Lowell High School traces its beginnings to 1856 when the San Francisco
School Board established the first public secondary school in California.
It was called Union Grammar School, but was officially changed to San
Francisco High School in 1858. Six years later the girls were sent to
another school and the name was changed to Boys' High. In 1876, the school
moved into a new three-story structure on Sutter Street between Gough and
Octavia. In the 1890s, girls once more began to attend to take such college
prep courses as Latin and Greek. In 1894, the school was renamed to honor
the distinguished poet, James Russell Lowell.
In the 1890s, the school was organized into three departments: Classical,
Latin/Scientific and English. During this period the school started to look
upon college preparation as one of its principal functions. More and more
of the students who entered had a college degree as their ultimate goal .
In April 1906, the history of Lowell almost came to an end when the city
was rocked by the earthquake followed by the fire that destroyed a large
portion of San Francisco. Fortunately, the fire was halted at Van Ness
Avenue, and the school escaped the flames. After 1900, the Sutter Street
Building became over-crowded and a campaign for a new site was started. In
1908, a bond issue was placed before the public, and funds were made
available for a new school.
It opened its doors in January 1913, on an entire city block on Hayes
Street between Ashbury and Masonic. Lowell was to remain there until l962,
a half century during which Lowell's position as the city's college
preparatory high school was firmly established. Many of the present Lowell
staff remember pleasant years of teaching at the Old Lowell.
The school had hardly finished celebrating its tenth anniversary at the
new location when the first cries for a "new Lowell" were raised. It was
generally agreed that the site was not adequate to perform properly the
functions of a modern high school. The auditorium accommodated barely 25%
of the student body; it had no library and no room for the construction of
an athletic plant.
In 1952, the drive accelerated for a new Lowell on District property near
Lake Merced. A petition containing thousands of signatures was presented to
the School Board asking for the site for a school that would be a
four-year, non-districted academic institution. In 1955 the Committee for a
New Lowell expanded into the Centennial Committee to make plans for
celebrating the school's one- hundredth birthday, along with keeping the
movement for a new building a live issue.
Events celebrating the centennial were scheduled throughout the entire
1956 school year. Highlights included an Alumni Centennial Banquet and Ball
at the Fairmont Hotel attended by 1,200 graduates, Homecoming Day and Open
House for the Poly game, and the publishing of a Centennial Yearbook.
During this year the "Save Lowell" committee won from the Board a
commitment that the new Southwest high school would bear the name Lowell.
In a ceremony at the Lakeshore site, the mayor laid the cornerstone of the
Lowell opened its new five million dollar plant in 1962 to complete the
fourth move in its history. At the time of the move, opponents of the
concept of an academic high school in San Francisco attempted to convince
the Board that such a school was detrimental to public education in the
city. In a historic decision before more than 1,000 people gathered in
Nourse auditorium, the Board voted 6 to 1 to maintain Lowell in its new
building as a strictly academic, non-districted high school. However, it
was to lose its ninth grade and become a three-year high school.
In 1966, because of the limited capacity of the school (2,200-2,300), it
became necessary to limit enrollment. An admissions committee was formed
consisting of district administrators and members of the Lowell staff.
Students from the junior high schools or transfers from other schools had
to meet a GPA requirement in academic subjects in order to be admitted. (A
student's CTBS scores were added to the admissions criteria in 1980.)
In 1968, Lowell's administrators and staff began a two-year project aimed
at making greater use of the human and physical resources at the school,
and increasing participation in both the curricular and co-curricular
programs. The result was the "Lowell Plan," later given the title "Project
On-Site" a reorganization that changed the traditional seven-period day to
the modified modular schedule still in effect today. (A full description of
the plan is available in the Meyer Library.)