Historical Blog Series: Sequoia High School

Monthly blog series to honor Redwood City’s past and celebrate the community’s history.


Before kicking off our new historical blog series, where we will be sharing monthly posts featuring historical topics and stories about Redwood City, we’d like to share an exciting announcement with you.

Recently, the City of Redwood City was designated as one of the nation’s newest Preserve America Communities by First Lady, Michelle Obama. Communities designated through the Preserve America program receive national recognition for their accomplishments in preserving special places and telling the nation’s story.

The Preserve America program is a federal effort to encourage and support community efforts to preserve and enjoy America’s priceless cultural and natural heritage. The goals of the initiative include a greater shared knowledge about the nation’s past; strengthened regional identities and local pride; increased local participation in preserving the country’s cultural and natural heritage assets; and support for the economic vitality of our communities.

Redwood City is honored to receive this recognition and we look forward to sharing our rich heritage with you through this blog series as we draw near to the City’s 150th anniversary.

We hope you enjoy our historic posts as much as we enjoy sharing them with you!


Established in 1895, Sequoia High School was the first secondary educational institution between San Francisco and Santa Clara. As most high schools of this time, Sequoia began as a preparatory school, which would feed to Stanford University. Its doors officially opened on September 16, 1895. At this time the school shared a space in the Redwood City Grammar School building on Broadway near the present intersection of Middlefield Road. David A. Curry was the first principal with a staff of three instructors and a student enrollment of 53. The school received its state accreditation in 1900, a time where educators were committing to expand education to improve citizenship, develop higher-order traits in students, and produce leadership needed for economic growth.

By 1920 a larger campus and school was needed. Roy W. Cloud, Superintendent of Schools of San Mateo County, made a strong request to the purchase land at El Camino Real and Brewster to be used as the site for the new high school campus. The owner, the widow of millionaire Albert Pissis, agreed to sell the approximately 35 acre property for $80,000 provided the property was to be used for municipal educational purposes. Students occupied this campus in 1924, and to this day Sequoia High School students attend class on the same property.


Prior to being a high school, through the years 1858–1920, the campus had been a lush, garden estate for millionaires Horace Hawes, Moses Hopkins, William Dingee, and Albert Pissis. Before Hawes acquired the land for his estate in 1858, it belonged to the Arguello family as part of the vast Las Pulgas Rancho, making the campus one of the largest remaining parcels in the county which goes back to the days of Spanish land grants.

Many of the past owners made their mark on the property which can still be seen today. Remnants of the Dingee and Pissis estates’ finer days can still be seen in the concrete walkways, benches, flower beds, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the mature, rare trees. In 1906 the earthquake destroyed Dingee’s mansion. It wasn’t until 1923 that the main school building and historic Argo Bell tower were built on its site.

Architects Coffey and Werner designed the original school buildings. The oldest buildings constructed in the 1920’s were designed with authentic Spanish Colonial Revival style, which is best seen at Sequoia around the main entry, bell tower, and the entry into the auditorium. Arched forms are used consistently as are wrought iron grilles, tile roofs, corbeling, cable moldings, and other decorative features. This style of architecture is reflective of seventeenth- and eighteenth century Spain. As schools were built in the 1920’s, the Spanish Colonial style was seen as the most appropriate as it reflects California’s architectural and social heritage. These styled buildings at Sequoia are some of the most important institutional buildings in authentic Spanish Colonial style to be found on the entire San Francisco Peninsula.

Due to its rich history, Sequoia High School was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995, the same year it celebrated its Centennial.


Sequoia High School’s sprawling campus contains aspects unlike any other high school. Unique aspects of the campus include gardens, a landmark tower, many original buildings with unique stories, and more.

Argo Tower — Built in 1923, the campanile (bell tower) at the main entrance adds historical authenticity to the Spanish Colonial Revival design; the tower was intended to serve as a school emblem and has always been a local landmark. It became known as the Argo tower for Clarence Argo who was its innovative principal from 1921–1948.

Japanese Tea Garden — After Dingee completed his mansion in 1905 a rockery behind it became a landscape setting. After the school was built on the mansion site, students called this area “the Garden of the Cherokee.” About 1929, members of the Japanese Club transformed it into the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden that is there today.

Carrington Hall — Another original building is the auditorium named for Otis M. Carrington who came to Sequoia in 1907 to be the art and music instructor. That year he formed a female chorus called the Treble Clef. It was the first club of its kind established at Sequoia and is recognized as one of the oldest high school singing ensembles in Northern California. He then became the head of the music department which he developed over the next 42 years. During this time Carrington wrote and published more than 40 operettas for high school and grade school performance. He is recognized as the leader in the operatic field of educational music.


Follow this blog to learn more about the fascinating history of Redwood City. We’ll keep these posts coming monthly. By following, you’ll also keep up with news and details preceding Redwood City’s 150th anniversary coming soon in May of 2017.

To learn more about Redwood City history, visit our website here.

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