History of McKinley
William McKinley School of the Arts, named for the 25th President of the United States, opened in the fall of 1904 in a new, "mission-style", twelve-room wood- frame building at the corner of El Molino Avenue and Center Street (now Del Mar Avenue). The first principal, F.J. Becker, served from 1904 to 1907.
In the 1920s, Pasadena's growth rate was so great that the city's schools were being overwhelmed. In 1921, a $750,000 school bond issue was passed, and four new schools were built, but the new schools were inadequate to keep up with increasing attendance.
In February 1922, a fire destroyed the MicKinley School campus. For the next year and a half, classes were conducted in people's homes, churches, etc.
In April 1922, the School Board announced that McKinley School was to have a new school plant providing for eight grades. John C. Austin was unanimously approved as the architect for the new school. The original plans called for 24 classrooms and a 750-800 seat auditorium facing the west side of Oak Knoll Avenue. In June, Pasadena voters approved a $1.34 million bond issue to build even more school campuses in Pasadena. That October, before the money was spent, the School Board asked voters if they approved of the idea of a junior high school system within Pasadena. The plan overwhelmingly passed, moving Pasadena from a 6+3+3 education plan to a 6+4+4 education plan. Tenth grade junior high school graduates had the option to continue their education by taking four more years of school, with their final years being junior college level courses taught at Pasadena High School, which in essence became a four-year junior college.
In March 1924, Pasadena voters approved another $3 million dollar bond issue to build additional schools. With this funding, 18 new schools were constructed. This election also authorized the sale of the MicKinley School building and grounds on the west side of Oak Knoll Avenue to the Pasadena High School district. In May, Professor Frank W. Hart and L.H. Peterson of the University of California were employed to conduct a long-range school housing plan, later known as the Hart-Peterson Survey. They recommend plans for a junior high school to be built south of Colorado Boulevard.
In December 1924, the Pasadena Board of Education engaged John C. Austin and Frederic M. Ashley as architects to enlarge the MicKinley School plant for junior high purposes, adding 20 additional classrooms and a library, in accordance with the Hart-Peterson recommendations. A new MicKinley School building was built across the street on the east side of Oak Knoll Avenue at Del Mar Street (now housing the PUSD administration offices). The elementary school continued to use the present McKinley School site on the west side of the street for one and half more years until September 1926, when William McKinley Junior High School began operating, becoming the third junior high to be built in Pasadena. Originally serving 7th-9th graders, 10th grade was added two years later.
L.O. Bigham, the principal at William MicKinley School since 1913, became the first principal of McKinley Junior High School and served as principal of both schools until 1939. He stated that "in November 1926, a very husky McKinley Junior High School P.T.A. came into existence," starting with 321 and growing to 335. It was organized with the largest membership of any Junior High P.T.A. in the state of California. It continued to be an active and vital organization throughout the entire life of the school.
In the early years, the McKinley Schools served two of what were considered to be the best residential sections of Southern California as well as large sections of low income residences, making a wide range in economic status of the children served. Enrollment peaked at McKinley Junior High School in 1937-38 when 1635 students were in attendance.
The McKinley School main building (A Building) was originally built for the elementary school in 1923. Only slight changes were made to this building prior to its use as a junior high school. During 1925, the manual arts shop building (Building B) was constructed and was ready for use when the junior high school opened in 1926. The South building (Building C), which included the library, science laboratories, several classrooms, and the gymnasium (Building D) were still under construction when the junior school started; so several classes were held across the street in the elementary school until completion of con-struction in April 1927. During the 1927-28 school year, a one-room addition (Dance Room) was made on the north side of the original building for the use of the band and orchestra. The following year a new canteen building was erected in the schoolyard.
Mabel Sarah Kennedy-Gillett, a graduate of Pomona College and the Los Angeles Public Library School, started the McKinley Junior High School library. She also was the librarian of both John Muir Jr. High School and Pasadena City Schools, and was the librarian of Pasadena City College for 31 years before retiring in 1967.
In 1929 a sight conservation class was established at McKinley Junior High School to serve the entire district on the junior high level. In 1930 the hearing conservation class was transferred to McKinley to serve all junior high pupils in the district. These classes provided secondary education for children who would otherwise have been deprived of the opportunity. Following a 1933 earthquake, work is done in 1939 to further reinforce the school to meet strict earthquake safety laws. A special education class for mentally handicapped children was established in 1953 for those who would normally attend McKinley. Non-school groups made heavy use of the McKinley school facilities because of its central location.
In December 1946, the Board of Education offices were moved into the East Wing of the elementary school campus and, due to declining enrollment, soon moved into the center portion of the campus as well. Enrollment continued declining through 1968. In 1973, an Alternative School was established at the site. After one year it outgrew the facility and moved, combining into what is now Washington. In 1975, the school reopened as McKinley Fundamental Elementary before finally closing its doors for good as a school in 1978.
In July 1978, PUSD closed McKinley Junior High School (then serving 7th & 8th grades) as part of its response to the recently passed Proposition 13. The school was renamed the Community Skills Center and the campus was divided and used for numerous purposes, including teaching adult education classes. Artists rented studio spaces, film crews shot films and television shows, and organizations such as the Arroyo Heritage Theatre, KidSpace Museum, and the Pasadena Arts Council used parts of the campus. Rose City High School also occupied part of the campus.
In the fall of 2002 under an emergency order, PUSD reopened the McKinley School campus under Superintendent Dr. Percy Clark's vision of a K-8 'arts focus' school. The present day McKinley School campus, along with the buildings housing the PUSD Ed Center, are some of Pasadena's few standing Collegiate Gothic school buildings and have been notated in the City of Pasadena's Architectural and Historical Inventory.