Historic Structures

Campbell Union Grammar School, Campbell California

Date added: April 22, 2022 Categories: California School

Located on the northeast corner of what has become one of the busiest intersections in the valley, this school is significant because it was and still remains a focal point of identity for this community. Built in 1922, it became the first Campbell Union Grammar Schools as a result of the consolidation of four districts in this once rural agricultural area. The building's monumental size with its classical lines provides a strong visual impact on our city as it serves as the westerly entrance to the historic old downtown core. Architect William H. Weeks' use of selective plantings to soften the building and a large set-back create a park-like atmosphere on the front and side facing the two streets.

With the consolidation of Hamilton, San Tomas, Meridian and Campbell districts, which comprised about 14 square miles, the voters also approved a $155,000 bond issue in 1921. Architect William H. Weeks, who was familiar to the Campbell community as he had built the previous grammar school which became the high school annex after 1922, presented plans which were more elaborate than those actually accepted. However, he revised these drawings to meet the feelings and needs of the community. This was a strong point of Mr. Weeks. He designed schools as his local clients wanted them. This is most evident in the auditorium of this school, which was much larger than needed by the student body. However, the trustees wanted what would become a meeting place for the community and, as a result, it became the community center. Since Campbell was not incorporated as a city until 1952, it needed this central point upon which to build community identity.

Another example of the attention Mr. Weeks paid to his clients' needs was exemplified in the kindergarten on the southeast front corner. Because many of the children had to be bussed from a great distance, the room contained many features to make them feel at home, such as the alcove with the fireplace and low seats around the tile-lined hearth, so that they could warm their hands and feet.

This school was so important to this community that, on the day of the laying of the cornerstone, all business houses in town closed so that the entire community could attend the ceremony. A historic photo shows numerous people and automobiles, indicating that they came from all over the area to witness the event.

There was much discussion as to the location of the school. The site selected was directly north of the old high school. Later a new high school would be built in 1936 on the northwest corner, also designed by William H. Weeks. This area became known as the "schools' corner" and still is.

The building is of reinforced concrete, which Mr. Weeks had worked in for many years. Even though he is little recognized, he built more schools in northern California during the period from 1894-1936 than any other architect. Schools were only a part of his achievements, as he also built many libraries, churches, the Casino and Natatorium in Santa Cruz, and many hotels, including the De Anza Hotel in nearby San Jose.

Mr. Weeks later used plates of his Campbell school to illustrate his work in journals and books. The school served as a grammar school from 1922 until 1964, at which time it became the first campus of West Valley Junior College. The junior college continued using the facility until 1976. Since that time, it has been vacant. It should be noted that between 1922 and 1946 this was the only grammar school in the district.

This monumental structure represents the middle period of architect Weeks' long career in public school building. According to David Gebhard, architectural historian at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Campbell's grammar school is a type of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture called Mediterranean Revival, characterized by many classical elements from the Mediterranean world. The spartan, clean lines resulted because of Campbell's desire to economize and Weeks' genius to create a blend of styles in keeping with the popular architecture of the early 1920's.

In late 1983 plans called for partial demolition of the structure, mainly the north, east, and west wings and retention and restoration of the entire south facade including the main entrance and the southerly extensions of the east and west wings.