Back in the Day: Armijo High building still majestic at 100

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The following Back in the Day piece appeared in the Fairfield Daily Republic on April 24, 2015

By Tony Wade

Armijo High School began in 1891 with 30 students in a single classroom located in the Crystal Elementary School building. A separate Queen Anne-style wooden building was built in 1893 for use on the eastern end of Union Avenue.

When the high school-age population of Fairfield began to grow, the 16,000-square-foot reinforced concrete building that echoed the neoclassical style of the courthouse across the street was built.

With a price tag of $85,000, the new school was officially dedicated March 14, 1915. The dedication ceremonies began with the crowd singing the song “America.” J.R. Barnett, president of the high school trustees, referred to the new facility as “a splendid monument to education in the city.”

From newspapers accounts at the time, the speakers were excellent. To wit, this excerpt from the weekly Fairfield Enterprise: “The attitude of the audience towards the speakers was a compliment to every speaker on the program and it would be safely said that no one was in danger of going to sleep.”

The county library was housed in the new building until a Dec. 8, 1929, fire destroyed the library and consumed approximately 22,000 books. The entire school did not burn down, but the library was a near total loss.

In 1931, the building across the street from the school (now the Solano County Events Center) opened as the new library. The Chief Solano Statue was relocated to the front of the library in 1938.

Generations of Armijo students were educated in the Union Avenue building, but as the city grew, space began to become an issue. A newer facility was constructed on Washington Street, and students began attending classes there in the 1960-61 school year.

On Oct. 20, 1970, the old Armijo High School building was reborn as the Solano County Hall of Justice after a $1.4 million makeover.

Assemblyman Jim Frazier has a photo display on the school’s history in his office at 1261 Travis Blvd., Suite 110 that is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays through the fall. The display is on loan from the Solano History Exploration Center museum in Suisun City.

Vintage Armijo grads looked back at the old school:

Eleanor Lozano Cullum (Class of 1952): The building was three stories. The girl’s gym was on the ground floor with the classrooms and the cafeteria (which served delicious home-cooked food). All the lockers were on the second floor as well as classrooms and the principal’s office. The auditorium had a lovely stage and the acoustics were great! I participated in several plays there. The Class of 1952 graduated on that stage and had 79 graduates. There was also a tennis court in front of the gym and most of the guys could hit the tennis balls across the street over to the jail.

Gary Falati (Class of 1958): Those were wonderful, exceptional times. Chick Lanza and I hooked up in 1954 and have been good friends ever since. Once there was a stack of hay by the ag department and we caught a bunch of live mice from there and put them in bags. Then we took them to the third floor and when the bell rang and everyone came out of the classes, we let them go. Omigod, it was unbelievable!

Donna Scholl Cooley (Class of 1960): It was a great building – what I thought a high school should look like. The rooms were all big with lots of room. I loved climbing the marble stairs. It just had character and I hated to leave that building.

Nanciann Gregg(Class of 1959): We moved here from Ohio and I didn’t know that building was where I would be going to school when we first came in off Highway 40. It was a very beautiful walk from where I lived then, Suisun City, to Armijo walking down Union Avenue. Seeing the sun rising and the palm trees lining the street with the courthouse at the end, then getting closer and seeing the library and the school with its pillars and then walking up those steps – I think that intersection is still the most majestic in Fairfield.