Tuolumne County did not have a high school until 1903, when students began attending classes in the basement of the County Courthouse.
In 1907, the new Tuolumne County High School building was completed for the 1907-1908 school year. In 1915, it was renamed Sonora Union High School. In 1922, the first gymnasium was constructed. The original school building was meant to accommodate approximately 125 students; but, by 1938 enrollment had reached over 500.
Clearly, something needed to be done, but with just over $3,000 in the building account, help was needed. As reported in the May 3, 1940, Union Democrat, the Public Works Administration of the Federal Government came through with a $91,000 grant, and the high school issued bonds in the amount of $110,000. This was for the construction of a science building and auditorium, plus improvements to the administration building, gymnasium, woodwork shop and general athletic grounds.
The science building was a marked improvement, able to accommodate more than twice as many students, and with modern equipment. An example was that the physics department provided each student desk with either direct or alternate currents ranging from 4 to 220 volts.
The foods laboratory had 13 electric ranges, an electric towel dryer, with complete dinette tables and chairs. The sewing section had nearly 20 electric sewing machines, and the latest type of tables for cutting material.
All the rooms were provided with indirect lighting. Light-proof shades were in the northern rooms, with venetian blinds in the rooms on the south side of the building. More than 500 steel lockers were recessed in the walls, with space for 200 more.
The auditorium was thought to be one of the best in the state. “The ceilings and walls of the theatre portion are made of wood shavings impregnated with tar; the music room is lined throughout with acoustical celotex. The auditorium is provided with a 16mm motion picture sound projector. Special settings, drops, curtains, and switchboard are provided on the stage for the most elaborate productions.”
Over 1,000 county residents attended the open house and dedication on May 3, 1940. All were impressed with the new buildings and improvements to the existing campus. The science building and auditorium are the only two structures left of the four original Sonora High School buildings.
Patricia Perry is the historian for the City of Sonora.