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Main Street Branch Library: Part 5 -- Original City Buildings

Original City Buildings

Photo #17 -- Old Civic Center -- Fifth St. & Orange Avenue -- built 1923, demolished 1974

This photograph of the Old Civic Center, formerly located between Fifth and Sixth Streets and Orange Avenue, was built on the site of one of the city’s first grammar schools.  Featured here are members of the Grand Army of the Republic’s Women’s Relief Corps standing in front of Memorial Hall in 1931.  The building in the background is City Hall.  The old Civic Center, known then as the “new city hall”, opened its doors in 1923 and served as Huntington Beach’s official seat of government for 51 years  The original Pacific City city hall--predating the city’s 1909 incorporation, operated out of a building at 122 Main Street.  The building that stands now at that address houses an Italian ice cream shop.

The solid brick New City Hall, under construction circa 1922, from a different angle, showing the front entrance.  By contrast, the Memorial Hall is in the background.

The old City Hall, 1923 – 1974  

In this photo of the finished city hall building, (ca. 1940's), the City and State seal plaques are featured above arched niches at the entranceWhen fully finished, the Old Civic Center included the city hall, Memorial Hall, (built in honor of Veterans), fire and police departments, the chamber of commerce and the Horseshoe Clubhouse, which is located on the present-day Triangle Park.  The building , which was completed in 1923, was located near the current Main Street Library and Triangle Park off Main Street. 

In 1933, the Long Beach earthquake damaged the building, causing city staff to move into tents situated around the civic center for a short period of time.  These tents were reminiscent of the city’s earliest years when housing construction could not keep pace with the growing population. This “Cardboard Alley” was located for a while on Triangle park, until the city council ordered residents to vacate in July of 1923.

By 1968, the city purchased the current civic center site at Main Street and what was then called Mansion Avenue (currently Yorktown), across from the Huntington Beach High School.  The new building would open its doors in 1974.

Demolition of old civic center, circa 1974

By the early 1970’s, the city departments were spread out into multiple buildings and planning began for the new Civic Center on Main Street.  A decision was made to demolish the old civic center and redevelop the land as housing.  Now located on this property are condominiums.  The brick resulting from the demolition was salvaged.

New Civic Center, located at Main Street and Yorktown Avenue, during construction, 1974

Salvaged Seals and Eagles at City Yard

After the original city center was demolished in 1974, the salvaged early City and State seals were moved to a parking lot in the city’s public works yard.  Pictured above are the American eagles that used to adorn the front of the city hall building, as well as the seals that were saved from the wreckage.

"City Hall" building at the new Civic Center as it appears today.

Photo #18 -- H.B. High School -- Main St & Yorktown Avenue -- built in 1926 -- as it looked in 1946

The Huntington Beach High School’s founding was one of uncertainty and political opposition.  When the first school district was formed in 1902, bonds for a permanent school building were voted upon and then declared “illegal” over and over for the next four years, amidst much local controversy.

  • 1902 – The school was originally known as Los Bolsas High School, and operated out of Los Alamitos.  However, after only one student showed up for class, it was closed four days later.  After the Huntington Beach district joined with other remaining districts in the local area, the school was relocated several times because none of the school officials could agree upon where to build it.
  • 1906 – The “school on wheels”, as it was often called because of its inability to secure a permanent location, finally settled in Huntington Beach on North Main Street and Union Avenue, between Yorktown and Utica Avenues.  After a name change obtained with the assistance of a state senator, the school began operation as Huntington Beach Union High School.  During construction, classes were initially held in the basement of an auditorium operated by the Methodist church.  The graduating class that year consisted of six students.

Shown above is Huntington Beach Union High School, the city's first high school, completed in 1909

  • 1908 -- Having received their choice of three land grants offered by the Huntington Beach Company, the high school completed construction of its first permanent buildings at its current location.  The cornerstone was laid that year, and in the fall of the next year, students and faculty moved in.  Known as  "Huntington Beach Union High School", the district included students from Huntington Beach, Fountain Valley, Westminster, Seal Beach and Sunset Beach. Located on Main Street, just north of Union Avenue, the school was built in the Mission Revival architectural style.

This photo shows the new Huntington Beach High School just after completion in 1926

Note the oil derricks at the far right of the picture.  They were located in the fields north of the school which was in the area of the original strikes.

  • 1926 -- The school buildings were replaced by “one of the most attractive and complete high schools in California, a campus which withstood the 1933 earthquake without the slightest damage – a most unusual record”.
  • Now located further south of Union Avenue, on Main Street at just before Utica Avenue, the 1926 campus is considered the first permanent high school in the HBUHS district.  One of the first buildings constructed on the new campus was the auditorium and clock tower.  Considered the focal point of the building, it was designed by architects Allison and Allison of Santa Ana in the Lombard Romanesque Revival style.  Although the first school (the one located in Los Alamitos) also featured a bell tower and auditorium, they were rebuilt in the 1926 construction, when the school moved to its current location.  The groundbreaking ceremony took place on Monday, February 8, 1926.

Huntington Beach High School as it appeared in 1955

  • Seven other buildings were added between 1926 and 1952.  This building was the only school until 1959, when Westminster High School was built.

  • In 1976, Huntington Beach High School began construction of new facilities.  Through community activism, the only buildings that remained from the original 1926 building were the bell tower and auditorium.  The other buildings were demolished and then rebuilt, because they were not originally built up to the current earthquake and fire codes (although it did survive the 1933 earthquake!).  The quad was also redesigned and landscaped with new trees.
  • In 1987, the High School received status as a designated historical landmark on September 30, and the bell tower and auditorium are now listed with the County of Orange as Historic Site #36.

The Darrell Stillwagon Auditorium and Clock Tower

  • Then, in July of 2009, additional renovations were completed on the school, including a modernization of the auditorium and bell tower, which were named in in honor of the school’s administrator and activities director, Darrell Stillwagon, who died in 1996 after a 33 year career with the school.  The goal was to make both structural and technological improvements, such as the sound system, being sure to respect the auditorium’s history and character as a landmark.  The bell tower also underwent some restoration work and was fitted with a functional clock.  Finally, a new copper finial was placed at the tower’s top.  A new performing arts building and courtyard construction were also completed.

Photo #19 --City Gym and Pool (1931) -- Dwyer Middle School, (1935), as it looked in 1953.

Exterior of HB Grammar School, ca. 1905

The present day’s Ethel Dwyer Middle School buildings were constructed in 1935, but the school’s history as the first grammar school in Huntington Beach began around thirty years before that. 

  • 1905-1912 -- The first elementary school in Huntington Beach was known as “Central Grammar School.”  It was located on the corner of 5th Street and Orange Avenue, and was used up until 1912, when the building was outgrown by the student population.  The land was donated by the Huntington Beach Company.

The new Central Grammar School, built in 1914, circa 1920’s -- shown in the background amidst oil wells owned by the Standard Oil Company. The main entrance points to the left of the picture.

  • 1914-1933 -- The new school was built in 1914 on the corner of 14th  Street and Palm Avenue.  The building, which was dedicated in February of 1916, was built in the Classical Revival architectural style, and was in use up until the 1933 earthquake.  Luckily, the quake struck after school had let out, saving countless lives.   Most of the school’s buildings were destroyed, except for the gymnasium and, according to an oral history of an eyewitness who attended the school, the cafeteria.  These two buildings were repaired and are “still in use” (as of 1968, that is—some sources indicate they have since been razed in the early 1990’s.)    During the time was school was being rebuilt, classes were held in the gym and various other city buildings around town, until the new building was completed in 1935.



Another view of Central Grammar School, 1914-1933, entrance facing front of photo

  • 1935 -- Work began on the new Art Moderne style school that stands at 1502 Palm Avenue on August 2, 1934.    Now known as “Central Elementary School, the building was temporarily opened on June 7, 1935 for the 8th grade class graduation ceremony.  It opened again in the fall with a student body of 741.

  • This new structure was the work of the well-respected architectural firm Allison and Allison, which also designed the new 1926 high school.  Art Moderne/Art Deco was the signature architectural style used in Huntington Beach, and spanned from the 1930’s until the 1980’s.  The school, along with the adjacent City Gym and Pool, are two important examples of historical buildings that survived local area development.
  • In 1965, the Central Elementary School was renamed the Ethel Dwyer Intermediate School.  Harriet Ethel Dwyer, who began teaching in 1912 for another school district, came to Huntington Beach to teach at the elementary school in 1921, and was there when classes were held in the school’s gym because of the damage the school suffered during the 1933 earthquake.  She was named the school’s vice principal, and worked in that capacity until her retirement in 1951.  Fourteen years later, the school board honored her for her many years of service and renamed the school after her.  Dwyer passed away in June of 1970.  Currently, the school is known as Ethel Dwyer Middle School.

The picture above is how the school looks now, after the installation of some very controversial and unwanted solar panels in 2011.  (Many local residents and students staged a protest.)

“Architect’s drawing of the new $100,000 gymnasium and plunge building at the Elementary School, which will be opened for public inspection next Thursday, Oct. 15 (1931).”

  • In 1931, the City Gym and Pool were opened next door to the Central Grammar School in Huntington Beach, at 1600 Palm Avenue and 17th Street.  It was designed by Orange County’s best-known early architect, Frederick Eley.  (The building can be seen in the far left corner of the featured photo in the exhibit…known here online as Photo #19.)  Here is an image of Eley’s concept art of the building.
  • Notice that the building was known as the “Huntington Beach School Gym and Plunge”.  Not only was it originally part of the adjacent school, but the pool was instead called a “plunge” – typical jargon for the day, since there was also a plunge (filled with salt water) at the beach near the Pier and Pavilion, located at Main St. and Ocean Avenue (now known as Pacific Coast Highway), up until 1962.  The building survived the 1933 Earthquake, while the school located down the street, as well as many other buildings, did not.

The woman featured in front of the City Gym and Pool, as it looked in 1943, is a school district assistant superintendent.

  • In 1967, the school board decided to donate the facility to the City of Huntington Beach, and it became known as the “City Gym and Pool.”  The city made some structural upgrades, and the building has since served as a recreational center serving the community with a variety of programs.

  • 1994—The State Historical Resources Commission approved the city’s application to place the facility on the State and National Register of Historic Places.  The facility, known officially on the register as “the Huntington Beach Elementary School Gymnasium and Plunge”, was added on December 29 of that year.
  • Also in 1994, city officials gave the facility a much needed makeover to recapture the building’s original glory.  Over the next six years, the gym and pool were renovated, using the original building’s wood in the gymnasium, and most of the fixtures and windows were replaced.

  • In 2000, the newly revamped building was rededicated to the City of Huntington Beach on October 12, and is considered one of the best examples of historic preservation completed by the City.

Huntington Beach Public Library
7111 Talbert Ave. Huntington Beach, CA 92648
Phone 714-842-4481