Although a school district for elementary education had been formed in 1861, a continued education for students after grade school was not a public concern.
Beyond reading and writing, the schools were not permitted to offer "life experience or direction courses” that have been adopted today. In the 1800s, the children were living in a completely different society from today. Trade schools were rare, colleges were only beginning to become established, and a boy or girl needed only limited education to succeed in life. As the 1900s were reached, society began to change from a rural, agrarian one and a more educated person became in demand in the changing businesses of the cities.
It was in early 1900s that San Mateo attorney Charles N. Kirkbride felt the city needed to continue the education of its children beyond the elementary school. He began to champion the need for a high school as Redwood City had done. He succeeded in getting established a high school district that would cover students from San Mateo to San Bruno.
Eager to get started, a stop-gap school was instituted by renting a small house on Ellsworth Avenue, the Dixon house, and 24 students began their high school education in September 1902. In May 1903, the student body moved to larger quarters at the formally St. Matthews Hall on Baldwin Avenue. By May 1909, 136 students were enrolled in the high school and it became necessary to pass a $100,000 bond to buy land on Baldwin Avenue adjacent to the Central School on Baldwin that educated the students through eighth grade.
A three-story structure with 35,000 square feet of space, 25 classrooms and an assembly hall that could seat 500 was opened with a gala celebration on May 5, 1911. Ten teachers taught the 173 students in the new, state-of-the-art building. It was a showpiece school and the pride of the community.
At the time the new high school was built, students from the northern section of the school district traveled to San Mateo every morning on the #40 trolley line to attend their classes. The district issued passes to the students for the ride which included a return trip to their cities after school.
By 1914, the student body had increased to 323 students. The number of students from the northern section continued to increase and, in 1921, a bond was passed to build a high school in Burlingame. In 1923, Burlingame High School was formally dedicated with Mr. Faulkner serving as the first principal. It was not until 1928, however, before San Mateo High and Burlingame High schools functioned as separate schools. The northern students had a choice of attending either site for their education.
The downtown section of San Mateo continued to develop but the population of the city had moved outside of the inner-city. This necessitated a move to a different site when it came time to consider building a new high school. At the same time this land was purchased, land was purchased for a high school in the northern section of Millbrae/San Bruno on El Camino Real at Santa Lucia Avenue. This land was never built on and it was sold in the 1950s when Capuchino High School was built a few blocks away.
On Nov. 11, 1926, a new brick, two-story San Mateo High School building was begun on land purchased on Delaware Street. In September 1927, a new $600,000 high school complex opened.
The #40 Line trolley was rerouted to the new high school and transportation was provided on the trolley until 1949 when it went out of operation on the Peninsula. In 1950, Capuchino High School was opened for Millbrae and San Bruno students. In 1956, Hillsdale High School was open west of Alameda de las Pulgas to accommodate the new housing additions in the area. Mills High School on the Burlingame/Millbrae border was built in 1958. In 1960-61, Aragon High School was built north of Hillsdale High School and, in 1962, Crestmoor High School in San Bruno was completed at a cost of over $3 million. In the spring of 1980, Crestmoor High School was closed due to declining enrollment and its student body merged with Capuchino High School.
Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.