LCHS still looking good at 50

When students first set foot on the brand-new La Cañada High School campus back in September 1963, they had no idea they were creating a legacy.

The city’s new unified school district had just formed two years prior, separating itself administratively from the Pasadena school system. As a result, La Cañada was opening Foothill Intermediate School on the former La Cañada Junior High site and starting classes at the high school for freshman, sophomores and juniors only.

La Cañada teens who were entering their senior year in the fall of 1963 remained at John Muir High School to complete their high school careers in the Pasadena school system.

Sheri Morton, neé Dobbings, who graduated in 1967 with the first class to attend LCHS a full four years, remembers the new campus on Oak Grove Drive.

“We walked on pallets to get to the gym because there were no sidewalks,” Morton recalls. “And where the pool is now, we lined up for PE in the white, two-piece uniforms that had to be washed and ironed every Monday.”

This year, LCHS turns 50. The pallets have been replaced by sidewalks. Buildings have been added and re-purposed, and girls now compete on athletic teams of their own. To celebrate the high school’s past, present and future, staff and alumni are planning three events this school year and asking anyone with ties to LCHS to join them.

“Celebrating 50 Years!” kicks off Oct. 4 with activities leading up to this year’s homecoming game. On March 15, 2014, residents may attend La Cañada Educational Foundation’s Spring Gala and on May 31, an all-classes reunion will feature a tour of the campus and an evening party at a private residence.

“All classes are welcome to come and the community is welcome,” says Morton, who is on the planning committee for the events. “It’s not just for alumni — we want families to bring future high school kids, too.”

The events offer a chance for former students to get an up-close-and-personal look at their alma mater today, and to meet people from other classes who may share similar memories, says Joani Bartoli-Porto, class of ’66.

During a recent campus visit, Bartoli-Porto recalled students assembling out front on Nov. 22, 1963 to learn devastating national news.

“I remember when they called us all out to tell us our president had been shot. They told us he had passed away. All of us were out on that field, stunned,” she says.

Douglas Coe, who retired from LCHS in 1995 after serving as the school’s instrumental music teacher and then counselor, has happy memories of those first few years. At first, the instrumental room, located temporarily in the nurse’s office, was so small that if a student had to leave, all the students had to get up and file out.

“Most of the class rooms were OK, but the extra spaces were not done yet,” Coe says of the setup. “It was very adequate as an instrumental room, but where they are now is probably more plush.”

Coe, 77, recalled other early traditions. For instance, every morning, a trumpet student was selected to play “Reveille” at the school’s flag raising ceremony.

The first few years were significant for other reasons that would become important to La Cañada High School’s long-standing traditions. It was then that students would select cardinal and gold as the school colors (USC fans winning over UCLA fans, who naturally preferred blue and gold), choose a Spartan for the mascot and pen the alma mater.

“Here was an opportunity for the kids in La Cañada to make the decisions that would still be honored 50 years later,” says Morton, whose own daughter, Maggie, graduates this summer with the Class of 2014. “Back then, you didn’t even think about that.”

Christopher Kelly, Class of ’93, said he didn’t know about the 50th anniversary events until recently, when his mother, former English teacher Judy Kelly, told him. Now, he thinks he may represent his class at homecoming.

There’s something about being a graduate of LCHS that binds you to the community, says Kelly, who plans to attend his 20th reunion this Saturday.

“Every Friday, you can drive on the 210 (Foothill Freeway) and you’ll see the Friday-night lights going,” he says. “Even when it’s out of my way, I’ll still drive by my old school.”

Morton says she’s looking forward to the Oct. 4 homecoming game, to seeing how many classes will be represented, and revisiting the spirit of a high school tradition that stretches back across several generations.

“It will be a little walk down memory lane,” she says.

What: La Cañada High School Homecoming

When: Friday, Oct. 4

Details: 3:30 p.m., parade eastbound on Foothill Boulevard from Memorial Park to La Cañada High School on Oak Grove Drive; 4:30 p.m., assemble in the LCHS North Gym, all attending alumni introduced; 5:30 p.m., tailgating activities; 7 p.m., Spartan homecoming game against Arroyo High. Homecoming queen announced at half-time.


SARA CARDINE can be reached at


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