San Ramon Valley High School’s history spans a century

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Nick Harvey

The Harvest Restaurant in Danville is actually the old Eddy house, which was used as SRVHS' campus until the start of the 1914-1915 school year.

It’s common knowledge that San Ramon Valley High School was founded in 1910. What is less known is how different the school was back then compared to now.

Interestingly, San Ramon Valley was not the first high school in the San Ramon Valley. That honor belonged to Union Academy, which was located halfway between Alamo and Danville and open from 1859 to 1868, according to “1859: What Was Life Like?” on the Museum of the San Ramon Valley website.

After Union Academy burned the ground in the summer of 1868 and before San Ramon Valley High opened in 1910, San Ramon Valley residents who wanted a high school education had to attend schools in Concord or Oakland, according to “Schooling in the SRV” in the Museum of the San Ramon Valley library.

Key to the creation of San Ramon Valley High was the Danville chapter of the Grange, a nationwide farmers’ organization created after the American Civil War.

The Danville Grange established a committee in 1909 for the purpose of creating a public high school in the San Ramon Valley, according to “History of the SRV Union High School” by Inez Butz.

Voters from San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Green Valley, and Sycamore Valley used the ballot in 1910 to create the San Ramon Valley Union High School District, according to Butz’s article.

The school originally had six classes: “commercial” (agriculture and business), history, English, German, math, and physical geography. In 1912, physics and chemistry were added to the course list, according to Butz’s story.

The Eddy House in Danville, which was previously an elementary schoolhouse, housed the 30 high school students and two teachers the first year of school in 1910.

The Eddy House served as the school campus until Aug. 10, 1914, when the school was moved into the former International Order of Odd Fellows hall on Front Street.

In 1916, the district’s trustees bought 11 acres of land for the purpose of building a stand-alone campus for the school. Part of the motivation for this was the fact that the “state university” (University of California, later UC Berkeley) wouldn’t accept students who went to high school in a rented facility without taking a college examination, according to an article in the Walnut Creek Courier from March 11, 1916.

In 1917, the high school finally moved onto the 11-acre plot, where it has remained for more than 100 years. The school was a two-story building and was built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, evoking the valley’s earlier days as the stomping grounds of Spanish missionaries and Mexican landowners, according to the Valley Pioneer Centennial Edition of 1958.

The San Ramon Valley was rural through the 1950s, and life at the school reflected this. Until then, the entire valley, which includes San Ramon, Danville, Alamo, Blackhawk, Diablo, and Tassajara, had nearly 2,000 total residents, Beverly Lane wrote in the MSRV’s “Early Schooling in the San Ramon Valley”.

During the several years school was held in the old Oddfellows hall, a stable was provided for students to leave the horses they rode to school, wrote Vivian C. Edmonton in “From the Ox Team to the Moon”. Edmonton attended the school from 1914 to 1918.

Edmonton’s account also revealed that physical geography, commercial, and German had left the course list and been replaced with Spanish and Latin. In addition to those mandatory classes, electives like sewing, cooking, and surveying were added.

Edmonton said she enjoyed her surveying class because her class surveyed in a field “out of doors”.

In the early days of the school, the calendar year varied because the dirt roads would be washed away in the winter. The school “opens early each year as a mid-term vacation of two months is taken each year during the heavy rains of the winter when students residing in the rural sections are unable to attend,” according to a story in the July 23, 1921 issue of the Contra Costa Gazette.

Over the course of the next few decades, a variety of new buildings were added on campus, including the girls’ gym, constructed in 1939 as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s brainchild, the Works Progress Administration.

By the 1960s, the agricultural villages of the San Ramon Valley were transforming into suburban commuter towns. Danville skyrocketed from a population of 3,585 in 1960 to 26,446 in 1980, according to bayareacensus.ca.gov.

An explosion in population meant an explosion in the student population that the valley’s single high school couldn’t handle. The various school districts in the valley were combined into the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in 1964, and two new high schools were built shortly after: Monte Vista High School in 1966 and California High School in 1973.

While the valley was growing, its namesake high school’s 1917 building was rotting away and being consumed by termites. The A, B, and C classroom wings were built to replace it in 1950, and the mission-style structure was torn down, according to the 1959 Valley Pioneer Centennial Edition.

Those classrooms were finally replaced by the school’s beautiful new B Building, which opened at the beginning of this school year, according to danvillesanramon.com, a local news source.

History was quite literally uncovered at San Ramon Valley High in July 2009, when the remains of 17 men, believed to be members of the Tatcan tribe of the Bay Miwok peoples, were discovered during the construction of a new gym, according to The Mercury News.

Nobody today can remember the days when students rode six miles to school on their horse and buggy to learn how to farm, survey, and speak Latin, but those days were fond memories for many of our community’s forefathers.

Only time will tell how San Ramon Valley High School’s history continues to develop.