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Campus History

The History of SHS - The Peninsula's Oldest High School

The_History_of_SHS_-_The_Peninsula's_Oldest_High_School iconThe History of SHS - The Peninsula's Oldest High Schooltitle

History Tree
Sequoia Campus
After Stanford University opened its doors in 1891, the people of this community wanted their children to have an equal opportunity with others to attend this new university, so a group of twenty-one citizens, elected to represent seven elementary school districts, met at the San Mateo County Court House, August 24, 1895, and proceeded with the organization of the Sequoia Union High School. They followed closely the advice of Dr. David Starr Jordan, then the president of Stanford. The first principal selected for Sequoia was David A. Curry, who developed facilities at Yosemite National Park.

After Redwood City had been decided upon as the site for the school, the name Sequoia was chosen as the most fitting to stand for the district as a whole. Sequoia, the name of the great redwood, is named after Sequoyah, the great Cherokee Indian scholar and inventor of the writing system for the Cherokee language.

School opened September 16, 1895 with an enrollment of 53, and as it was the only high school on the Peninsula between Santa Clara and San Francisco, a five-dollar tuition fee was charged to students from outside the district. Classes were held upstairs in the old Central School building, which was razed to permit the construction of the Sequoia Theater, presently the Fox Theater, on Broadway in downtown Redwood City. In 1899 Frank Rossiter, the principal of the Redwood City elementary and grammar school, became the principal of the high school. At that time that building held all the school children of Redwood City as well as the high school students. In 1900 the University of California accredited the school.

In 1904 the High School District constructed a building on Broadway between Middlefield and Jefferson, and except for the reconstruction period after the 1906 earthquake, that building housed Sequoia's students until completion of the present plant in 1924. Immediately this new structure on the present campus was famous for its Spanish renaissance architecture. At the time, its spacious auditorium was the largest theater with modern equipment between San Francisco and San Jose.

S. P. McCrea became Sequoia's third principal in 1905 and A. C. Argo followed as the fourth principal in 1921, a position he held until 1948. A. C. Argo's contribution, and that of the faculty he hired between 1923 and 1945, was not only a modern physical plant for Sequoia High School, but also the expansion of the institution's educational scope. The Bell Tower is named in Mr. Argo's honor.

Sources: The Cherokee Manual, Sequoia Union High School, Second Edition, 1930 and Third Edition, 1941 (A handbook for Sequoians published by the Associated Students of Sequoia Union High School)

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form prepared by Kent L. Seavey/Preservation Consultant, on behalf of the Sequoia High School Alumni Association, September 1, 1994
The Campus History

The_Campus_History iconThe Campus Historytitle

History Quad
Sequoia High School Quad Area

Sequoia's Campus had originally been a part of the large Las Pulgas Rancho (Ranch of the Fleas) granted to the heirs of Jose Dario Arguello by the Mexican Government in 1835. The Board of Land Commissioners, established by the United States government after California gained statehood in 1850, confirmed the Arguellos' title to the rancho in 1853. During the confirmation process the Arguellos sold a 2,200-acre parcel to one of the three land commissioners, William Carey Jones. Jones in turn sold the property to San Mateo County lawmaker Horace Hawes in 1857. Hawes, author of the legislative bill that created San Mateo County, constructed an elegant, well-landscaped estate along the old county road on the forty acres site of the future high school. In 1880, Hawes's widow sold the "Hawes Farm" to Moses Hopkins, brother of Mark Hopkins, who raised and bred thoroughbred horses on the renamed "Redwood Farm". Hopkins built Emerald Lake as a water supply reservoir for his ranch.

On July 2, 1902, cement magnate William J. Dingee purchased the Hopkins estate, remodeling the house and outbuildings and transforming the grounds into "Dingee Park". The house, which was completely destroyed during the 1906 earthquake, was located on the present site of the main school building. Remaining as evidence of this period of occupation are the concrete entry path and associated planting beds with decorative benches built by Dingee after 1902. These features once fronted the house and now act as a handsome ceremonial entry for the school. Dingee converted a rockery at the rear of the house into a scene with cascades and fountains with a rustic covered structure called a summerhouse built in its midst. This natural feature would be translated over time into Sequoia High School's "Garden of Cherokee" and later as the "Japanese Tea Garden". A failed attempt to corner the cement market bankrupted Dingee.

In 1909 ownership of the property passed to noted San Francisco architect Albert Pissis and his wife Georgia. It was under Pissis that the land was greatly improved and developed. It was Georgia Pissis who offered to sell the land for municipal use in 1920. Redwood City rapidly prepared and passed school bond issues for the purchase of the property and construction of the new facilities for Sequoia.

Sources: The Cherokee Manual, Sequoia Union High School, Second Edition, 1930 and Third Edition, 1941 (A handbook for Sequoians published by the Associated Students of Sequoia Union High School)

National Register of Historic Places Registration Form prepared by Kent L. Seavey/Preservation Consultant, on behalf of the Sequoia High School Alumni Association, September 1, 1994


1. "The Chained Oak" (Quercus lobata) - Near the El Camino Gate to the right as you enter the grounds stands an old valley oak. A eucalyptus tree planted in the middle of the 19th century grew to overtop it. The winds of winter tossed the old oak and the rains loosened its aged roots until it nearly gave way. Tree lovers forged a chain to save it and attached it to the nearby eucalyptus tree. The chain is long gone but the band about the tree is still there to be seen.

2. Monkey-Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) - In the corner of the campus near the intersection of James Avenue and El Camino Real are two of these bizarre-looking evergreens. Native to Chile and Argentina, the name of the tree was derived from a comment made from an Englishman in the 1800s, who thought it would certainly be a puzzle for a monkey to climb, although there are no monkeys native to the area in which the tree is indigenous.

3. Canary Island Date Palms (Phoenix canariensis) - Flanking the formal garden across the main drive from the bell tower are two Canary Island date palms. They originate in the naturally wet areas in the drier parts of the Canary Islands.

4. Mexican Fan Palm (Washingtonia robusta) - Growing near the date palms is a taller Mexican fan palm. This came to us from the southern desert hills of Mexico. The color and moods of the Yaqui Indian, and the mysterious highlands and desert stretches of Sonora are still reflected in its crown

5. "Giant Eucalyptus" (Eucalyptus globulus) - Shading the walks and arches of the classic Carrington Hall Auditorium, stands a stately and gigantic eucalyptus. Its bark, tinted with pastel colors of soft blues and grays and faint vermillion; its spreading oak-like branches; its thin silvery foliage, filtering the rays of the sun or moon, makes it stand as the most romantic figure on Sequoias campus.

6. Dawn Redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) - To the right of the pathway leading to the Carrington Hall Auditorium stands this deciduous conifer, native to central China. The species was introduced to the United States and Europe around 1948. It is one of the few cone-bearing deciduous trees. The needles are bright green, about ½" long and are soft, changing to a bright copper color in the fall.

7. Giant Sequoia (Sequoiadendron gigantean) - Near the Dawn Redwood are two large giant sequoia.

8. Coast Redwood (Sequoia Sempervirons) - Between the Music Building and Brewster Avenue stands an old and beautiful example of the tree used as a model for the Sequoia Seal.

9. Prickly Paperbark (Melaleuca styphelioides) - Across the roadway from the Giant Sequoia are two unusually large Prickly Paperbarks.

10. Australian Tea Tree (Leptospermum laevigatum) - On the same side of the roadway heading back in the direction of the bell tower is a fine old specimen of an Australian Tea tree. It is native to South Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania. Fifteen foot tall continuous masses of this tree have been seen on the coast of Tasmania, but this specimen is typical of single plants, in that it has formed a contorted, twisted, horizontal trunk. Captain Cook used the foliage of this shrub to brew a tea which prevented scurvy in his crew, hence the name tea-tree. This could certainly date back to 1900 or before.

11. Deodara Cedar (Cedrus deodara) - Across the main driveway from the bell tower and to the left of the tower entrance, came two of our most beautiful cedars from the slopes of the mighty Himalayan Mountains. The drooping branches remind us of the pagodas of their native India.

12. Atlas Cedar (Cedrus Atlantica glauca) - In between the two Cedrus Deodaras, across the main driveway from bell tower, is another one of our stately cedars. This came to us from the slopes of the Atlas Mountains of Africa.

13. Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) - To the right of the entry to the main school building is this very old specimen of an Incense Cedar, although it is probably no older than the school.

14. Lawson Cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) - Just in front of the main school building across the walkway is a stand of Lawson Cypress. Note that this is not a true cypress. This tree has four trunks but each of the four is an old branch lying on the ground and rooted and now producing a vertical trunk. It requires many years for a Lawson cypress to achieve this structure. This tree could predate the 1920's.

15. Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) - Across the roadway from the multi-purpose room is a fine, very old specimen.

16. "Cherokee's Brothers" - along one of the pathways in the Japanese Tea Garden, formerly the "Garden of Cherokee", are four Guadalupe Palms (Brahea edulis) originating from Guadalupe Island off the west coast of Mexico, known historically as "Cherokee's Brothers". Sequoia legend has it that a gnarled Oak that once stood in the center of the garden was once a young Indian chief, the lover of Cherokee, a beautiful Indian Maiden who spent her girlhood gathering together the treasures of nature that are found there. He helped her by building the little rustic paths. Until her death, which was indirectly caused by her lover picking the flowers of the Great Spirit, the red Geums, Cherokee's own hands cared for the garden.

Friends and loved ones of the two came to mourn and the Great Spirit took such
pity on them that he changed them into trees and plants. Cherokee's mother was a
beautiful Madrone that once stood in the garden. Close to the Madrone once stood
a tall Drecena, Cherokee's father. The young chief's warriors were changed into
sturdy Agaves, also gone. All that remains are Cherokee's brothers.

17. Korean War Dogs - In the Japanese Tea Garden, are two big, metal Korean War Dogs, given to the school district by the Japanese government. Accounts differ as to the history of the statues. A special history edition of the Sequoia Times states that the statues, "Kina Inu," as they are called, were gifts from the San Francisco Golden Gate Exposition of 1939-40. However, a San Francisco Examiner story, written by a Frank Raymond of Redwood City, states the statues graced the Japanese exhibit at the San Francisco's 1915 Pan American Exposition. The later version jibes with the memory of former Vice Principal, Ruth Olds, who remembered the Korean War Dogs being in the Tea Garden when she was a student in 1928-31.

17. Ginkgo Trees (Ginkgo biloba) - In the western portion of the Japanese Tea Garden are two fine old Ginkgo trees. Described as a "living fossil", the Ginkgo tree, native to China, dates back 150 million years. This slow growing tree is not only ornamental, but a pollution fighter as well. The leaves are used as a health aid.

18. Kentucky Coffee Trees (Gymnocladus dioica) - Next in the Japanese Tea Garden are four old Kentucky Coffee trees. There are very few of these in California. The seeds in its rubbery reddish-brown pods were once roasted by Native Americans and ground as a coffee substitute by early European settlers. Native Americans also used the powdered roots as "smelling salts" to help recuperate patients.

Sources: The Cherokee Manual, Sequoia Union High School, Second Edition, 1930 and Third Edition, 1941 (A handbook for Sequoians published by the Associated Students of Sequoia Union High School)

Commentary On Historical Trees at Sequoia High School, Redwood City, prepared at the request of the Sequoia High School Alumni Association - Site Visit, December 5, 2002, Barrie D. Coate and Associates, Horticultural Consultants - Consulting Arborists, 23535 Summit Road, Los Gatos, CA 95033 (ISA Certified Arborist #0586)

Sequoia's Historic Tea Garden, Otto Tallent, Redwood City Tribune, June 26, 1971

The Tower

The_Tower iconThe Towertitle

History Tower
The Sequoia High School Bell Tower

The Sequoia Tower was modeled after the tower at Stanford University. It is one of the most striking features of Sequoia, adding to our campus' sheer beauty. Although the bell is no longer rung in the tower, it remains as an everlasting symbol of Sequoia pride, stability, and tradition.

The School Seal

The_School_Seal iconThe School Sealtitle

History Seal
The Sequoia High School Seal

The name Sequoia was chosen because of its association with the redwood tree. Along with that came the association with Sequoia, the great Cherokee scholar and developer of the written Cherokee language.

The Sequoia seal was adopted by the 1925-26 student body commissioners to represent the spirit of Sequoia. The seal can be seen in mosaic tile in front of Sequoia's main entrance. It is also on display in the library in beautiful stain glass. The seal is represented throughout most of Sequoia's printed material.

Every part of the seal has a special significant. The outstanding figure in the center, a giant sequoia tree, symbolizes Sequoia's strength. The rays of the sun behind the tree symbolizes the spirit of promise. The red of the suns rays which change to the blue of the sky, is a sign of loyalty to our country. School loyalty is represented by the use of purple and white in the seal.

Each ray has its own individual meaning, the right half represents the ideals of thought: Hope, Faith, Wisdom, Beauty and Idealism. The five rays on the left signify the Sequoia ideals of action: Health, Endeavor, Leadership, Glory and Joy.

The name Sequoia Union High School is written around the seal. Beneath the giant redwood appears the word Unaliyi, which is a Native American word meaning Place of Friends.

By tradition, we do not walk on the Sequoia seal. Remember, it is there to signify school spirit and loyalty.

Carrington Hall

Carrington_Hall iconCarrington Halltitle

Among the many well-trained faculty members who have taught at Sequoia High School over the years, the name of Otis M. Carrington stands out particularly. He joined the teaching staff in 1907 as the art and music instructor, and went on to head the music department he developed at the school, teaching an unprecedented forty-three years.

Mr. Carrington is best remembered as one of the world's foremost composers of operettas for children. In 1912 Carrington felt his students were ready to perform an operetta. While there was a large body of musical literature to choose from, all off it was written for professional singers, and not for the voices of school children. That year, Mr. Carrington wrote his own, "The Windmills of Holland". It was the first of more than forty operettas to come from his hand and led American music critics like Harold Rogers of the Christian Science Monitor to call him "the leader of the operatic field of educational music".

Between 1923 and 1945 student productions of his operettas were standard fare at Sequoia High adn at Redwood City elementary schools. Sequoia was the testing ground for his work. Carrington and B.E.Myers, an instructor in the commercial arts department at Sequoia, published and distributed the work as Meyers and Carrington, School Operettas. The sucess of these children's operettas is evidenced by their over twenty-five thousand presentations world-wide. The majority of composer/librettist's children's operatic work was created between 1923 and 1945 at Sequoia High School, as an integral part of Carrington's productive teaching career. Otis M. Carrington wsa the only California composer to make such a significant contribution to the art form of operatic music for children. The auditorium is named in Mr. Carrington' honor.