Carmel High’s history, traced from past to present

When the clock strikes 7:45 and the bells ring as students sleepwalk to class, it’s easy to believe that this is the way it’s always been, that this is something immutable, something that can be taken for granted, the way it’s always been and the way it always will be. But, as with most things, there’s a story hiding behind the scenes.

It’s a little-known fact that through the early 20th century, students living in Carmel-by-the-Sea attended the Sunset School, at the present location of the Sunset Center. However, as Carmel and its constituency grew in size, a need for a larger school was voiced: This is where Carmel High’s story begins.

In the summer of 1938, City Hall formed a fact-finding committee for sites to build a campus on, which boiled down to the “Carnegie Laboratory land at the east end of Eleventh Street; Hatton Fields Mesa opposite Carmel Mission; a triangular parcel of Paradise Park fronting on Carpenter from Ocean to Fourth; four blocks on north Junipero; and the Mission Ranch.”

After extensive conflict over the location, construction of the school, which is today the office and administration wing, commenced in early 1939, making use of over 17,000 adobe bricks. This effort finally came to a close on September 10, 1940, when Carmel High School finally opened—without a gymnasium, cafeteria, playing field, swimming pool, tennis court, auditorium or library.

Timeline

But despite its minimalism, Carmel High left its creators a lot to be proud of. Upon completion, the Carmel Pine Cone referred to it as “an architectural triumph, combining in its long rambling buildings the twin values of beauty and utility [and] symbolizing the greatest virtue of democracy—a love of light.”

As the years passed, Carmel changed almost constantly, with new buildings taking shape left and right. Former health teacher Jeffrey Wright, who first attended CHS as a junior in 1962, says his first impression of the school was “walking down the hall of the administration building and [seeing] all 22 class pictures hung, in order, up and down that hallway…I felt like I was joining something significant!”

By the time Wright returned as a teacher, coach and adviser in 1987, the facilities had undergone even more transformations: “New buildings, remodeled classrooms, gym, pool, etc.,” he says. But even as the physical facilities were in flux, a concrete student identity was taking shape.

Traditions started by students who graduated decades ago are still celebrated today, from the Shoe Game (first celebrated in 1949 with a smashing 33-0 Carmel victory) and the Powderpuff game (dating at least back to 1972) to the desert trip (pioneered in decades ago).

With that being said, Carmel High is not without its own setbacks—most notably, a 1993 instance of arson that sent the then-science wing up in smoke. English teacher Michael Palshaw, who graduated in 1994, remembers the experience with a bemused sort of resignation.

“[My] initial response was kind of disbelief that students would actually do that,” Palshaw says. “I think most students can relate to the idea of doing it—burning down a school— metaphorically, but to do it literally was outlandish.”

Similarly bitter, the Class of 1994 yearbook stated that “nothing … could hide the blistered sight of our school in ruin.” But still, Carmel survived—and with the years, it only grew stronger.

Several decades after its inception, Carmel High is almost unrecognizable: the landscape is dominated by a new library, a new theater, a new science wing. Even the last vestige of the original campus—the administrative wing—is slated to be razed, at least as soon as CUSD gathers the funds. But what remains is the spirit: a love of knowledge. And now, as Carmel High nears its 75th anniversary and another academic year comes to a close, there’s more than ever to be thankful for.

It’s been a fun year, Padres!
-Christopher Good