Great Depression Era Building Will Become Classrooms, Visual Arts Studio

The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and will soon receive a makeover.

A non-descript, slightly dilapidated building primarily used for storage that dates back to the Great Depression will soon be made into five classrooms, one of them a visual arts studio.

“We want to get going on this as soon as possible,” said Sequoia Principal Bonnie Hansen.

The $4.5 million for the classroom conversions come from a $165 million Measure J bond, which was passed in 2008, for building improvements, construction and equipment purchases.

The building Hansen referred to doesn’t seem like it should be on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is. Located near the intersection of Brewster and Elwood, most of the building is crammed with desks, filing cabinets and other items associated with education.

“As far back as I know, it was used for storage,” said Don Milhaupt of the district’s information office. “I was an administrator at Sequoia for 19 years and I don’t remember it used for anything else.”

Being placed on the register “is the highest honor which can be given to a historic building,” according to “Redwood City Historic Tours,” a publication of the Redwood City Historic Advisory Committee.

“Pretty much all of Sequoia is on the National Register,” said committee chair Ken Rolandelli. He ticked off a long list of structures on the 40-acre campus, including the Carrington Hall auditorium, the main administration building, the girls gym and this building, part of which houses a state-of-the art $2.5 million woodshop that opened in 2006. 

Most of the Sequoia buildings have gained their reputation because they represent some of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture to be found on the Peninsula, according to the committee literature. The building used for storage is hardly in that category, but its ties to the nation’s history are strong.


The Building’s Historic Past

President Obama’s recently announced $450 billion jobs plan mirrors President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) effort. During its history from 1935 to 1943, the WPA employed 8.5 million people and spent $11 billion.

Obama said his proposed legislation would include a $25 billion spending initiative for school renovations. The same kind of plan back in 1935 led to the building of the Sequoia structure.

A search of historical records by the Patch staff found that a February 3, 1939, report to the school district board said Sequoia’s facilities had to be expanded in order to take care of increasing enrollment.

“During the past several years and particularly the present year, the Sequoia Union High School finds itself exceedingly taxed to accommodate the present enrollment,” the report said. “At the beginning of the second semester the total enrollment will amount to 1,790 pupils.”

Today, Sequoia High School alone has nearly 2,000 students.

The building built in 1940 and designed as a woodshop was part of a $223,000 WPA project that included $125,000 for buildings. The remainder was for improvements to Sequoia’s grounds.

The WPA’s work in the San Francisco Bay area included the Oakland Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, and the 1937 San Francisco Airport. The museum at the airport is a replica of the 1937 passenger terminal. Closer to home, the projects included the annex in front of the old courthouse. The annex was destroyed in 2006 in order to restore the courthouse to its original façade.

Flood Park in Menlo Park was also a WPA project. Several post offices as well as schools owe their birth to the WPA.

Corinne Kason September 16, 2011 at 06:52 PM
When I went to Sequoia, this building was used for woodwork and other types of "labor" workshops for the boys.
Mary Dunckel Worth September 17, 2011 at 01:29 AM
This is how I remember this building being used as well. Seems like yesterday!
Bob Carter September 17, 2011 at 03:53 PM
As a former teacher at Sequoia High School I have many happy memories associated with the entire campus, This building housed then state of the art workshops where students learned trades and skills that lasted a lifetime. Some excellent teachers and students benefitted from classes held there. Bob Carter
Steve B September 18, 2011 at 09:11 PM
The school offered a course called basic industrial arts,I took this class in 1978 or 79 cant remember...I was a freshman,any ways it was one qaurter of drafting,one of sheetmetal,one of wood working,one of metal forging and welding...the also had electronics,auto shop, and plastics classes...to bad they didnt focus more on computers or other leading edge tech that was available at the time,I will never forget my teachers , Mr mckracen...and Mr demellow,they also had a awesome machine shop,mr demellow would pick you out at the begining of class at random and quiz you on something you were supposed to know, like definitions of a circle or decimal equvalents to fractions,put you on the spot... good times..Got in a fist fight in metal shop and Mr mckracen watched us fight along with the other students until we were to tired to fight anymore...


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