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One of the Bay Area’s most iconic high schools will be celebrating its 120th anniversary in October.

The community is invited to a celebration to mark the 120th year of San Mateo High School and the San Mateo Union High School District on Saturday, Oct. 8.

The day’s festivities will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The celebration will begin in the San Mateo Performing Arts Center with a historical slide show at 11 a.m. Followed by performances by a variety of student groups and student-led tours of the campus.

The performing arts center is located at 600 North Delaware St., San Mateo.

The Oct. 8 event is free and open to the public, rain or shine.

More details about the celebration are available online.

The actual anniversary date was Sept. 15, when the school and the school district marked 120 years.

On July 26, 1902, a petition was circulated by Etta W. Tilton, the then-San Mateo County schools superintendent, to create a high school district. The petition was signed by a majority of families in the county and approved by voters.

San Mateo was deemed to be the best location for a high school. Up until then, students could attend first through 10th grade at Central Grammar School in San Mateo. Students had to attend private school if they wanted to continue their education beyond 10th grade.

Students gather on the quad at San Mateo High School in 2017. (Photo by Raphael Landre Borlongan/Google)

Humble beginnings

San Mateo High School officially opened on Sept. 15, 1902, in Dixon Cottage, located at 54 North Ellsworth St. During the school’s first semester, there were 14 students and three faculty members.

The first graduating class was in 1905 when seven graduates were sent out into the world to make their way in the 20th century.

In 1909, with an enrollment of 136, voters approved a bond to build a new facility on Baldwin Avenue.

A plaque pays tribute to Thomas Mohr, a longtime San Mateo Union High School District superintendent for whom the clock tower at San Mateo High is named. (Photo by Mike Liu/Flickr)

In 1926, the school district purchased 20 acres at Bellevue Avenue and Delaware Street for the new San Mateo High School campus. The Delaware campus was completed in the fall of 1927 and it included a main building, an arts building and a boys’ gymnasium. The school had one of the most modern science departments at that time.

The school was structurally reinforced for earthquake safety in 1934 and 1935 and was entirely rebuilt in 2005 providing for state-of-the-art earthquake safety. The new buildings are designed to integrate state of the art technology with the design and architecture of the original buildings.

Today, the school’s Visual and Performing Arts Department shares its Performing Arts Center with countywide performing arts groups. The PAC, which seats 1,600, is the premier performing arts facility in all of San Mateo County.

The Merv Griffin Quad, named for the legendary television talk show host, entertainer and media mogul who graduated from the school in 1942, sits squarely in the center of the campus. It includes an amphitheater built in the Greek style and the Thomas Mohr clock tower, named after a longtime district superintendent. It is reminiscent of the tower and chimes that were removed from the building during the 1934-35 structural reinforcements.