Editor’s note: This is an occasional series on the history of various schools during the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Manteca Unified School District.
Jason Messer is speaking tonight about the Manteca Unified School District before a gathering of Manteca Historical Society members.
It’s almost a given before the evening is over the district superintendent will be asked the question: Is the Manteca High tower coming back?
The society counts among its membership the nucleus of a community-based effort lobbying the school district to attempt to incorporate a replica of the beloved tower — destroyed by a wrecking ball 46 years ago — when the design for $30 million worth of bond-financed upgrades starts in the next few years.
Messer has made it clear that while bringing back the tower in some form is under consideration it will depend on cost and whether it could be incorporated in a functional manner that would justify the expense.
Messer’s talk starts at 7 p.m. tonight at the Manteca Museum, 600 W. Yosemite Ave. He will present an overview of the district including its history. The program is open to anyone and admission is free. Refreshments and dessert are being served following the program.
Manteca Unified was formed 50 years ago by joining the feeder elementary school districts — Manteca, Lathrop, and French Camp — with Manteca Union High School District.
Manteca Unified can trace its lineage back to 1850 when the first school was built in French Camp. Back then, county records show it was costing $24.55 a year to teach each of the 91 students registered. Due to a major truancy problem, the average daily attendance was only eight students.
Today Manteca Unified has 23,000 plus students that cost an average of $9,000 a year to educate.
Up until 1920, youth in Manteca, Lathrop, and French Camp going on to high school had to take a train each day to Stockton.
Since the turn of the 20th century there had been talk of established a high school to serve the area but discussions were dropped when it was determined the cost was too high. Also creating a problem was where to locate the high school if it were built. Lathrop argued it should be in their community since it was larger at the time than Manteca. Others argued for a location midway between Manteca and Lathrop.
Finally on May 20, 1920 voters approved forming a union high school district. Nineteen men borrowed enough money on their own to pay Dan Baysinger to build temporary wooden buildings where Manteca High sits today. It included two small classrooms, a study hall, office and library. The walls were covered with tar paper which did little to dampen sound. At the same time the roof leaked when it rained.
Three more rooms were added in 1921.
That was the same year when a $200,000 bond passed to allow construction of a more permanent campus featuring a California mission design.
The new school was dedicated on Jan. 27, 1923. More than 1,500 attended the all-day ceremony and toured the campus. The doors were all solid oak, the floors were hardwood, and there was a 550-seat auditorium. The gym was on top of the stage measuring 76 feet in length. There was a net across the stage to keep flying basketballs out of the auditorium and people from falling into the orchestra pit.
Ten students were in the first graduating Class of 1923.
By 1968, the state determined the 45-year-old Manteca High buildings no longer met new earthquake standards.’
The decision to tear down the tower sparked a community wide uproar. The Save Our Tower Committee was formed but to no avail.
The tower came down on Oct. 3, 1969. The initial efforts to topple it failed prompting the use of a wrecking ball.