A timeline of Menlo’s 100-year history
William Warren opened the William Warren School as a military academy, enrolling about 12 boys in grades 1-8, in September 1915. Buildings on the old Fife estate, at the corner of El Camino Real and Alejandra Avenue, were converted into classrooms and a dormitory; the boys slept on porches. The first varsity football team formed in 1918, and for many years the “Big Game” was played against Potter School in San Francisco. The two-member Class of 1920 was the first to graduate.
Clifford Dennis succeeded William Warren as Headmaster in 1923, and in 1924 the School dropped the military program and changed its name to Menlo School for Boys. The fledgling school barely survived its first ten years, and in 1926 a committee organized by Stanford President Ray Wilbur bought the School and incorporated it as a non-profit organization. They planned to use Menlo as a proving ground for experimental educational reform, and that push to innovate continues to this day. A two-year junior college was added in 1927 and the name again changed, this time to Menlo School and Junior College. By 1929, the School consisted of a two-year junior high, a four-year high school and a two-year junior college. A rapid period of expansion brought to campus a swimming pool, a new infirmary, the Oak Pit gymnasium and three new dormitories.
Menlo survived the Great Depression thanks to a cautious pay-as-you-go system of financing its building program. Still, enrollment shrank by half, and teacher salaries were cut by just under 20%. Enrollment began to rise again by 1939, and the School was soon on firmer financial ground.
With the U.S. now fighting World War II, the School looked back to its military origins and built a rifle range under the Oak Pit gymnasium to prepare students for military service. In the end, 1,300 Menlo alumni served in the war, and 51 gave their lives.
Menlo acquired the Douglass Mansion (now known as Stent Hall) in 1945. Built in 1906-1910, it had been the home of inventor Leon Douglass and his wife, Victoria. Their grandson Earl “Duke” Douglass Jr. was a member of the Class of 1943. The building is now the centerpiece of the campus.
In the late part of the 1940s, Menlo was bursting with energy. The first annual festival of school spirit, “M” Day, took place in 1948, with class competitions that included a tug-of-war through water. Minus the water, the tug-of-war game is still played today during halftime at the annual Powderpuff football game. The Menlo Mothers’ Club organized the first benefit auction that year, as well. In 1949, celebrated bandleader Freddy Martin composed “Go, Go, Go, Menlo!,” the School’s fight song sung at Homecoming today. The College added a four-year degree program in Business Administration, and the name was changed to Menlo School and Menlo College.
The campus continued to grow during this decade. Patterson Hall housed 48 juniors and seniors when it opened in 1952, and boarders ate dinner in Douglass Hall, with formal place settings, student waiters (also known as “hashers”), and jackets and ties required. Several acres north of Alejandra Avenue were bought for use as athletic fields and tennis courts, and Florence Moore Hall (FloMo), used today for school drama and dance productions, opened in 1957. The boarding program, however, was slowly on its way out: in 1958, the seventh and eighth grade boarding option was eliminated.
Menlo made some contributions to pop culture in the ’60s: Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead and Robbie Krieger of the Doors both attended Menlo. The campus continued to change, with the construction of Menlo Hall and new lower school facilities. The area around the School was beginning to change as well, and the Valley of Heart’s Delight, as the surrounding farms and orchards had been known, began its transition to Silicon Valley.
One of the most momentous changes in the School’s history came in 1979, when girls were first admitted. The move had been led by the College, which admitted female students in 1971. The new students were “one of the best things that happened to Menlo School,” faculty member Fred Halverson said. “It made us human and certainly taught me that girls in the classroom stimulated discussion and gave us the diversity of viewpoints we so badly needed.”
The Class of 1980 included two girls, and by 1981 the School enrolled 450 students in grades 7-12, with a more even gender balance. The boarding program was eliminated. Overnight class retreats were introduced, still alive today, and drama teacher Steve Gill mounted the first musical productions in Douglass Hall. When the audiences grew, FloMo was renovated to become a true theater. The athletics program also saw great success, with many league and section championships.
At 5:04 pm on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 1989, the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake shook the Bay Area. Structural damage to Douglass Hall was severe, and it appeared that the building would have to be demolished. Many argued that the architectural crown jewel of campus should be preserved. At the end of the decade, the building sat empty, its future undetermined.
In 1993 Norm Colb became Head of School. He was to have the longest tenure in that position, serving for 20 years. When he arrived, Douglass Hall was surrounded by a chain link fence, facilities were in poor shape, faculty turnover was high, the School was in substantial debt, and the administrative structure that linked the School and College was no longer sustainable. In 1994 the process to separate the two institutions began, so that, as Norm Colb has said, Menlo could be “master of its own fate under the leadership of its own board.” Colb led the charge to reverse turnover by raising teacher salaries, enabling the School to maintain the faculty-student relationships that have always been and continue to be the heart of the School. Colb also oversaw the construction of the Arrillaga Family Campus for the Middle School, now co-ed and expanded to grades 6-8.
Throughout the 1990s, the School worked tirelessly, under the leadership of Board of Trustees Chair Peter Stent, to save Douglass Hall from destruction. In September of 1998, the building, now renamed Stent Hall, was opened with a gala reception including student exhibits and performances. To preserve the historical building, a new wing with the library and technology classrooms surrounds and buttresses the original Hall. Thus Stent Hall embodies both the traditions and innovations that make the School strong.
With enrollment steadily increasing, the campus evolved to provide students with the best possible education. Menlo Hall and Patterson Hall were demolished to make room for a new Upper School campus, with a lecture hall, modern classrooms and a central College Counseling office. A new Athletic Center features two gyms, a training room and fitness room. The Creative Arts and Design center houses light-filled art spaces, music rooms designed for acoustical excellence, and moviemaking and design spaces with the latest technology. The Arthur Allen Whitaker Lab is a full ‘maker’ space for engineering, applied science, robotics and biotechnology. Norm Colb stepped down as Head of School in 2013, bequeathing a vibrant and dynamic school to his successor, Than Healy.
Menlo School celebrates its centennial: 100 years of excellent education. Never one to stand on its laurels, the School continues to look forward and evolve to provide the best, most relevant education for our students.