Let’s Talk Clovis: The Iconic 1920 Clovis High School

1920 Clovis High School. PHOTO COURTESY OF CLOVIS MUSEUM

An assessment of the historical and architectural significance of the 1920 Clovis High School was prepared for the County of Fresno. Ephraim K. Smith was the Historical Consultant and John Edward Powell the Architectural Historian.

Their 1981 report addressed the proposed relocation of the Clovis Senior Center from the Clovis Veterans Memorial building to an area north and west of the school.  They stated: “It should be kept in mind that we are talking only about a potential visual impact or intrusion and not the demolition of the Clovis High School. As mentioned before in this letter, the proper relationship between new and historic architecture is a controversial issue influenced at times by subjective judgment.”

The Senior Center would be built at 850 Fourth Street.

We quote the first paragraph of the Smith and Powell report that was addressed to Mrs. Katie Bearden, Staff Analyst III, Fresno County Planning Department: “We are enclosing our report on the historical and architectural significance of the Clovis High School. We feel that the building and adjacent sidewalks containing the alumni plaques do meet the criteria established for eligibility of Historic Places.

As you know, the National Register of Historic Places ‘is the official list of the Nation’s cultural resources worthy of preservation’. Districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects are eligible for the National Register if they possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.”

By 1919 Canadian-born architect William Henry Week (1864-1936) had achieved international acclaim for his expertise in secondary school planning and design. He was noted for his attention to safety and his ramping technology. We quote: “The building is a distinguished representative from W.H. Weeks’ vanishing catalogue of schools and has merit for both its formalized Mediterranean Revival characteristics and functional and structural plan. W.H. Week’s Clovis High School was and continues to be the most elegant public and historic structure in the City of Clovis.”

The report stated the two-story building was currently used by the adult education center and “the public spaces are marred by unsightly signage resulting from this present use.”

When entering either of the two front doors there is a corridor that runs the full length of the bottom floor. Two ramps at the end of the corridor connect to the second floor. In 1946 Harry Rogers suffered a broken leg during a football scrimmage. He used a wheelchair for a few months. I remember two of his “buddies” would push him up the ramp and hitch a ride on the wheel chair going down at an alarming speed.

The interior of the classrooms remained basically the same. The original basins and plumbing fixtures of the chemistry room remained. The traditional blackboards and erasers were still in use.

The auditorium included a balcony that seats 400 people. The classic ornamentations of the room included bead and reel motifs, cable moulding, waterleaf patterns and leaf and dart embellishments. A stenciled honeysuckle/palmette design created a band around the room. Maroon velvet blinds covered the windows. The report stated the balcony blinds (61 years old) remained but were “heavily deteriorated.”

The auditorium function and appearance changed dramatically when the Mercedes Edwards auditorium was built in 1950 (the initial structure of the new auditorium collapsed hours after its first installation). The balcony became a storage room, the lower seating area became administrative offices and a class room.

State government reacted to the destructive 1952 earthquake that centered in Bakersfield. They targeted the ornamental details of older buildings. We quote the report: “Clovis school officials moved to destroy and replace the exquisite churrigueresque entrances with a bland flat stucco façade. In spite of these unfortunate alterations to the building, the primary architectural statement still commands our admiration.”

The report ended with the following: “W.H. Weeks’ Clovis Union High School was and continues to be the most elegant public and historic structure in the City of Clovis and would be a worthy candidate for the National Register of Historic Places.”

We are sharing additional information that we have published regarding the school. Clovis High would relocate to 1055 Fowler in 1969. The Gateway Continuation High School and the Clovis Adult School would occupy the school building.

In 1973 the Clovis City Council acquired the rights to the 5.2 acre campus. They voted to demolish the school in order to build the new civic center. The Clovis Independent, Clovis News joined the hundreds of Alumni who opposed their plan. The City reconsidered and the civic center was built east of Clovis High.

In 1996 the San Joaquin College of Law purchased the historic campus. They invested millions of dollars to retain the integrity of the building. Tourists are welcome!

The majestic, beloved 1920 Clovis High School and its loyal supporters provided us a rich heritage.

Peg Bos
Peg Bos is the president of the Clovis Museum on 4th and Pollasky avenues in Old Town Clovis. She not only manages the museum but she also writes her Let's Talk Clovis column in our publication which features and highlight the amazing history of our city and culture. One fun fact about Peg Bos, she was the first female mayor of Clovis from 1984-86.