AKA: West Contra Costa Unified School District, De Anza High School #1, Richmond, CA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - schools - high schools

Designers: Warnecke, John Carl, A.I.A., Architect (firm); John Carl Warnecke Sr. (architect)

Dates: constructed 1955

1 story

5000 Valley View Road
Richmond, CA 94803

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Building History

The San Francisco architect John Carl Warnecke, Sr., (1919-2010) developed a national reputation for designing schools throughout the San Francisco Bay Area during the 1950s. This was the perfect time to have been a specialist in educational design, as the post-war economy supported the rehabiliation of older schools and the initiation of many new building projects. The Baby Boom also necessitated rapid expansion of classroom spaces and administrators demanded the incorporation of new technologies in schools.

At De Anza High School, Warnecke produced a plan type familiar in CA by this time. Rows of one-story classroom buildings linked by exterior corridors to one another and to libraries, performance spaces, administrative offices, shops, and gymnasiums. This plan typology was pioneered in the state by such architects as Ernest Kump, Jr., (1911-1999) before World War II. After the war, the sprawling array of low classroom buildings became a predominant way to build. Emphasis was on keeping the structures as minimal as possible to enable students to have maximized contact with the temperate climate and beautiful surroundings.

Warnecke designed De Anza to accommodate 1,250 students in 20 general-purpose classrooms, 25 special classrooms, a library and administrative offices, a theatre and music rooms, a 500-seat cafeteria and two gymnasia serving separate boys and girls gym classes. The school had a site of 52 acres, but, acccording to a 1957 Progressive Architecture article, "only 35 acres [were] considered usable due to irregular nature of remainder." (See "Round Robin Critique: Junior-Senior High Schools, De Anza High School, El Sobrante, CA," Progressive Architecture, vol. 38, no. 7, 07/1957, p. 131.)

Building Notes

In Warnecke's dense plan, locker rooms and gymnasia were located on the western periphery. Moving east, he included a large, landscaped courtyard, a block containing administrative offices and the library. To the east of this was set of six classroom blocks, each set in a rigid, perpendicular manner, bisected by a central circulation core containing toilets and lockers. On the eastern side, a building with a double-loaded corridor contained scientific labs and metal and wood shops and a central auto repair space. To the south of the administrative and library block, a 500-seat theatre and music rooms were situated. To the east of the performance hall, was the cafeteria, which Warnecke called a "cafetorium." suggesting its dual use as an eating and assembly space. (A proper auditorium was to have been erected in the future as money allowed.) At the heart of this design, the architect chose to locate a large, multipurpose courtyard where meetings and assemblies could take place and the library that would serve all students.

The Progressive Architecture(PA) article described Warnecke's planning solution: "Administration/Library unit located at central point on streetfront; classrooms and laboratories places alongside for east access; remaining facilities sited to take advantage of existing land contours and to permit logical patterns for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Back-to-back classrooms, with tilt-up slab partition construction between; central concourse to protect main circulation areas from weather and include service areas, lockers and toilets; also to serve for educational exhibits and informal meetings; open corridors used in wing sections."

One PA critic complained that the plan seemed "crowded on the site." Warnecke responded that the density was required due to the meager budget with which he had to work: "Lower costs were the prime factor in determining use of the less expensive one-story construction and confining construction to the more regular portions of the site." (See "Round Robin Critique: Junior-Senior High Schools, De Anza High School, El Sobrante, CA," Progressive Architecture, vol. 38, no. 7, 07/1957, p. 131.)

Responding to another criticism that the plan seemed "regimented," Warnecke replied: "What may seem to be cold and regimented in the plans is actually less so by the introduction of courtyards...Every opportunity was taken to remind the student of the exterior mood. The large central circulation core is light even in inclement weather...During the predominating warm and rainless days, students are attracted to the landscaped courts between classroom units." (See "Round Robin Critique: Junior-Senior High Schools, De Anza High School, El Sobrante, CA," Progressive Architecture, vol. 38, no. 7, 07/1957, p. 131.)

PCAD id: 24674