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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

St. Vincent Ferrer High School - Part 1

At the top of the hill, on the corner of Florida and Santa Clara Streets is the old St. Vincent Ferrer High School building in Vallejo, California.  I can't say that I have a whole lot of fondness for Vallejo itself but this location is a gem in my own personal history.

For anyone who knows much about California, our history tends to be rather "young".  A 50 year old building is considered old.  Many of our structures and buildings are considered rather disposable and are torn down and rebuilt on a whim (but sometimes for earthquake safety).  So, I write about St. Vincent's because it does have longevity and history, especially for California.

On September 5, 1870, St. Vincent Ferrer School (primary and secondary) opened in a former church building on the premises.  They went from having a few students to 232 in the months that followed.  The first graduating class was in 1880.  There were three graduates that year.  In 1893, construction began on a new building which was used by the female students while the boys used the older building.  By this time, enrollment was over 400.

By 1916, it was evident that a new school building was needed.  On October 22, 1916, the cornerstone for new building was laid by Archbishop Hanna of San Francisco.  The new Class A reinforced concrete building cost $70,000 to build and was completed in 1917.  On September 3, 1917, the new school building opened for classes.

In 1918, the flu pandemic known as "the grip" closed the school for a time in October 1918.  The school was temporarily used as a community hospital during the sickness with full medical teams on site.  By 1920, the school was again back to student enrollment and ready to celebrate 50 years of education.

I always found the views from the third floor windows to be rather wonderful and interesting at the same time.  Because the high school building, and the whole St. Vincent's premises, is perched up on a hill in Vallejo, you can easily make out Mare Island.  From the third floor of the high school you can see the Napa River that runs in front of the now closed Mare Island Naval Shipyard.  The Napa River dumps into San Pablo Bay and on out to the San Francisco Bay.

Mare Island played a huge role in the history of Vallejo, California.  In fact, many of my classmates had military and civilian parents who worked out on the shipyard.  Mare Island opened in 1854 and was the first permanent U.S. naval installation on the west coast.  It served key roles during WWII and Vietnam.  By the 1980s, the shipyard was maintaining and repairing nuclear submarines.  The shipyard was deactivated in 1995 as part of the cycle of U.S. base closures.  Mare Island still maintains a Navy Reserve but the island includes a housing development, golf course, and a college.  Because the U.S. Military still owns part of Mare Island, there is still an area that is extremely rundown.  Of course, the worst of the worst intersects with HWY 37 for all passerbys to see.  Adjacent to the north and west portions of Mare Island is the Napa-Sonoma Marshes State Wildlife Area.

Back to St. Vincent Ferrer High School........The Dominican Sisters had been the mainstay of the educators at the school for many years.  For a brief time in the 1930s, Dominican Fathers filled that role.  By 1933, the Dominican Sisters were back to running the school.  During WWII the school was sacrificed again to help the city.  Anti-aircraft guns were placed on the roof after the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The 211th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Division was housed in school.

After WWII, plans were made to build a Memorial Auditorium across the street from the St. Vincent's property.  This was completed in 1954.  I have to say that by the 1980s this building was looking rather tired on the inside.  The main level was a full size gymnasium with stage plus a lobby and restrooms.  There is a mezzanine level above the lobby with restrooms.  A lower level includes the locker rooms, multi-purpose room and kitchen.  Because it is built into the hillside, the lower level has side entry access at ground level.

To be continued..................

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