The main building for Plainview Avenue School originally stood where Verdugo's parking lot is now located.
1. Bungalows were the typical style of architecture used for schools during this time. Nowadays, this is the music building.
Photographer: J.M. Lamson
2. The campus in 1937 with the foothills of the Verdugo Mountains in the background. The buildings stand on what is now the front lawn and flagpole area.
The eucalyptus trees that protected the original lemon orchard are still standing along the north side of campus seen here on Hillrose Avenue adjacent to Kersey Field.
Aerial view of the Verdugo campus in 1939 looking eastward. The cafeteria, still under construction at this time, is partially visible center right.
FOR MANY YEARS, residents of the early City of Tujunga and the township of Sunland fought to have a high school in their community but were continuously turned down by the school board which cited a lack of students in the area.
Prior to 1932, if area students wanted to go beyond the eighth grade, they had to take the bus to Glendale High School. After the City of Tujunga was annexed by the City of Los Angeles in 1932, high schoolers were bussed to San Fernando High.
By August, 1933, the Tujunga Chamber of Commerce was investigating the possibility of securing a high school for the Tujunga Valley with funds the Los Angeles School District had set aside for school construction. A committee consisting of Mrs. Bertha McDonald, Mrs. Aura Good and Mrs. P.J. Blake was organized to work for the high school.
While the school district finally agreed, in principle, to the need for a local high school, District Superintendent Richter said the district had no money to build one. School construction funds had been redirected to repair existing schools throughout the district which had been damaged in the devastating Long Beach earthquake that had struck Los Angeles the previous March.
Ironically, the Tujunga Valley experienced a significant increase in population as a direct result of the earthquake, as people from the lower elevations with homes built on soil subject to liquefaction sought to move to the relative safety and solid bedrock of the community that became known as "the Rock" because of how well it had survived the earthquake.
(Though most people would subsequently forget the origins of the nickname, the rocky soil that made home gardening a difficult affair provided a very stable foundation for the community during all the major earthquakes to strike the Los Angeles area in later years and left the community comparatively unscathed after each quake.)
Community leaders were not about to be denied a high school because of a lack of money. By October, 1933, the chamber's high school committee under the leadership of Mr. M.J. McCaffrey launched a campaign to raise the funds under the slogan of "Join the Chamber and Help Get a High School."
However, a major flood in January, 1934, as well as the toll of the Depression (1037 people were being aided by the Sunland-Tujunga Unemployed Relief Association by that time) hampered fundraising efforts.
A ladies organization calling itself the "Citizens Committee" was formed later in 1934 to again press the district for construction of a high school. Under the leadership of Mrs. Paul Muscat, and with the support of many other community members, they effectively lobbied the Board of Education for the next two years to finally get Verdugo built.
Verdugo Hills High School was built on the site of a lemon orchard next to the original Plainview Avenue Elementary School. In fact, the eucalyptus trees planted along the northern edge of the current campus were part of the windbreak for the original orchard.
The school district was going to name the new school Calvin Coolidge High School, but Congressman John Steven McGroarty and others lobbied successfully to have the name changed to reflect the "green Verdugo hills" which the campus overlooks to the south.
The school officially opened for classes for the first time on September 13, 1937, with 437 students enrolled in grades 7 through 11. Our current band room was the main building then, though it stood where our flagpole now stands. The building served as the school library and auditorium. Three rows of bungalows with twenty classrooms flanked the main building on either side and the gymnasium (now our girls' gym) was behind it. Two shop buildings, a stone cottage student store, the cafeteria and a few outbuildings finished the complex.
Verdugo grew very quickly with enrollment in the second semester increasing to 521 students. The new high school saw its first class of 51 students graduate on June 21, 1939.
Within a short time, the school had outgrown its campus and needed more space. A deal was struck to have Verdugo take over the Plainview Elementary site. The elementary school's main building was razed to make way for Verdugo's parking lot but the rest of the classroom buildings became part of the high school campus. They still stand today as three rows of bungalows along Summitrose Street on the south side of the campus. (Perhaps you've noticed the cloakrooms still in some of the classrooms?)
As part of the deal to expand the high school, the community was assured that the elementary school would be rebuilt within a five block radius. Plainview was rebuilt three blocks north of VHHS, where it still stands today.
Much of the construction on campus was done by men working for the Works Progress Administration, a federal effort to train and employ men during the Great Depression. By 1939, there were 78 WPA workers building things on campus, including the football field, and going to adult school at Verdugo at night. The rock bleachers on the east side of Kersey Field — the football field named for the superintendent of schools who finally approved the construction of Verdugo — are some of the most noticeable stonework on campus built by the WPA men.
A new gym (the boy's gym) was added in 1940 adjacent to Hillrose Street and Verdugo's main building with its trademark tower was completed in 1948. At that time, the band room was moved from the front of the school to its present site next to Kersey Field. A number of the bungalows were relocated to the south part of the campus where they also still stand, although their wood siding was eventually replaced with stucco exteriors.
The cornerstone for McGroarty Auditorium was laid on November 6, 1942 but the building wasn't completed until 1957. Built by the community, the auditorium was named for John Steven McGroarty, a local resident who became California's Poet Laureate as well as a U.S. Congressman. Upon completion, the auditorium was presented to the school district. At that time, the local Lion's Club presented the auditorium with an organ which is still in use today.
Between McGroarty Auditorium and the main building is Keltner Glen which was added shortly after the auditorium was finished. The glen was named for Phil Keltner, a very active member of the school's Booster Club who was left in a wheelchair after contracting polio. The wheelchair didn't stop Mr. Keltner from participating in many school activities including directing many of the early student plays.
Glenn Hall (our science building) was built in 1961 and was named in honor of astronaut — and later US Senator — John Glenn. The building housing the wood, electric and auto shops was added in 1966. Suffel Hall was built in 1969 on the site of several basketball courts and was posthumously named for Ms. Lucia Shumway Suffel who taught art and jewelry-making in the building.