Oakland High School, established in 1869, is Oakland’s oldest high school (and one of the first high schools in California). The first building was formally dedicated on September 17, 1871. A public school currently located near MacArthur and Park Boulevard, it serves approximately 1,800 students in grades 9–12. With 82 instructors, the school consists of three buildings and a 100-yard field. It’s significant enough of an Oakland institution to have had 4 buildings (so far):


Oakland High School first met on July 12, 1869, in one of the rooms at the Lafayette elementary school. This marked the founding of the first high school in Northern California and the second in the state. When Oakland gained in population, the single room became too small, and the school board decided the school needed its own building.


The first Oakland High School building opened on September 17, 1871, at the northwest corner of Market Street and 12th Street. Its Indiana sandstone blocks, which reportedly came “around the Horn,” now ring Astro Circle in Eastshore Park.

1889 drawing 5

The building was designed by Walter J. Mathews, and constructed by Robert Smilie. 5

[ Question: the building shown in the 1889 article looks nothing like v1.0 -- was the 1889 the rebuilt one from after the fire? Possibly #3 in the collage below? ]

Twice the building was damaged by arson fires. After the second fire in November 1889, the school temporarily moved to Hamilton Hall, located at the southeast corner of 13th and Jefferson Streets, with some classes also held in the Temple Sinai building at 13th and Clay Streets.

Oakland High v1.0 (1871–1895)Oakland High School 1880s, photographed by Frank B. Rodolph 4

1889 Sanborn excerpt


Oakland High’s second home of its own, eventually dubbed the “Old Brick Pile” (not to be confused with “The Old Brickpile” that was Saint Mary's College), occupied the block between Jefferson, 12th, Grove (now MLK) and 11th Streets. The building contained four floors (including the basement and attic), and estimates published in 1893 stated that the building would cost approximately $200,000, including $67,750 paid to the Remillard Brick Company.1 The building opened in 1895, and was used until 1928. In 1944 the structure was demolished for a parking lot.

Oakland High v2.0 (1895–1928) Oakland High School v2.0 from Chabot Observatory Park (1898) 2v2.0 Source: January 1895 Pacific Educational Journalv2.0 Illustrated Album of Alameda County, 1893

1902 Sanborn excerpt


Oakland High’s imposing third building, at the corner of Park Blvd. and Hopkins (today’s MacArthur Blvd.) was called the “Pink Prison”. Designed by 1890 OHS alumnus Charles Dickey, its groundbreaking ceremony took place on Dec. 6, 1926. The building opened in 1928. In a rare example of Oakland being proactive, an acute need for fire safety improvements and seismic retrofitting led to the razing of this building before it could kill anyone. (This 1928 article says it was designed by Reed and Corlett.)

Oakland High v3.0 (1928–1980)Demolition of Oakland High v3.0
(photo courtesy Cindy Chin)

1928 Sanborn excerpt


Oakland High’s current incarnation (1980–) was rebuilt on the same spot as v3.0. Designed by ___ it opened on ___. Insert notable comments here.

Oakland High v4.0 (1980–)
photo CC-A from Our Oakland

In 1887 the staff of Oakland High School were the following:

PrincipalJoseph B. McChesney (who was also the Principal of Irving School at the same time).
TeachersW. A. Galbraith, S. P. Meads, S. A. Chambers, Mrs. Katharine B. Fisher (English language and literature), Mrs. Lizzie R. Griffin, Miss Jeannie M. Walbridge, Miss Kate M. Wertz, Mrs. Mina Ferrier, Miss Alma J. Galbraith, Miss M. E. Conners; and Miss Helen Shearer.
Janitor: Robert Blackwood.

In 1908, James H. Pond retired as principal. The school board appointed Charles E. Keyes, principal of the Lafayette School, as the new principal.

The January 1895 Pacific Educational Journal includes this image showing "The Growth of the Oakland High School." Number 1 is Lafayette Elementary; Number 2 is the first separate structure for the school; Number 3 looks kind of like like the 1889 drawing; and the then-new 1895 building is Number 4.


1023 MacArthur Boulevard




Focusing on a specific series of classes and programs, Oakland High contains various academies that allow students to choose their own class schedule. These academies are:

  • AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination)
  • ESA (Environmental Science Academy)
  • Project Lead the Way
  • Public Health Academy
  • VAAMP (Visual Arts and Academic Magnet Program)


Oakland High has three buildings. Its main building is three stories high. A majority of classes (i.e. Science, Math, English) are located in the main building

Related Pages

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Notable Alumni

Links and References

  1. 1893 Annual Report of the Public Schools of the City of Oakland
  2. Image(s) used by permission of the UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

  3. Keyes Made Head of High School San Francisco Call May 16, 1908

  4. Image(s) used by permission of the UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library

  5. The Oakland High School Again In Flames Oakland Tribune November 7, 1889

It’s to be hoped that this Oakland Wiki entry will eventually surpass the Wikipedia article which inspired it, but this should not be too hard, as most of us live here!