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Early Beginnings

Early Beginnings

New School District for Narrows Area

On November 2, 1895, the Pierce County Commissioners approved the boundaries for a new school district in the Greater Narrows area, which was certified on that date by H.R. Cox, Superintendent of Common Schools for the County.

School District No. 83 encompassed about 10 square miles in the rural area west of the Tacoma city limits to the Narrows, and included Day Island. It was bounded on the north by the Tacoma city limits at 19th Street and on the south by Chambers Creek.

The northwest area of the new district included the proposed 60-acre Puget Sound University. Also, it included several hundred acres of residential lots around it in the proposed University Place development in first-third University Place divisions and Menlo Park, named after a community of intellectuals near Leland Stanford Unversity in California.

Parents in the area felt children living there and moving in as the proposed "University Place" community developed could best be served by a local school district. Too, it would spare the children the rigors of traveling by foot to the end of the streetcar line into Tacoma, or on horseback or by horse-drawn buggy on rutted roads bordered by dense forest, logging camps and farmlands, to schools in neighboring Tacoma and Steilacoom districts.
Superintendent Cox appointed Samual B. Elder as the first director.
George R. Curtis

George R. Curtis with UP Staff

George R. Curtis, first teacher-principal of University Place School, with UP staff.

When introducing George R. Curtis at Curtis High School's graduation ceremony in 1999, the welcome speaker noted, "Without George R. Curtis, there would BE no Curtis High School."

In fact, many would agree there may not be a University Place School District without Mr. Curtis, who served as the first school principal-teacher of University Place School in 1927, until he retired as superintendent in 1972.
Below is the transcript of Mr. Curtis's speech at the rededication of Curtis Junior High School March 4, 1980 , in which he recalled his memories of the growth and development of the Unversity Place School District.

George R. Curtis:
Speech at CJHS Rededication, March 4, 1980
It was May 3, 1957 that the first dedicatory services of this junior high school were held......
Principal Ray Beard and his assistant, Ken Lobeda, members of the staff and myself, proudly watched the ceremonies together in a room packed with students, their parents and friends.

This evening I have been thinking of what a far cry this complex facility is from the small two room school that I attended in Gig Harbor around 1910. The furnishings were basic, with the large pot-bellied stove in the rear of the room for heat. We all drank water from a bucket out of the same dipper, and washed our hands in the same washbasin. We walked to school as there was no such thing as transportation and our parents had to buy all textbooks. The teacher swept the schoolroom and carried in the firewood and also built the fire each morning. In spite of all of these things, which appear now as handicaps, we learned the three r's quite well.

....In the beginning, University Place was a timbered wilderness. A few farmers and loggers held large land grants. The luxuriant growth was proof of the fertile soil and climatic conditions. It must have been the beauty of the surrounding territory, the magnificent view of Puget Sound, the famous Narrows, our stately Mount Rainier, the Olympic Peaks, the abundant timber, the proximity to the city of Tacoma, and the promise of a superb residential district that made the trustees of the University of Puget Sound decide on this area for their new university.

Plans were drawn, land was acquired in the area lying between the present junior-senior high school site and Day Island. Excavations were started for the first building. Advertisements for property in the district were extravagant in their praise, such as light taxes, social and educational surroundings, no saloons, street car for the city of Tacoma (5 cents), and general park-like appearance of grounds. However, the Panic of 1893 cut short the University Project, and the name University Place remains as the only memento. By 1894, a school of seven pupils was being held in a rented house where Ernie Helling's 27th Street Car is now located. A one room frame school with a daylight basement was built where Les Magoon's home now stands on 27th and Elwood, and in 1915 a four room brick school, the nucleus of the late University Place Elementary School was built. The original section of this 1915 structure was the only remaining public historical landmark of University Place until it was demolished by the wreckers ball in 1976 - 61 years later. This building was fond in the memory of many hundreds of people. It is too bad that it was not spared.

I cannot forget my first adventure to University Place with my wife, Ann, in our first automobile, a 1926 Chevrolet Coupe. We were bubbling with excitement for the University Place Elementary School, reputed to be one of the best schools in Pierce County, was to become our school home for at least one year, but the years had a way of slipping by quickly and we remained for 45 years, until retirement in 1972. Our home is here, and we are still very much in love with University Place.

We will never forget the drive out Sixth Avenue on a very narrow ribbon of pavement not over 12 ft. in width, with very poor street lighting along the way. Not one home to be seen after leaving Stevens Street until we ascended the Titlow Beach Hill. Passing the very popular operating hotel at TitlowBeach on the north side of the street and the Weaver Motion Picture Studios on the left (several moving pictures were filmed there) we drove on to Day Island across the first bridge, a wooded structure built in 1912. Enroute to the island we passed over a very large saw mill and door factory bearing the name Clear Fir Lumber Company which had been operating since 1919. This mill furnished employment to many men for the immediate community. Day Island was a popular summer camping area and was subdivided in 1910. It was named for Surgeon Day who commanded one of Gray's ships.

As we drove around the island across the bridge and up the hill we were thrilled with what we saw on the corner of what is now 27th and Grandview, across from the Old Thomas Grocery store. It was a beautiful 12-year old school boasting its own gymnasium (a definite luxury in those days). The enrollment was 125 with five teachers, and I was to be one of the five. How proud I was!

At that time public transportation consisted of a motor bus connecting Day Island and Titlow Beachwith Tacoma - and on the hill an electric street car which ran from 27th and Bridgeport through Major Bow's Regents Park Development (now Fircrest) to 11th and K Street - thence by cable car to downtown Tacoma. Yes - our community has an interesting background. We must not forget the laying of the railroad tracks along the waterfront throughout community in 1910 and the opening of the Pioneer Sand and Gravel Company (now known as the Lone Star Company) in 1912. This pit was known in those days as the largest of its kind in the United States.
Electric lights came in 1910, followed by telephones and rural mail service in 1912, water supply in 1923. Our University Place volunteer fire department was organized in 1941 and became the Pierce County Fire Protection District #3 in 1944, with Leslie B. McGaw as first chief.

Growth in school attendance was slow but steady between 1927 and 1940. University Place began to boom in the late 1940s, and by 1950 our gains dictated the need for a junior high school with an eye toward a senior high school. It was no longer feasible to transport our 9th through 12th grade students to Tacoma and Clover Park schools for their secondary education. The first parcel of land containing 23.5 acres for the four buildings planned to house our junior high school was purchased in 1954 for $488 per acre. To this has been added over 35 acres, making a total of 60 acres available for junior and senior high school functions in the geographical center of University Place. Total acquisition cost was $58,720 or an average cost of $978 per acre. My part of the progam is completed, except to give full credit for the development, operation and success of our school district as we know it today to the residents and taxpayers of our community for their generous support through the years and, to all who ever served as school directors, teachers, and administrators, we owe our thanks for their untiring efforts.
When I was superintendent of schools I was often asked the question by Tacomans and people from other Pierce County School districts - just how do they accomplish the many fine things that they do out in University Place? And with great pride, I would just don't know the people from University Place!

In closing, I would like to read a short poem written by a junior high school boy about the love he has for his school. In fact, I would like to dedicate it to the entire student body of this hopes that they will treat this school with great care and thoughtfulness.

And I quote:
O there she stands so great and grand;
I love her more than any in the land
O there she lies against the skies
To make a wonder for my eyes
I love her doors so wide and tall
I love her long and winding halls.
Oh she's stood there through fire and rain;
And she'll be there when I come again
I love my school more than any other;
I would not go to another.
In one or two years we'll graduate,
To another school, to a faster gait.
So while we're here, let's be proud,
Le's shout her praises good and loud.
Of all the schools in all the land,
O there she stands so great and grand.

Thank you.