Let’s Talk Clovis: Survival of the 1920 Clovis Union High School

By Peg Bos |  Clovis Museum

In April of 1981, the County of Fresno requested an assessment of the historical and architectural significance of the 1920 Clovis Union High School.

Historical Consultant Ephraim K. Smith and Architectural Historian John Edward Powell prepared the document. We have selected portions of that report.

In 1897, a $5,000 Clovis school bond was approved and a two story wooden school was built at Second and Pollasky Street. High school classes were held in the upper rooms. In 1902, a one story wooden frame high school was built at Fifth and Baron Street.

By 1917, Clovis High School Trustees President John Cadwallader, Clerk J.E. Rutledge, J.Webster Potter, F.W. Naden and R.W. Stanford recognized the need for a larger high school and proposed a $60,000 bond.

We were involved in WWI at that time. The Clovis Tribune Editor H.E. Armstrong led the opposition against the bond, stating: “A very foolish measure to propose at a time when the building power of $1 has, through high labor and managerial cost, been reduced to 40 cents.”

It is believed that the Wolters Colony School was also instrumental in defeating the bond. Wolters, founded 1892, joined the Clovis Union High School district in 1899. The assessment report stated: “Although only three students from Wolters Colony were attending classes at Clovis High School, the taxpayers of the colony were contributing $16,000 of one-eighth of the high school’s budget.” Wolters Elementary (5174 North Fresno) would be acquired by the Fresno Unified School District at a later date.

The 1917 bond was defeated 391 to 127.

In June of 1919, the trustees were successful in passing a $100,000 bond (20 years, 5%) for the new high school.

Architect William Henry Weeks (1864-1936) drew the plans of the new high school. He was recognized internationally for pioneering modern reinforced concrete technology, for the turn-of-the-century variations on the California Victorian vernacular and the charm and design excellence of his buildings. He would design more than 1,200 school houses during his career.

Clovis High School would remain in that location from 1920 to 1969 (1055 Fowler new location). The Gateway Continuation High School and the Clovis Adult School would occupy the old campus.

The Clovis City Council (1973) acquired the rights to the 5.2 acre campus to build a civic center. The Council voted to demolish the school after hearing a negative report from an architectural firm of the cost of rehabilitation of the old building versus the cost of a new facility.

Joined by the Clovis Independent and the Clovis News, the alumni of Clovis High united to champion the salvation of their beloved school. Saving the “Alumni” stones also became a main issue. Graduates from each class (1902-1969) had their names listed on marble slabs. The stones remain at that location.

The 1981 assessment report stated: “During the recent 1974 City Council election campaign, it became clear to most candidates that there are more than a few people opposed to wrecking the old high school building on Fifth Street.

Shortly afterwards, the City of Clovis and the Clovis Unified School District reached an agreement which would allow the old high school to remain. The city acquired property to the rear of the old high school for the location (1055 Fifth) of the civic center.

While retaining title to the Clovis High School Building, it leased that property to the Clovis Unified School District which is currently (1981) operating the facility as the Clovis Adult School. The lease will not expire until 1990.”

In 1996 the San Joaquin College of Law located at the historic school. They invested millions of dollars to retain the integrity of the building. The building is open for tours.

The majestic 1920 Clovis High School building and it’s loyal supporters are a part of our rich heritage.