stage and screen. The school has a teaching program and a performing arts program for students to prepare for their future careers. The school's mascot is the Sheiks, which stemmed from the Rudolf Valentino film of the same name in 1921 before the school had a mascot. While many now-famous actors went to the school and the alumni list reads like a whos who of Hollywood, one thing the school is known for is the staircase. The school’s iconic staircase was a popular skateboarding spot in the early 1990s and can be seen in many skate videos and films.
11. Los Angeles State Normal School
The need for teachers and a place to train them is the reason the first teaching school in San Francisco opened a second campus in 1881 in Los Angeles called Los Angeles Normal School. The school served the community for many years training teachers and was later turned into the southern campus of UCLA in 1919.
12. Occidental College
Occidental College first opened its door in 1887. The school, which is now a popular liberal arts college, was founded by members of the Presbyterian church. In 1910 the school became a secular school. The college is one of the oldest liberal arts colleges west of the Rockies. The school has always focused on creating a community of students from different backgrounds and making meaningful commitments to the community as a whole. The first Upward Bound program is focused on bringing talented students to the campus regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds. The small school with big humanitarian ideas boasts some impressive alumni, including former president Barack Obama, Eric Garcetti, the former Mayor of Los Angeles, and actor Ben Affleck, just to name a few.
Occidental College in the News
The Los Angeles Times, in an article from June 29, 2023, reported on schools' reactions to the Supreme Court's controversial decision to end affirmative action. Affirmative action consisted of policies to protect underrepresented minorities from discrimination in schools. In wake of the decision, the article reported that Occidental College had partnered with community high schools to continue recruiting students from underrepresented minorities.
California.com, in a March 2023 article, listed Occidental College as one of the best colleges near Burbank, California. The article discussed Occidental College's low 8:1 teacher ratio and close faculty-student relationships; these were highlighted as notable aspects of this school. The article did not rank any of the schools in any particular order.
13. Woodbury University
Woodbury University was established in 1884. The school has grown throughout the years, adding more programs and accreditation. One interesting thing about the school is that the very first class had both male and female students. At the time, this was quite revolutionary as many colleges still did not admit women. The school's original classes focused on business education, training students in topics like bookkeeping, law, land use, and more. Later a professional arts program was added, and much later, a computer information system. Now the school has a host of undergraduate programs spanning psychology, liberal arts, communication, and marketing.
Woodbury University in the News
On March 23, 2023, California.com named Woodbury University as one of its top colleges near Burbank, California. The article mentioned that Woodbury has “a strong commitment to sustainability and social responsibility, which is reflected in its academic programs and campus initiatives”. The colleges in the article were not ranked in any discernable order.
On March 3, 2023, Dezeen reported that Woodbury University was spotlighting ten student design projects of merit. These design projects came from the school's architecture program; the school chose to highlight them to showcase the capabilities of students who study under their architectural program. Some of the projects included development plans for things such as a performing arts center in Detroit, reuse schemes for interior spaces, and a design for a versatile micro-unit.
On May 11, 2023, California Apparel News reported that Woodbury students had showcased their work during the university's 58th annual Runway Benefit. Sophomores and juniors presented designs at the benefit, and fashion photography students lent their skills to the event as well. The event culminated in collections from graduating seniors. Two alumni were honored with the Innovation Award during the event, as they prepared to transition from careers in fashion design to work with SpaceX.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©J Dennis/Shutterstock.com.