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Palo Alto Historic Buildings Inventory

50 Embarcadero Road
Palo Alto High School

Inventory photo Paly
Inventory photo Photo taken April 24, 2018

The following is from the Historic Buildings Inventory as revised in 1985:

Physical appearance:  Except for the Administration Building and the Auditorium–Theatre *, the principal original buildings were replaced in 1968–72. Both buildings, connected by an arcade, are imposing two–story stucco structures with gabled tile roofs. A bell tower is fitted into a corner of the Administration Building. The two entrances to the Administration Building and the entrance to the Auditorium are ornamented with terra cotta arches, columns and colonnettes, and scrolled parapets. The general stylistic image is Italian Renaissance Revival with Byzantine and Romanesque touches. Where the roof of the Theatre crosses that of the Auditorium, there is an octagonal cupola. The designers received a medal award for their plans from the Southern California Chapter, American Institute of Architects.

Significance:   The location and size of these structures give them particular importance as the visual focal point of the more recent buildings in the high school complex. The Mediterranean qualities of the original buildings also help relate them to the architecture of Stanford University and to the widespread city popularity of Spanish Colonial revival design. The school was dedicated on December 24, 1918, with a grand march of students and faculty from the first city high school at the corner of Channing Avenue and Webster street. In 1922 supplementary buildings were added and the original structures were reinforced to provide earthquake safety by Birge M. Clark and Walter Huber. Much more serious threats to safety were identified in the 1960s as a result of studies undertaken under state mandates. A vigorous debate occurred over whether any of the original structures should be saved. After several investigations, citizen polls and votes, and bond issues, the present campus emerged:  favorite landmark structures were rebuilt to meet safety specifications, secondary structures were demolished, and new low–scale and well–distributed buildings were added northeast of the Administration Building and the Auditorium–Theatre. The new campus was dedicated March 12, 1972.

Note: The new theater building is a welcome addition to the campus. Construction began in 2015 and was complete the next year. The new gymnasium opened for the 2017–2018 school year. The original building and tower were celebrated with a centennial plaque on May 6, 2018. Principal Adam Paulsen and Rachel Kellerman represented Paly at the presentation.

plaque presentation

Adam Paulson and Rachael Kellerman



high school

Palo Alto High School

Girl Scouts (PAHA Archive photo:
Girl Scouts


Aerial view:
aerial view<


Reconstruction and new buildings in 1967–72 was made by Dickman Construction Company.

Construction began in 1917. It is a Category 2 on the Historic Buildings Inventory and is noted as a Palo Alto Landmark building. The original architect was Allison & Allison and the builders were C. L. Wold, Co. of San Francisco and E. A. Hettinger of Palo Alto. Birge Clark was the architect for the supplementary buildings built in 1922–23 by John Madsen. Reconstruction and new buildings were by John Reid of Reid and Tarics Associates. The property measures 1,274 by 2,133 feet.

Sources: Palo Alto Historical Association files, Senior High Schools, 1917–29, 1967– ; Palo Alto Unified School District, "The New Palo Alto Senior High School, March 12, 1972" (dedication booklet); Palo Alto Times 12/9/14, 12/24/18, 1/8/1 , 1/10/17, 1/17/23, 10/5/23; Palo Alto Times illustrated articles 1/8/17, 1/10/17, 1/12/17, 1/15/17


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