History of Fairfax High School
The Early years as written by the Los Angeles Times in 1985
“The Fairfax District was little more than bean fields at the turn of the century when Arthur Fremont Gilmore set out to dig a well on his 256-acre dairy farm near West 3rd Street in Fairfax Avenue. But instead of water, Gilmore struck oil. His 1901 discovery is credited with prompting an oil exploration boom in the area- later called the Salt Lake oil fields. Gilmore helped build the Fairfax area into one of the city’s best-known commercial areas (Farmers Market).”
Originally, the land around Fairfax “was a swampy area or cienaga, the home of the duck and the mudhen - a veritable hunters’ paradise during the wet season of the year. As land became more valuable, the old cienega was drained and filled and a region suitable for residence created. Because of its swampy condition, the Board of Education was enabled to buy the twenty-eight acres on which this high school stands at a very low figure. When the time came to build our school, through a friend we were able to secure gratis thirty eight thousand loads of dirt. This raised the frontage on Melrose twenty - two inches, and so we are kept out of the water most of the time. Thus we have passed by slow transition from the jungle home of the lords of the forest to the more sheltered home of the Lords of Fairfax.” Written by the first Principal of Fairfax, R.G. Van Cleve - 1963 Yearbook.
Fairfax High School Opens Its Doors
In 1924, Fairfax High School, named for Lord Fairfax of Colonial America, opens its doors. Rae G. Van Cleve, the first principal, wished to make Fairfax very “American and Democratic.” The Fairfax family (direct descendants of Lord Fairfax) in Virginia gave permission to use the coat of arms (Rampant Lion) and the motto “Fare Fax” (“Say and Do”). the student body chose to name “Colonials.” In keeping with the Colonial backgrounds, Student Body officers bore colonial titles. The first boys’ and girls’ groups were called Lords and Ladies, and the student body president was called The Lord High Commissioner.
Fairfax was initially designed to be an Agricultural & Mechanical school emphasizing “practical” skills. With 28 Acres of campus, school programs included landscape gardening, forestry, architecture, agronomy and an arboretum. The Domestic Science unit supervised the cafeteria so that the “girls” would get practice as well as the theory of cooking and serving “food”
The auditorium was dedicated in 1926 and later named the DeWitt Swan Auditorium, in honor of the first Boys’ Vice Principal. The first annual in 1926 bore the dedication, “Enter to learn; go forth to serve.” In 1927, the summer graduating class dedicated the sunken gardens and the fountain that was located in front of the old building. The same year, a Fine Arts building and a gymnasium were added to the campus. By the time, Fairfax High School (containing grades 7-12) was an established, prestigious element in the Fairfax Community.
“Never say die, say do” - The Fairfax Motto, “Fare Fac”, was the subject of a 1930 contest for the best slogan and motto depicting its meaning. More than 150 entries were submitted. The winning motto: “Noble in speech, honorable in deed”. “Let your words be wise and your actions likewise”.
New bleachers for Van Cleve field were dedicated in 1933. Mr. Van Cleve retired in the 1938, and the Rotunda, complete with a statue of Abraham Lincoln, was dedicated. In 1942, Greenway Court, the Fairfax Social Hall named after Lord Fairfax’s Court in Virginia was dedicated. It was built on campus North of the athletic field and later moved to its present location on Fairfax Avenue. The senior court, called Detter Court for the second principal, was dedicated in 1947.
When the United States entered the war, hundreds of Fairfax students and alumni joined the military. The 1946 Colonial Yearbook was dedicated to those men and women, 96 of whom lost their lives. During the war years, Fairfax students sold $90,000 in war bonds, conducted numerous recycling material drives. Also in 1946, a Fairfax drama featured Ricardo Montalban and Jim Hardy, once a Lord High Commissioner starred at football. He continued his career at USC ad professionally with Rams, Chicago Cardinals and Detroit Lions.
Earthquakes Impact Fairfax Campus
Because the building were not earthquake-sake, the last year of the original campus was 1966. Brick by brick, the old structures came down, and completely new earthquake-safe building arose. New additions included a four-story administration and classroom facility, a physical education plant, an industrial arts complex and cafeteria. Students and faculty moved into the new building in 1968. Because of the unique beauty of the Rotunda and the Auditorium, a public campaign was successful in saving them, and the Auditorium was reinforced for seismic safety. Subsequently, the Fairfax Hall of Fame was established in the Rotunda.
The earthquake of 1971 crippled Los Angeles High School. As a result, Fairfax students had to share their new campus with the students of Los Angeles High. Fairfax students attended classes only in the morning while L.A. High students used the campus in the afternoon. After one semester, the L.A. High students returned to their repaired campus.
Also as a result of structural damage from the 1971 earthquake, our northern football bleachers had to be demolished.