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Sunday, August 8, 2010


The following is a short history of Birmingham High School in the San Fernando Valley, provided by an alumna Ms. Gerrie Dodd of Beaverton, Oregon.

History of Birmingham High School
(Borrowed from

April 1st, 1946. The end of World War II. 160 acres of prime Mid-San Fernando Valley land was covered by Birmingham Army Hospital for the wounded and maimed of our young men who had fought for their country.
Originally the Army had broken ground in the middle of what had been the Pettit family's carrot and lima bean field on June 18th, 1943. The cost per acre, $600. .
The hospital served the War Department in several medical capacities, including the care of German prisoners of war, until April 1st, 1946, when the grounds and buildings were transferred to the Veteran's Administration and was run as such until June 1st, 1950.
Valleyites were not happy seeing the 160 acre multi-million dollar plant sitting idle and deserted, but few put into action their thoughts. One who did, however, was Mrs. Albert Zoraster, a member of the Havenhurst Elementary School P.T.A. With a child approaching junior high-school age, she knew Van Nuys, Fulton and Sutter Junior High-schools were all crowded to overflowing. Then she recalled what a relative had mentioned some years before. Could the old hospital grounds be turned into a campus? Bringing the idea up at a future P.T.A. meeting, Mrs. Zoraster was quickly appointed as Chairman of the Committee on Birimingham. Her first move was a letter to Mr. James G. Moran, Secretary of the Van Nuys Chamber of Commerce. He in turn passed the proposal on to Dr. A.J. Stoddard, Superintendent of the Los Angeles Board of Education.
Things began to move more rapidly then. On July 24th, 1952 the grounds were surveyed by members of the staff and found to be remarkably well suited to school purposes, on a temporary basis. With that hopeful reply, the Committee on Birmingham went to work. Letters about Birmingham went out to every influential person from President Harry Truman to Mayor Andy Devine (acting fame) of Van Nuys on September 18, 1952.
Mrs. Zoraster and the committee continued their hard work by bringing the plans for the proposed school to the public eye. Proposals were made to the Army and on October 10th papers were signed for the lease (rumored to be $1.00/yr.) by the Army and the Los Angeles School Board....with certain limitations.
On October 13th, negotiations opened and a resolution was adopted by all agreeable parties. The Army would maintain ownership and control of the property facing Vanowen, becoming a Nike missile facility. The Junior High-School would get the East and core of the grounds which consisted of 53 acres, bordered on two sides by Balboa Blvd and the later-to-be Victory Blvd.
What was now about to happen is history. In just four short months Birmingham Hospital became a usable Birmingham Junior High School! The amazing transformation was due in part to the efficient and speedy handling of the project by the Board and the Administrative staff of Dr. Stoddard. But the man who did most to make the dream a reality was Dr. John I. Abbott, the new school's Principal. In the '54-'55 school year Birmingham became Birmingham High School.
During the ongoing construction of Birmingham, the student body was being formed. On February 4th, 1953, students living in the area that Birmingham would serve came together at Van Nuys Junior High School. The 'new' school operated out of portables on the grounds of the VNJHS campus as a 'second' school until April 7th, 1953, at which time the entire student body, 1200 8th graders, was transported by bus amid television cameras and newspaper photographers, arrived on the campus at Balboa Blvd. and Victory Blvd.

The grounds were vast. We had never walked so far in our young lives to get to a classroom! From the PE area to a class in Office Practice or Drama classes in the old Chapel (What a paradox; today school prayer is outlawed, in the '50's we had a real 'Chapel' on campus!) was a good quarter mile walk. Then there was the task of getting to lockers and getting to class at the appointed time. .
The buildings began to take shape as our young lives did. The swimming pool, at the beginning, was only a promise. It was there but it was filled with brackish water. Every once in a while we'd drop by and longingly look at it. Then in 1956, and after numerous fund raisers, the pool was cleaned and repaired. The class of ’57 was the first to jump in. Our competitive swim team was born, but where was the competition? A high school, in those days, with a pool was a rarity.
Since we had centered on being the "Braves" our clubs took on tribal name like Chieftains and Pottawattomi.
Many students would bring partial lunches and then chose to stand in the lines of the cafeteria. The spaghetti or macaroni and cheese built an acquired taste we were unable to duplicate. The little red and white 'boat' containers the food came in might have been the flavor enhancer. The GIANT oatmeal cookies were hard to duplicate. Oh, and they had to be four inches in diameter!
Our expansive lunch break left time to watch the first half of 'Picnic', the first third of 'Gone With The Wind', and if you got there early enough the complete movie of 'Pajama Game', 'Hondo', or 'Shane'. All this was happening at the theater, for ten cents. Those were the carefree days.
During the '53-'54 school year the wood shop teacher and a group of students discovered the on-campus 'morgue'. The 'morgue' was a boarded up room located between the woodshop and home economics room. It contained approximately 18 rolling body shelves, all oak hardwood doors and wood trim, posted directions regarding temperature controls, check list procedures, etc. To think that a 'morgue' would be sealed away in such a pristine condition on a school campus, similar to an Egyptian tomb, is eerie!
We were 'billed' as the "World's Largest Junior High School". Probably due to acreage; however, our spirit was big, the dreams were big, and, yes our minds had expanded also. No other school could have molded our young lives as did Birmingham. We were Birmingham, and Birmingham was us!
Long Live the "Braves"
, 1952

Why Birmingham alumni consider their school to be unique:

Attending a school that was a converted WW II Army hospital.
A Fire Station on campus, complete with fire engine.
A complete, refrigerated morgue.
A Chapel, complete with second story living quarters.
A bowling alley.
A completely enclosed hardwood racquetball/handball court.
An American Red Cross insignia on roof of administration offices.
Various hospital apparatus' attached to ceilings, walls, and floors.
A bomb shelter corridor system that replicated above ground corridors.
A movie theater complete with balcony and 16 mm projection room.
On-campus railroad tracks.
A swimming pool complete with bathhouse and cabana


Unknown said...

Amazing story. I really appreciate it and gives me a deeper connection to my Alma mater C/O '96

Mario Beltran said...

Amazing story. I really appreciate it and gives me a deeper connection to my Alma mater C/O '96