From its beginnings as a branch of San Mateo High School to its present status as an integral part of the community, Burlingame High School has weathered one of the most eventful periods of the nation's history. Through this half-century of economic ups and downs, wars, social shifts, and revolutionary technological achievements, Burlingame High School has preserved its academic excellence and continued to send its graduates on their ways to future careers in every aspect of American life, all the while reflecting in microcosm the changes, great or small, in national attitudes and goals.
Approximately 12,000 students have passed through its halls - each person variously influenced by his experience and at the same time contributing his individuality. Although we can never document what this school has meant to each graduate, we can attempt to capture, in brief, the essence of what Burlingame High School has represented in general to its students and its community during its fifty-year history.
To meet the needs of a growing
population, Burlingame High School opened its doors to 350 students
and 30 teachers in December, 1923, as a northern addition to crowded
San Mateo High School, the district's only secondary institution,
at that time housed in the present quarters of the Naval Reserve
unit on Baldwin Avenue. Above the columned portico of the new
structure an inscription read "San Mateo High School - Burlingame
Dedicatory ceremonies were attended by a thousand citizens, happily congratulating themselves on the effects of the passage in 1921 of a $360,000 construction bond issue. Of that amount, one-sixth was spent for purchase of the land.
It wasn't until 1927, when a similar bond issue was approved to build the present San Mateo High School, that Burlingame gained its separate identity.
The newly independent student body quickly organized itself with a constitution, by-laws, an executive council, and standing committees. Many of the school's long-standing traditions and institutions originated that year: the Little-Big Game with San Mateo, in those first years played on Armistice Day, November 11; the adoption of the red and white school colors; the awarding of Block B's to athletes instead of the old Block SM's; and the establishment of the school newspaper, the "Burlingame B", with its motto "Not the Biggest but the Best".
The curriculum was organized in three principal branches: college preparatory courses, commercial courses, and a general survey field of study which more or less combined the two. All students were required, as now, to take physical education classes.
At first, a girls' gym class usually meant changing in the basement to the required bloomers and middies, and hiking to the Bay and back, sometimes pausing to rummage through the old Carolan Estates Carriage house behind the school. Formal physical education classes began with the completion in 1928 of the big main gym and the two smaller boys' and girls' gyms and locker rooms. Construction of the swimming pool, a novel installation, began the same year, with all pumping and filtering equipment shipped from the East Coast, for lack of manufacturers in California.
An exciting innovation in chemistry classes was the showing of "moving pictures" to explain the periodic table of equivalents. A suggestion that girls wear daily uniforms consisting of middy blouses, skirts, and class ties was rejected in favor of current styles. Senior sweaters were all the rage, each year's class choosing its own distinctive style and color. In the spring of 1929, a controversy arose over the merits of the new long skirts, the boys preferring the short, flapper mode. At the same time, school authorities banned boys' "dirty cords" as being inappropriate apparel.
Students enthusiastically enrolled in music and drama classes. In 1929, Eugene O. Brose, the band director who was to serve at Burlingame for 32 years, declared that "the band maintains the tradition of being bigger and better in everything", with 93 advanced members. The orchestra, led by Elmer H. Young, who held the post for 25 years, claimed a membership of 70. The band practiced in the main gym, and stored its instruments under the fixed wooden bleachers. Both groups, as well as the 110-member Glee Club, enjoyed appreciative audiences and full houses. The band was invited to perform on local radio, then a medium still a wonder to American ears.
The Playmakers, a drama society, produced an impressive number of classic and contemporary plays requiring large casts and complicated sets and costumes. In addition to these term plays, the Playmakers presented Christmas pageants, numerous in-class playlets and skits, and joined inter-school productions and festivals, all under the direction of Janice Clark Robison, teacher of English, drama and creative writing until the 1950's.
School assemblies were eagerly attended, each class in turn displaying its talent in "amateur hours", and often joined by the faculty and the numerous clubs. Special assemblies were held on notable occasions - Mother's Day, for example, when students' mothers were guests of honor.
F. Grant Marsh; the third principal, decreed that all social affairs take place on the school grounds, except for the Senior Ball, which began as a dateless dancing and card party at the Burlingame Women's Club. Tickets for the first Junior Prom cost $1.00, and the party was held in the main gym. Some of the dances became annual events, like the Barn Dance (when boys were allowed to wear their "dirty cords"), the Soph Hop, the Frosh Reception, and the Football Dance, the latter considered the social event of the year. Dancing lessons, highlighting the Charleston, were sometimes offered at noon in the main gym during the week prior to the important parties.
The Associated Girls Students, known as the "AGS", sponsored a variety of enterprises for females. Besides presenting bi-annual assemblies, AGS girls sold "hot bow-wows" at the football games; sponsored an annual "jinx" and card party (always termed by the "B" a "howling success"); and conducted numerous charity drives. The AGS were also responsible for "courtesy week", when students were expected to be polite at all times for five days. Other popular groups were the Uniform Dress Club (whose members persisted in trying to popularize the universal wearing of middy dresses), the Kamera Kraft Klub, the Personal Efficiency Committee, the Senior Wearing Apparel Committee, the Social Service Club, and the Stewart White Literary Club, which bi-annually published a magazine. The Art Club had its best work displayed in Europe at an international exhibition of young people's art. "The Pine Cone" was chosen as the title of the first yearbook, which sold for $1.25. It later became the "Annual".
Rallies and bonfires demonstrated students' all-out support for athletics. Rally Committee members were mostly boys, and cheers were led by three male yell leaders. The familiar red and white Burlingame banner first appeared in 1928. Rivalry between Burlingame and San Mateo immediately acquired epic proportions at the first Little-Big. Game in 1927, when the Panthers, coached by Fred Swan, upset the favored San Mateo Bearcats, 7-6. Other athletic activities included intra-mural sports and the annual student-faculty baseball game. (As one Burlingame "B" reporter put it, "the biology teacher was right at home out there catching flies.")
In the Twenties, 88% of the students bought one-dollar student body cards. The first of many drives for various causes was launched to send bundles to needy children on Guam. An assembly guest lecturer on narcotics discussed "thrilling incidents in fighting the dope traffic", the "B" reported. Electric lights were installed in classrooms and along Carolan Avenue, and the San Francisco Chronicle named Burlingame "one of the most beautiful high schools in California".
Popular student pursuits included flagpole sitting, soaping windows on Halloween, and cutting classes in hot weather to swim at Searsville Lake, a day off paid for with sixteen days of detention. The student-run co-op store sold "everything from peanuts to second-hand cuckoo clocks", according to the "B". Milky Ways were voted the favorite campus candy bar. One student remembers "half the school population strolling up and down Burlingame Avenue at noon, leisurely chewing Milky Ways".
School holidays were declared whenever the Barnum & Bailey circus came to town, and on special occasions like Lindbergh's visit to Mills Field in his "Spirit of St. Louis", and the Graf Zeppelin's flight over San Francisco.
The Thirties were years of world-wide economic depression and threats of war. Few additions were made to the buildings. Earthquake-proofing of San Mateo High School meant that its entire student body shared Burlingame's facilities for a year, causing congestion and much curricular adjustment. A public address system was installed and students hailed construction of additional bleachers on the football field, doing some of the preliminary work themselves. An outdoor theater appeared in back of the main buildings, its planning, construction and landscaping in trees and lawn executed by the federal Works Projects Administration, in conjunction with local matching funds.
Innovations in curriculum included classes in salesmanship, boys' cooking, and creative writing, and the increasing use of movies as teaching aids. It was one teacher's theory that "in the classroom of the future, moving pictures will take the place of textbooks". Fewer than one percent of all students of the Thirties dropped out, in spite of the Depression and thanks in great part to a student loan and job-finding bureau founded by Edward Hevey, teacher of history and economics for 39 years and winner of a National Freedom Foundation award for devotion to country and students.
Senior sweaters were still in vogue. The "B" printed careful descriptions of how fashionable young ladies displayed their sweaters. One student reportedly appeared to be "the picture of charm" in her senior sweater, plaid skirt, and coordinated shirtwaist, "with curls arranged tastefully atop her head and a white gardenia at her throat". Blonde hair was the envy of all, including members of one of the football teams who suddenly appeared en masse with hair so bleached it soon turned green. The boys' concern with appearance extended to their trousers, which had to look "broken in", the "B" said, not defining the term. In 1932, members of the Block B Society were required to wear their letters on Fridays or suffer a ten-cent fine.
The drama and music departments maintained their popularity. The orchestra, band, and Glee Club boasted their usual large enrollments. A six-member Girls' Ensemble was formed in 1930 with accomplished string musicians and a harpist. Drama students produced plays like "The Goose Hangs High", "Grandma Pulls the Strings", and "Vengeance Heights". Thespians enthusiastically participated in one-acts, assemblies, special class projects, and inter-campus drama festivals.
Numerous clubs represented a wide variety of hobbies and interests. AGS continued to be the largest organization at school, followed in membership by the Block B Society, Mummers, Hi-Y, T-Square, foreign language clubs (the Latin Club had 50 members in 1932), Homemaking Club, the Radio and Aviation Clubs, the newly emerging Associated Boy Students, and the Stunt Club, which performed hilariously at the annual April Fools' assembly.
Scarcely a week passed when there wasn't a dance to attend. Most big dances sponsored by student committees were based on a theme and involved detailed planning and elaborate decorations and programs. In spite of the main gym's barn-like architecture, decorating crews managed to convert it with lighting, crepe paper, plants and posters into the proper atmosphere for such parties as the "Snow Glide", "Skool Daze", "Shanghai Swing", and the Latin "Spinster Hop", featuring "Don Ozzie Secrest and his Saxophone Senors". Formal senior balls were held in the ballroom of the local Masonic Hall, at Howard Avenue and Park Road.
AGS pageants and fashion shows in the auditorium were colorful events, one of their smash successes being the "Kostume Kermess" in 1932. The first Carnival, complete with a parade up Burlingame Avenue, was held in 1934 and immediately became an important tradition, planned for every four years to augment student body funds, in the Thirties at a low ebb. These were gala events in the three gyms, where nearly every club erected a booth and variously sold food, dances, kisses, souvenirs, and chances to "swat the faculty". I n 1938 the "Fiesta de las Gradas" raised $1,275, and the size of the costumed crowd, including students, faculty and townspeople, was "beyond wildest expectations". World War II forced cancellation of carnivals until the late Forties.
During the Thirties the "B", originally a weekly, suffered a brief economic black-out when it ceased publication altogether, but after an emerg- ency transfusion of funds, it reappeared as a bimonthly paper, eagerly awaited and widely read by the student body. The staff, well-informed on even the most minute goings on, reported the latest on unusual attire, current slang, incidents in the halls, student ailments, and couples "going steady". The gossip column, its author always anonymous, was required reading. The "B" was also recognized for its serious efforts. Lengthy editorials commenting on every aspect of the school, interviews with distinguished citizens, and well-researched articles on current events were standard features. In 1932, student interest in creative writing was so great that the "B" published worthy essays which could not be printed in the literary magazine for lack of space. The paper regularly won statewide honors for excellence of style, reportage, and appearance.
School spirit seemed to be perpetually at fever-pitch. Sports rallies were frequent as Burlingame expanded its athletic program, including sports for females. Girls vied for the distinction of winning a Block B, playing on intra-mural teams and entering their Athletic Association's giant Field Day contests and tournaments with girls' sports teams from other high schools. Swimming and water polo became major inter-mural sports for boys. The Little Big Game was always a ranking community event, thousands of townspeople turning out for the spectacle, proceeds from which went to student body coffers. Student exuberance rose to such a peak that a committee had to be organized to calm inter-school rivalry after the contest was cancelled in 1935 because of pre-game rioting.
Graduates of the Thirties recall the "Believe It or Not" show, when students actually smoked in the auditorium, an act ordinarily punished by suspension; Campus Day in 1939; and discussions on pros and cons of propaganda as war became reality in Europe. On the lighter side, an etiquette question box appeared outside the main office for resolution of difficult social problems. Favorite student pastimes included egg fights with San Mateo rivals, shooting rubber bands all over classrooms, and listening to favorite radio music stations, which starred the first of the disc jockeys.
As reported in a 1938 "B", students voted that the ideal faculty should consist of W. C. Fields as principal, Harpo Marx as superintendent, Mae West as biology teacher, Benny Goodman as band instructor, Al Jolson as orchestra leader, Carole Lombard as history teacher, and Donald Duck as truant officer.
During the Thirties, students were so enthusiastic about extra-curricular school organizations that limitations had to be imposed on activities schedules to prevent fatigue, the "B" reported. A good home room was "a priceless asset", the paper maintained. Students competed with local grammar schools in frequent fire drills - racing the clock to clear the school in the fastest time. In 1938, they achieved the record time of fifty-six seconds, and were commended by the city fire chief and the "B" editor.
A fortunate few students possessed cars of their own, preferring flashy convertibles, but usually sporting jalopies. Others were occasionally able to persuade parents to loan them the family sedan for a day, providing that fathers be met on time at the train station. Students from San Bruno, Lomita Park, and Millbrae rode the Municipal Railway's San Francisco-San Mateo "40" trolley car line. They bought their monthly books of green commute tickets at the school office at a special rate of seven cents per round trip. The numerous students who lived in North Burlingame traveled back and forth on local city buses, and the "B" often carried their comments about the downhill thrills and the general crowding and cacophony.
Teachers grimaced as students added to the language expressions like "foo", "wow", "pick-up", "so long", and "poo-poo-dah-do". "Weed" referred to cigarettes made from tobacco. San Francisco provided exciting entertainment with appearances by such performers as Rudy Vallee, Horace Heidt, Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey, on the Golden Gate Theater stage, and the thrills of the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island in 1939, to which students traveled by bus and train. Couples danced on Saturday nights in the ballrooms of the City's three major hotels: the Mural Room of the St. Francis, the Peacock Court of the Mark Hopkins, and the Rose Room of the Palace.
But all was not frivolous as the Thirties wore on, for the Nation, still fighting the Depression, was forced to turn its attention to ominous international events, and Burlingame students shared the country's concerns. Already involved in supporting many school and community drives in aid of the needy, they began to consider the prospect of war. The "B"'s tribute to the departing seniors of 1938 contained this passage:
"Far from beautiful is the picture of America into which BHS graduates must fit themselves. Strikes are paralyzing business in the great cities of our nation. Big business and the government battle for the upper hand as another Depression is predicted. Men and nations stand armed to the gums while infant war scares gnaw on their teething rings . . ."
Yet the students faced the gravity of the approaching years with bravery and aplomb. The "B" quoted a senior as saying that " 'it seems funny to think that if the United States should go to war, some of the BHS boys would shoulder arms.' Yes, it's funny, all right."
In the early Forties the war had a profound effect on student life. Construction plans for new music and shop buildings had to be postponed. The windows of rooms that lined the halls were boarded over as a precaution against air raids, and night dances were forbidden during the early period of 'blackout' alerts. The curriculum underwent significant changes: the elimination of the study of the German language, the addition of courses in mechanical science, aviation, up-dated physics, and problems of global war. Physical education classes began to include drills in military marching. Panel discussions were offered on problems of Japanese-American citizenship. The wartime fashion slogan for the clothing department became "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without".
Because of metal shortages, elaborately hand-printed certificates were awarded instead of pins for student achievements. "Men in Service" was a new regular column in the "B", reporting the activities of former students serving overseas and those at home on leave, and also printing heartfelt tributes to alumni killed or missing on the world-wide fronts.
The war dominated student affairs. The Mummers, supported by drama teacher Allen McNitt, contributed their dramatic talents to a benefit for the San Mateo County Blood bank, as well as to production of plays at local military camps. Students participated intensively in the Red Cross programs: a penny a week was collected from each student, and adult volunteers including teachers led discussions on disaster relief methods and taught courses in first aid. Conscious of shortages of war materials, students energetically promoted scrap drives of all kinds and shared the national duty to conserve gasoline and rubber. Articles in the "B" vigorously supported these efforts with editorials, echoing the national queries "Is This Trip Necessary?" and "Don't You Know There's a War on?"
A vast majority of the student body engaged in the national war stamp and bond sales, raising funds in the community through direct sales and a variety of ingenious entertainments, like the band's free concerts for bond buyers. A Minuteman flag flew daily with the American flag in front of the school, proclaiming monthly achievement of a set bond sales figure, and students patriotically exhorted one another to keep the flag flying.
National honor came to Burlingame when a P-38 fighter plane in active service was named "The Burlingame High School Panther", the result of the students' topping their goal, in the country's third war loan drive, to reach the sum of $173,000, equal to the cost of one of the planes. Fired by this accomplishment, the student body subsequently sold additional bonds to the equivalent cost of a land jeep, an amphibious jeep, and an ambulance plane. Total war bond sales at Burlingame reached nearly half a million dollars.
Frequent assemblies offered information on the military. Girls were introduced to the WAVES, WAACS, WRENS, and other women's service corps, and boys to the several branches of the armed forces, by means of demonstration of martial skills, performances of regimental marching bands, and panel discussions on the draft law.
Parents were invited to an exhibition at the school of the diverse projects of the Victory Corps, community branch of a national organization which provided training for the civilian war effort and acquainted students with military requirements. Many boys and girls volunteered to harvest summer fruit crops in the California valleys, where the war had caused a labor shortage.
At a memorial assembly, local government officials presented Burlingame with a plaque honoring alumni who had died in the service.
The athletic program, criticized by some as a wartime luxury, suffered a decline in sports participation in the first year or so after Pearl Harbor, but gradually revived with the coaches' determination, sparked by grid coach C. E. "Swede" Righter, to provide a psychological boost to the war effort, after they began receiving letters from soldier alumni demanding that sports be continued and asking for latest scores.
Wartime graduation ceremonies mirrored the patriotism of the country. In 1943, for instance, the graduation program theme was "This Land We Love", and student speakers reaffirmed the importance of the American Bill of Rights, in the face of changes wrought by the war upon their lives and the lives of millions abroad. After 1945, with international conflicts at least temporarily behind them, students again assigned their energies to school issues and causes.
After years of planning and postponement, the creative arts and music buildings were completed in 1949 on the former site of the outdoor theater. A long-awaited barbecue area replaced a bonfire pit where the student council had held its meetings. For several years it was the scene for barbecues, rallies, and casual evening get-togethers, until increasing school population required use of its site for further construction. Lights were installed on the football field, and night games found the bleachers jammed to capacity. Students maintained their interest in world affairs, running numerous drives to raise funds for European war orphans, and crowding into debates on the Marshall Plan in 1948. Boys and girls that year also took advantage of a rare opportunity when they flocked to view the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, displayed aboard the national Freedom Train, then traveling the country.
Stylish dressing regained its importance in the scale of values. Boys groaned as the "New Look" came in and hems went down. Girls wore chintz "wash dresses", hoop skirts, and lots of petticoats and, renewing a flash fad of the Thirties, tied white dishtowels around their heads. Their everyday costume was a sweater, a pleated skirt, bobby socks, saddle shoes, and a string of pearls. Boys donned "low-slung" jeans, causing considerable controversy as some people called these pants "obscene", according to the "B". The most daring boys sported "zoot" suits, a singular style featuring wide lapeled, pin-striped jackets which hung to the knees over matching, chest-high, pegged trousers held up by suspenders.
In 1947, the "Yearbook" changed its name to "Panther Tracks", the title still used today. For the ninth consecutive year, the "B" was awarded first place rating as a high school newspaper by the national Quill and Scroll Society. "Fresh Flame" was born as the school's newest literary magazine. The student council produced some innovative programs to deal with the growing number of students. To relieve noon congestion in the corridors and on Burlingame Avenue, for example, council members experimented with providing a variety of co-educational activities in the gym, including badminton, volleyball, basketball, ping pong, and dancing.
Students also campaigned vigorously for a community recreation center. A delegation appeared before the city council with the proposal and undertook numerous projects to publicize the need for the facility and to help earn the necessary funds. The dream came true in 1949 with the opening of the City of Burlingame Recreation Center in Washington Park, adjoining the school. For the next fifteen years, the "Rec" was the hub of nearly all social activity outside the school, and the locale of most of the dances.
"Fun Nights" in the gym offered swimming, badminton, ping-pong, volleyball, and dancing, snacks and soft drinks, and were advertised as inexpensive sure cures for dull Friday evenings. Saturdays were saved for dating. The Senior Assembly was always a big event, much time being devoted to present the most professional show possible. Senior Dress-Up Day was a high point on the calendar for the entire school, with seniors parading in ingeniously designed and executed costumes. In 1949, a new Burlingame banner for sports events replaced the worn-out original. Football games were mostly victorious, the teams enjoying fanatic support. Faculty-student basketball games were frequent and well attended.
The grounds and interior floor plan of the school were altered in the Fifties by construction of the cafeteria and homemaking building. These facilities had been located in the northwest wing of the school, henceforth to be occupied by the foreign language department. The new building was erected on the former site of the much appreciated and well-tended rose garden. The grounds in front of the school were still thickly planted, the spacious lawns yet to come. Long-demanded showcases for trophies were added to the main hall.
In 1951, Burlingame firemen aided the Mechanical Drawing Club with a paper drive to help finance an electrical scoreboard for the football field. The 25-year-old bleachers were declared unsafe in 1953, and were replaced at a cost of $36,950. After the flight of the Soviet Sputnik, university requirements began to stiffen and, starting in 1957, school administrators held lengthy interviews with officials of many colleges in order to strengthen Burlingame's curriculum. More Burlingame students planned to attend universities, in 1952 their number reaching 89% of the senior class.
Clothes of the Fifties copied the college "Ivy League" look. Girls wore bright red lipstick, cardigan sweaters, mid-calf-skirts, pedal pusher pants (but not to school), saddle shoes, and, their hair in pony tails or short curls with bangs. Cashmere sweaters were "in", the goal being to wear a different one every day. This created a hardship for those unable to afford the extravagance, and the girls finally decided to discontinue the fad. Boys wore slacks and shirts, and sported shiny, slicked-back hair or "DA" cuts.
Toward the end of the decade, Burlingame's string orchestra, under the direction of Lawrence Short, gave the school one of its greatest claims to fame. On June 10, 1958, the then local Congressman, J. Arthur Younger, announced that the string orchestra had won an invitation to represent the United States at the World's Fair in Brussels, the only musical group so honored. The student body then mounted a gigantic fund-raising effort. To send the orchestra to Europe would cost $40,000. Peninsula businesses, industrial firms, and community leaders helped in the all-out effort to raise the money.
Governor Goodwin Knight publicly supported the drive, and even the new Hillsdale High School band scheduled special concerts and donated the profits to the cause. All the money had to be earned in less than two months. The week before the orchestra was to leave, they were still $20,000 short, but urgent appeals to 250 county firms produced the balance. Prior to their departure on July 30, the orchestra was treated to a big bon voyage party at the Bay Meadows racetrack.
Newspapers reported their successful performances at the World's Fair and in other European capitals. Upon their arrival home on August 26, they were greeted at the airport by a crowd of a thousand cheering fans at a red carpet reception. A police escort convoyed them to Burlingame Avenue, where the town congratulated them with an auto parade.
The orchestra was further honored at invitational performances before the National Musical Educators' Association Conference in Los Angeles and before the State Legislature in Sacramento, an "unprecedented achievement", the "B" proclaimed. In November, 1958, the vice-president of Japan's Cultural Center chose the string orchestra at Burlingame as one of the few West Coast groups he would have time to visit during his American tour.
Other Burlingame groups distinguished themselves in their own fashion. Vera Maple's weaving class was featured in the fall, 1953, issue of "Handweaver and Craftsman" magazine. Under the guidance of Robert Fertig, teacher of mathematics and prize-winning television educator, students organized a fictitious engineering corporation called BURCAL, for the application of mathematics to practical problems, and won praise for their work in "Electrical West", a trade magazine for electrical engineers.
The Golden B Society was formed in 1955, its membership limited to students who accumulated a specified minimum number of points through service to the school. Other popular clubs were the Future Teachers of America, Future Nurses of America, Junior Statesmen, and the Science Club. The local American Field Service chapter selected top qualified students to spend summers abroad with foreign families, and arranged for foreign students to spend a school year at Burlingame.
Numerous social groups flourished off-campus. The YMCA geared itself to teen-age activities, and its Hi-Y and Tri-Y clubs boasted large memberships. The Burlingame Recreation Center also catered to the burgeoning youthful population. The scene for dances and lunches, it served as a summer hang-out as well as a focal point for parties during the school year.
In 1952 "jitter-bugging jam sessions" were a continuing craze. In 1957, student musicians in the Rec Band, which consisted of a saxophone, two trumpets, two trombones, a piano, a bass fiddle, and a drum, wore suits and ties, and sponsored dance lessons besides playing for all the Center's parties.
Students were, as always, quick to rally to the support of worthy causes, raising funds for polio and cancer research, for victims of the atom bombing of Hiroshima, and for Korean war orphans, and sending copies of school publications to graduates serving in the Army in Korea and in occupation forces in Japan and Europe.
The colorful Carnivals were bigger and better than the pre-war versions, netting profits that paralleled the booming national economy. Each class planned contests, ski trips, dances and assemblies. Senior dress-up day continued to be one of the most anticipated and frantic occasions, as evident in Panther newsreels left by each graduating class. Wildly costumed seniors arrived at school in decorated cars, and everyone gathered on the front steps to gape at the results.
School spirit climbed to an even higher peak. Everyone wore red and white on Fridays and to the football games, where Coach Elmer Schaake's "Shockers" were usually winners. Girls waved pompons, and the bleachers resounded with cheers from the two hundred "yell-block" members in the rooting section. Female cheerleaders wore midi-length skirts, but the majorettes and chief pompon girls wore theirs above the knee. The football team won the PAL championship in 1952, and the golf team was undefeated for the sixth straight year. The varsity basketball team was unbeaten in 1956.
Burlingame also saw some of its rowdier days in the Fifties. Local newspapers carried numerous articles detailing student brawls, beer busts, and secret society initiations. Pelting San Mateo High School boys with eggs and vegetables thrown from cars was a prank which originated with the school, but the idea seemed new again in 1951, and police were quick to respond.
A massive water fight involving 300 students with all the hoses on the front lawn was only broken up when police answered a frantic call from the school's main office. After other similar episodes, the police complained to newspapers that students were "completely out of hand". The local papers ran articles about hazing incidents at Burlingame, and insisted in editorials that laws be strictly enforced.
In 1957, by popular demand, the Senior Assembly became the Senior Show - a one night stand for parents and friends. Admission was charged, and proceeds customarily were donated to charity. The theme of the first show centered around television, just emerging as an influential mass message medium.
Other institutions revered by students of the Fifties were the senior bench, the Panther den (a club-like meeting room in the school basement), the student store, Elvis Presley recordings, and the many drive-in restaurants up and down the Peninsula. Walking around campus, one heard expressions like "square", "be frosted", "updadiddy boys", "get in your rod and buzz the Ave", and "I dig you". The Fifties also produced atom- bomb air raid drills, with students crowding into halls and under desks for "safety".
The Sixties saw extensive construction at Burlingame. In 1960 a new physical education complex replaced the too-small gymnasiums. Two years later the library was relocated and enlarged, and a new chemistry lab was built. Renovations to the counseling department and main office were made in 1964. Reconstruction of the physics and electronics labs and the addition of the Erickson engineering laboratory were effected in 1965. Also that year a ceramics workshop was installed in the art department, and the technical drawing classroom was moved upstairs in the main building to occupy the former Little Theater. From then on drama productions were confined to the auditorium and the backstage classroom.
The main building underwent major reconstruction in 1967 when earthquake proofing was strengthened and the roof was renewed. (People still remember the day a workman's leg came through the ceiling in the middle of an English class.) One year later the new biology lab was completed.
Curriculum also changed. Present foreign language audio labs were initially tested by a pilot group of students in 1960. In 1962, Frank Bettendorf filmed pupils in his advanced drama class as a new technique in self-evaluation. "Work experience" was also introduced that year, starting with five students who took jobs in the community in connection with their studies. Very early morning classes for students with heavy academic schedules were offered in the physical education department and in the choir classes.
At the same time, the English department launched a variety of new courses and programs, notably creative writing; the popular team-taught English class; independent honors English; and the "phase-selective" program, which enabled students to choose from a wide range of such subjects as the Bible as Literature, Utopian Society, Art of the Film, Shakespeare, and American Short Fiction. Other curriculum innovations in the Sixties included dual-eligibility classes' with San Mateo High School; English as a Second Language, for the benefit of the increasing number of non-English speaking students; classes for the hard-of-hearing; developmental reading; and the use of simulator machines in Driver Education courses.
All these changes - physical alterations and academic restructuring - at Burlingame and most other high schools were created by the rapidly growing teen-age population as the "war babies" entered high school, and by national pressures to raise educational standards to keep up with the demands of the incredible advances of technology in all the disciplines, advances which in turn presented new challenges to traditional ambitions as previously undreamed of career opportunities arose.
The general prosperity of the citizenry made it possible for
many more students than ever before to attend college, and resulting
keen competition for acceptance drove students to
study harder and to take college-level courses, mostly in mathematics and science, available for the first time in the secondary schools.
The enrollment at Burlingame of increasing numbers of students from minority races added flavor and zest as cross-cultural influences were brought to bear on traditional attitudes and activities. Moreover, there loomed the prospect of new and different future careers for women. And, beyond school affairs, the heightening war in Vietnam began to present new concerns and anxieties.
During the Sixties, the "B" warned from time to time of student apathy towards school activities, a condition made apparent by a decline in purchase of student body cards and a consequent drop in attendance at some school functions and in voter turn-out for school elections.
In 1967, searching for reasons, the "B", a vehement promoter of school spirit since its inception, observed that there was "a greater diversity of interests and personalities among the student body than previously", and that the 1,392 students at Burlingame perhaps possessed a broader outlook than their predecessors, plus the means to participate in the wide range of Bay Area affairs which competed for their attendance.
Responding to the "B", student leaders pointed out that the increased size of the student body fostered diversity, and they emphatically denied a diminution of school spirit.
Indeed, activities appealing to student interest in the "real" world flourished. The drama department mounted challenging productions of contemporary theater pieces. One hundred twenty enthusiasts tried out for "Mrs. McThing". Other outstanding successes were "Antigone", "The Diary of Anne Frank", and "The Miracle Worker". The music department also preserved its quality reputation. In 1966 the band, directed by John Rando, won the first of six successive Perfect Performance plaques at the yearly Bay Area high school band contest and was invited to play for three annual meetings at the Music Educators National Conference, Western Division, at Las Vegas, Long Beach, and San Diego.
Speakers' Circle, modeled after its namesake at San Francisco State College, enabled students to hear outside lecturers on various national and community issues. The first discussion, in May, 1964, drew 200 students to hear a speaker from the Congress on Racial Equality. The same month found students working to raise money to help re-supply Alaskan schools damaged by the Good Friday earthquake.
In 1968 the student council organized an intensive two-week drive for the Peace Corps, collecting $1,026 by their efforts. A year before, the Foreign Relations Club sent books to Pakistan and to the Asia Foundation. The seniors donated $500 to the Muscular Dystrophy Foundation when a classmate was stricken by the disease. A "Bundles for Appalachia" campaign in 1968 netted 5,000 pounds of clothing.
For purely social fun, dances still rated high on the scale. The Rec Center sponsored parties every Friday night, and everyone rushed there after the football games. The second half of the Sixties saw the Center's popularity wane somewhat in favor of more glamorous locales. Proms were held in the most luxurious hotel settings obtainable, but the Christmas Formal and the autumn Grid Dance honoring the football team remained, as usual, at the Rec.
The AGS traditionally provided a flower cart in the school's main hall where boys could buy corsages for their dates for the formal dances. On these occasions, girls often gave pre-dance dinner parties in their homes. The dances were given memorable titles like "Strangers in Paradise", "Promise Her Anything", and "Forever Golden". Rock music invaded the scene, and enthusiasm for such fads as the "Twist" changed dancing styles completely. An alumnus remarked that the new dancing seemed to eliminate the wallflowers of old, it being no longer necessary to be able to follow one's partner, or even to need one.
Spurred on by the remarkable records of the athletic teams, Rally Commission became the most powerful organization in the school, with eighty members who promoted school spirit with elaborate rallies, put together the Freshman Yell Block, and introduced Spirit Week, which created such fierce rivalry between classes during five noisy days before the Little Big Game that a "B" article in 1963 warned that Rally Commission was troubled by "overspirit". The positions of cheerleaders and pompon girls were coveted by everyone and won after hours of practice, grueling try-outs, and an election.
Coach Robert Lightcap, followed by Coach Robert Booker, led the football teams to many victories, including two championships of the newly-formed Mid-Peninsula League. In 1966, the "B" led the community in saluting Burlingame's Wonder Teams, winners of championships in golf, track, tennis, basketball, and football. In 1968, the tennis team won its seventeenth consecutive Peninsula championship.
Alumni of the Sixties remember the black market report card scandal in 1963 (some students in those pre-computer times paid $1.25 each for blank duplicate grade cards); the night four Burlingame students appeared on the Ernie Ford television show; the year a Burlingame girl and track wonder was a likely contender for the mile in the Olympics; grad nights at the Peninsula Golf and Country Club, the "twelfth year itch", otherwise known as "senioritis"; the "Fresh Fizz"; the discotheque fad; pierced ears and the "Granny" look; girls ironing their hair; and the Beatles.
Although the story of the Seventies is yet to be fully recorded, it seems apparent that Burlingame is evolving into a different institution. Some students have turned away from customary extracurricular activities to find fulfillment in other, broader ways: community work (both volunteer and paid), extensive travel, and politics, to name a few choices. Some old traditions continue to thrive, like the Grid Dance, various class events, and Spirit Week, but participants have seemed to some observers to be detached, the changes in emphasis perhaps mirroring the recent national and especially collegiate tensions over the American role in the war in Vietnam, the new responsibilities conferred by the lowering of the voting age to eighteen years, and the prevalent general questioning of time-honored values and institutions.
A concept in education new to Burlingame emerged with the initiation of the Creative Use of Time project in the fall of 1972. The project's planning committee designed a course program of greater flexibility, allowing for a more intensive and individual way of coping with educational requirements. Resource centers were set up in the foreign language, social science, English, mathematics, and science departments, to provide specialized library and laboratory facilities for students to use for regular assignments and for independent study. "Variable scheduling" was introduced, with classes meeting for three days or four days, rather than daily, and for different lengths of time, making it possible for students to enroll in more courses, and for laboratory classes to meet for longer periods.
Although the exterior of the school has looked the same for a decade, the interior appearance has enjoyed a remarkable transformation since the advent of the Seventies. Gone are the institutional greens of yesterday. Many classrooms pulsate with vibrant, psychedelic color combinations. The halls are painted in shades of white, yellow, brown, blue, and mustard. Leafy green plants hang from the skylights, and white vinyl tiles replace the ancient scuffed green linoleum flooring.
Students maintain a casual, low-keyed attitude, manifested in their speech - "far out", "right on", "mellow out", "what a bummer!" - and in their clothing, which consists of almost anything they please and, depending on the weather, layers of it, or as little as possible. Many students believe that one's own group of friends and individual interests should prevail over organized social functions, school clubs, and any "typical" pattern of the past, an opinion which copies that of their brothers and sisters in college. (It is a recognized phenomenon that, historically, collegiate movements gradually filter down to the high school level, sometimes taking a couple of years to do so, where they are adapted to fit local circumstances.)
The first years of the Seventies at Burlingame saw a further decline in student involvement in school affairs, according to the ever watchful "B", which cited the smaller size of the Rally Commission and consequent drop-off in the decibel level during Spirit Week. But the paper also noted the continuing interest in athletics, and declined to predict the death of the rooting section. In 1972, the girls' fourteen-member gymnastic team took first place and the Northern California title in competition with 29 other schools.
Today, class activities and student body dances compete with the greatly varied interests of highly mobile teen-agers. Art festivals, garden projects, ecology-oriented recycling centers, sophisticated scientific experiments, date-less no-host gatherings - these are typical of pursuits which take precedence over the activities of yesteryear.
The size of the student population has ended assemblies as they are remembered by alumni, the auditorium being too small to seat everyone simultaneously.
The music department continues its traditional concert performances and has also recently produced its versions of "Jesus Christ Superstar", "Godspell", and "Hair". Its latest resounding success was "Oklahoma!", a team effort with the drama department, under the direction of Jean Anderson, which played to two weekends of packed houses.
Panther Tracks endures, annually delivering tributes to departing seniors in spite of increasing publication costs, which have for fifty years been the chief threat to its survival, the "B" has regularly reported.
The "B", its gossip column having expired in the Sixties after charges of "elitism", devotes a good deal of space to national and international news, responding to student interest in outside current affairs. The "Phoenix" carries on, despite a present decline in quantity of student literary contributions, thus exhibiting the same cyclical disorders suffered by its several predecessors, from the demise of which it derived its title.
The City of Burlingame has ripened into a stable, mature community, too expensive for many young families. Consequently, the population center, source of school enrollment, has moved southward, and a high percentage of teenagers are bused to Burlingame. These new students, eager to be assimilated into the school environment, have little or no background of parental or community association with either the town or the high school.
The original faculty of twenty to thirty-five years' tenure has gradually been replaced by young teachers, themselves new to the area. These localized problems, though not unique, add to the difficulty of maintaining old traditions and explaining their importance as a unifying force. The 1973 celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Burlingame, with its three days of alumni festivities, provided a boost to efforts of faculty, students, and administrators to re-kindle interest in the school's history and customs, and incidentally proved to the students that in making their own innovations and traditions, they are simply following in their forebears' footsteps.
But in spite of vicissitudes there remains the vital affinity between students and their school which has existed since Burlingame first opened its doors in 1923. Students united in strong protest when it was proposed in 1970 that the school be closed for economic reasons. Three years later they spoke up again to fight the suggestion that the historic Frederick Pawla murals of the Thirties, which adorn the walls of the foyer, be removed in favor of modern graphics. The love of Burlingame students and graduates for their school was expressed in an editorial, voicing anti-closing sentiment, in a local newspaper in 1970:
"When a high school has been in operation for over four decades, and holds the esteem and loyalty of thousands of graduates and their parents and relatives, it achieves a high rank among public institutions. It acquires tradition, affection and emotional ties that cannot lightly be cast aside. Similarly, Burlingame's civic pride in its high school cannot be safely flouted."
For fifty years, Burlingame High School has upheld standards of excellence in academics, of probity in student affairs, of wise progression to meet change, which have guided its students throughout their lives. The school has met the problems of the past and is now coping with the ferment of the Seventies. The present generation, reared on television, geared to instant, constant communication, and expected by its elders to exhibit instant maturity, is the inheritor of the Nuclear Age, and its challenge is greater in degree and scope than any dreamed of by its progenitors. But Burlingame students may be confident in the knowledge that their school, for at least another fifty years, will continue to give them the best of tools with which to face their futures. (end)