Winter 1923 Los Angeles High School Semi-Annual

For some reason I can't quite fathom, I have a fascination for old public schools.  I'm not a teacher or anything else connected with the system, and my own school days were nothing spectacular.  It seems that the entire process was nothing more than a lengthy preparation for university, and it often seems that I learned absolutely nothing in the entire eleven years (I skipped a grade) that I haven't found out for myself elsewhere, usually from books.  

It might have something to do with the fact that so much of the physical structure of Los Angeles has changed in the past 100 years.   Few commercial enterprises from the 19th Century have survived to the present day, but there are numerous schools in the L.A. Unified School District that have survived, including Los Angeles High School, founded in 1873--or, as they used to style it through the early 20th Century, The Los Angeles High School.  That's not to say it still has any of the old buildings from 1873, or even that it's on the same site.  But it does still have the continuity of existence, extending over 137 years, which is rare in this town.

One day, I went to visit the LAHS library, just to look at old yearbooks.  To be precise, they weren't yearbooks in the early days, but Semi-Annuals, since there used to be Winter and Summer graduating classes each year.  On my way back to the car, I happened on a small bungalow where they were selling old Semi-Annuals for $5, to fund an Alumni Memorial or something like that.  I plunked an Abe Lincoln down on the table and came away the proud owner of my very own copy of the LAHS Winter '23 Semi Annual.

The first item in the book is the Principal's Message.

And a picture of the good Dr. Housh opposite:

Those most familiar with this view of a principal's desk do not generally count it among their fondest memories.  Even the good kids don't usually like the principal very much..  But William Harvey Housh seems to have been able to strike just the right note with everybody.  Over the years of his tenure, he persuaded the Board of the need to fund successively bigger buildings as the High School enrollment ballooned from 300 to 3000.   Looking back on his era, from the early 1890s to the mid-1920s, it seems to have been more commonly assumed that young people were innately depraved reprobates and in need of constant homily, badgering, and punishment to keep them in line.  Housh, by contrast, succeeded by believing in and trusting the kids, which was explained in a 1925 Times article.  After he retired, grateful alumni of more than two decades clubbed together to present Housh and his wife with a round-the-world cruise.

In those days graduating from high school was still a very big deal.  The class of W '23 expressed this metaphorically as a boat finally reaching the shore.

Ye Ship Of Class hath reached the shore!
It's true that high school student dropout rates are still a big concern even today; yet even that comes with the notion that if you do at least show up, passing and graduating is a snap. The kids who do drop out do so because they don't show up, and the reasons they don't show up are largely external to the school itself. Looking at this Semi-Annual, though, you get the impression the work was very demanding in 1923.   I think there may be something to that; it seems that everyone had to read Chaucer at some point, and a great many of the students took Latin or Greek.

Not far into the book, there's this ode to the school.  With due respect, because I'm sure the writer tried very hard, the overall effect one of great clumsiness in the effort to uphold the rhyme and meter.

O'erlooking all our city wide and fair,
   Not far from mighty Neptune's ceaseless roar,
   Upon that very place where long before,
The mammoth roamed and tiger had his lair.

I think it's the "O'erlooking" in the opening that makes me groan first, and then the nearly obligatory reference to Classical mythology in the next line.   After that it's that place, the mammoth, and then simply tiger.   Anything to force it into the meter.  And so it goes on, now with the painfully awkward lines:

You stand, dear L.A., lifting high in air
   Your tower; the pride of all who by your door
   Have entered, and at last, to come no more 
Will pass into the world of joy and care.

What's wrong with joy and care?  Probably it's the fact that we would have expected her to choose two exact opposites, and those two words don't meet that criterion.  But she had to find something to rhyme with that air in the first line of the stanza.

This is what Latin, inappropriately applied to English does.  Latin usually doesn't have articles, so this writer has omitted them at will to force the meter. This is too much sorrow to go on thinking about, so we'll move on.

In 1879 the students founded the Star And Crescent Society.  At first every student was considered a member, but over the years the lower grades were excluded so that by this time only the seniors were considered members, along with the alumni.   On the day before graduation, every graduating student was presented with a Star And Crescent pin.  S&C is still mentioned in in the school's 1935 Student Handbook, but it appears to have sputtered out during World War II, or shortly thereafter.

Is it possible that a student organization that styled itself The Star And Crescent Society would ping anyone's radar today?

Early on, this organization was the student government of the school.  Some of this role was gradually taken over by Greek-letter fraternities, until the early 1900s, when a state law was passed banning fraternities and sororities in the public schools.  At that time a more recognizable form of student government was instituted.

By 1923, each gender of the senior class had a Senior Board, which was the basis of student government.

Holmes Bowers was the student body president. William McQuaid's also name comes up quite a bit, so he was evidently a big man on campus.   Evidently, in those days Dame Fashion dictated that young men should try to look as much like Herbert Hoover as possible.

Instead of taking group pictures of the student organizations, the editors of this book simply reused the senior class pictures from elsewhere in the book.   This system had some definite merits.  Today there are millions of people who attended high school in the 1970s and now regret the group pictures of them in high-rise bell bottoms that still exist in their yearbooks.  Re-using the head shots avoided all that sort of thing.

It's evident from the copy above that someone had gotten agitated about smoking.  It's remarkable how little things change.  From the joke section, there's this:

Officer, arrest that man!  I think he's thinking of smoking.

Not too much ahead of its time, at that!

Here's the Senior-A class history, and there's that sea-voyage reference again:

  The reference to Jade and Silver is to class colors.  I don't know if anyone still does this in high school; I don't believe we did in the 1970s.  A century ago class colors were a very serious matter.  One of the earliest Semi-Annuals, from around 1899, recounts that on the occasion of a Field Day--a sort of intramural track and field meet--one of the junior classes inadvertently adopted, for the day, the same colors as the senior class.  Just for that, they were presented with a beating by the seniors, or, as they put it, the seniors "adorned our optics with the more somber shades of black and blue."   (Evidently the beatings hadn't diminished their general level of wit and their ability to turn a phrase.)  Although I would rather that nobody got a beating at all, I do hope the seniors spared the girls of the lower grade.  Today, just about the only people who will stomp you  over their colors are outlaw bikers.  

As noted above there's a picture of every graduating senior, accompanied by three humorous tidbits: Natural Gift, Acquired Trick, and Future Accomplishment.  

Note the name I have partially censored on the lower left: Lambert B_____.   His Natural Gift and Acquired Trick, respectively, are  "His wisdom" and "Acting".  His future accomplishment is "Managing B_____ Brothers", a prominent Downtown Los Angeles furniture store which continued into the early 1980s.   Wouldn't you just know it.  Clearly some people made no bones about advertising their family connections.   His picture is in the upper row of head shots, at the extreme right.   From the looks of him, I think he was the president of the school Geriatric Club, to be a member of which you had to look at least thirty years older than you actually were. 

Be that as it may, it's clear the students put a great deal of work into this book.  Comments on individual students were par for the course in those days. Even more unsettling is the fact that some yearbooks listed every student's home address.  I've seen one example of that from the same era, but that was in another school in another city.


As with most school yearbooks, the editors of this one sold advertising.  As is also typical of any old publication, the nuisances of today become the interesting ephemera of days gone by, and there is probably no better example of that than old print advertisements. We have a modest selection of examples below.

Eat the Best

We can't help but notice the ad copy.  It seems to be telling us that if and when we happen to be one of those life forms that need food to sustain themselves, we should shun all but the best foods.  Others who didn't need food to survive were not the target market of this ad.   Also there's the fact that it tells us merely that M.A. Newmark sells "food".  Did I mention they sold food?  They did!  But what kind we don't know--it could have been anything from ginger snaps to sides of beef to Marmite.

M.A. Newmark's father Harris published his well known memoir in 1913--Sixty Years In Southern California. 

Capitol Milling went back to 1883, and the antecedents that merged to form it went back well before that.  According to records of one form or another, flour milling at this location goes back even to the days of Mexican rule.  Today the company still exists, but ceased using its North Downtown facility  in 1991, and that now serves as a filming location.   

Capitol Milling 

Several of the advertisements were for business colleges.   This was a good way for graduates to make themselves useful in an office, in an era when most high school graduates didn't go on to obtain bachelor's degrees. 

Doesn't taste great, and filling too.

In case you can't read the copy, the school offers among its many courses one in "Filling and Indexing".  Maybe it's just me, but I'd tend to avoid a business college that doesn't know how to spell the word "filing."   Or maybe filling is the name of some now-forgotten office task that was considered essential at the time.  Filling boxes perhaps?  Or maybe it was  filling inkwells.

Germain's held forth at Sixth and Main, opposite the Pacific Electric building, providing its customers the best in domestic fauna and flora. The PE Building  was was the main Red Car terminal in those far-off, pre-freeway days.

What's that you say?  A pet shop--or, as the owner styled it, a Pet Shoppe--at 6th and Main, and across the street from the main mass transit hub? That's a clear demonstration of how different the downtown L.A. of 1923 was from that of the late 20th Century.   What's more, in the 1920s, businesses could still use the "shoppe" spelling in a completely non-ironic and non-derisive way.

Germain's Pette Shoppe  is long gone, but the building it was located in survives.

Germain's Pet Shoppe today
And so does the Pacific Electric building across the street.   Cole's was founded in 1906, and is tied with Philippe's as the city's oldest restaurant. 

Pacific Electric or Subway Terminal Building

The upper floors of both buildings are now residential lofts.  As for Philippe's and Cole's, the debate as to which one invented the French Dip beef sandwich rages on, and probably always will.

Mass Media Artwork

The late 19th and early 20th Centuries saw the creation  of numerous advertising logos, and commercial artists and cartoonists often followed this lead in creating the personal logos with which they signed their work.  The yearbook is clearly a product of its time in this regard. 

Charles Philippi graduated from LAHS in 1915 and had become a well known cartoonist by 1923.  Given the somewhat exotic name and considering the geography involved, it appears that he was the same C. Philippi who later did artwork for Walt Disney in the early Silly Symphony animated shorts.   He would continue working for Disney until the late 1950s.

He was probably the inspiration for one Minerva Ellis, who tried to come with her own logo when she signed this book for the owner.

Minerva Ellis poem and logo

From both of the examples above, it seems that lunar motifs were highly popular in commercial iconography.  Procter and Gamble's famous crescent moon logo goes back to the 19th Century, but elicited protests by some misguided Christians who believed they could make out the number 666, and other satanic iconography, in the curls of the man's hair and beard.  This opinion was in no way  held by most Christians, much less by non-Christians, but responding to the protests had become so troublesome that the logo was changed in 1985.

On the other hand,  Miller Brewing has recently revived its Girl In The Moon logo for its High Life brand of bottled beer.

LAHS 50th Anniversary

Because 1923 was the 50th anniversary of the school's existence, there is quite a bit of remembrance of things past here. Several prominent alumni are featured in short biographies. 

Homer Lea graduated from the school in 1901. Though afflicted with hunchback from an early age, he enjoyed an active childhood and youth, for example accompanying friends on hiking and camping trips to the San Bernardino Mountains.   After attending Occidental College for one year, it's told that he somehow managed to get an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point, but was dismissed after one year for health reasons.  According to other accounts he never entered West  Point at all.  Whether he ever attended West Point or not is beside the point; his brilliance as a military strategist would not be hindered.   Leaving West Point, he entered Stanford where he studied military history and also became enamored of the Chinese culture.   In books published decades before the events, he predicted the rise of the Japanese Pacific empire as well as a resurgent and militant Germany.  

Eventually he became a general in the Chinese Republican army who was instrumental in bringing down the monarchy.  When Dr. Sun Yat-Sen was sworn in as the country's first President, Lea was the sole white man in attendance.

The redoubtable Homer Lea

The rest of Homer Lea's  story can be read here.

Marshall Stimson attended the school in the early 1890s, and is shown here with the football team he captained.  It isn't clear which player he is unless  we can presume that the captain would be holding the football.  As the text states, in those days  the high school customarily played against the local colleges and the Normal School, because there were no other high schools in the region.   The year 1895 in the text is probably a misprint, because the '93 which these players have written onto various articles of clothing--including a derby--must be their class year.  

Notice the lack of protective padding, and the football which quite a bit fatter than today's football.   This wasn't the "oblate spheroid" to which Howard Cosell was always referring.  This was the Obese Spheroid.   Not surprisingly, the spiral throw was still over a dozen years away, by which time the football had become narrower and much like today's.   In fact, the throwing style was quite different, sometimes being done with the throwing hand cupped around the end of the ball, which was then heaved in a sort of roundhouse motion.

In later life he attended Harvard and became a prominent attorney and local politician.

Greayer Clover graduated in 1916, and soon interrupted his Yale education to fight in the first World War, first for France and then for the United States.  Training as an aviator, he lost his life during a practice run.

The last couple of paragraphs can be read here.   What would eventually be known as Santa Monica Airport was renamed Clover Field in 1923.   As so often happens when large infrastructure projects are named for individuals, the honor did not prove to be permanent.   Santa Monica today has only one extant trace of this man whose name was once given to one of the largest general aviation airports in the region: Cloverfield Avenue.  Not one person in a hundred knows the story behind that name--until now. 


  1. It surprises even me, but this post has consistently been the most popular one in this blog. I didn't know people were so heavily into antique high school yearbooks.

  2. In the photo of the 1893 Los Angeles High football team on the 1923 yearbook page about Marshall Stimson, Marshall Stimson is in the second row with a football jersey on at the far right. His hair is parted in the center.

  3. A fascinating insight into American history!

  4. How did you miss commenting upon the irony that the pet store is now home to one if the first new businesses on Main Street during the loft era; the Pussy and Pouch pet supply store

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Thanks for the head's up; I had no notion there was a pet supply shop in the same location today. I would like to update the text of the blog post to mention this. First, however, do you happen to know when Pussy & Pooch opened their DTLA location?