About San Mateo High School


Its first year, San Mateo High School was located in the Dixon Cottage on Ellsworth Avenue. The faculty was composed of A.G. Van Gorder, Principal, and two assistant teachers. School was opened on September 15, 1902, with an enrollment of 27.

The following year, the school outgrew the cottage and the school board purchased St. Margaret’s estate. Classes were conducted in this building from 1903 until 1911. Although the school building was considerably damaged in the earthquake of 1906, no class time was lost. The building was one of the first to be repaired after the earthquake and by 1907 there were 90 students enrolled. In 1906, all departments were accredited by the University of California at Berkeley and since then, San Mateo High School has been recognized as a leading institution of learning in this community. In 1991, the school was named a National Distinguished Blue Ribbon school by the United States Department of Education. In 2005, it was recognized with a Gold Standard Award for Academic Excellence by California Business for Education Excellence (CBEE) in conjunction with the California State University system.  The award recognizes ten high schools which have shown measurable gains and strong academic performance by getting students ready for college and the workforce while showing evidence of reducing achievement gaps between various subgroups of students over time.

The school moved to Baldwin Avenue in 1911, and remained there until 1927, when the present day San Mateo High School was built at Delaware and Poplar. The new facility followed the architectural model of Henry VIII’s Hampton Court in England. The school was structurally reinforced for earthquake safety in 1934-35 and entirely rebuilt for earthquake safety again in 2005.

Efforts to improve the school’s educational facilities, while preserving its unique heritage, are ongoing. The school’s excellent Visual and Performing Arts Department shares its beautiful Performing Arts Center with county-wide performing arts groups. The Performing Arts Center, which seats 1600, is the premier performing arts facility in the county. The smaller Flex Theatre was built with District and Drama booster funds in 1993.

The library has always been one of the most magnificent and unique in the area, with its ornate fireplace and high ceiling. During the 2005 rebuilding process, the original library was recreated; maintaining it’s signature fireplace and mantel and high ceilings. It affords a panoramic view of the center courtyard of the school.

The newly built Merv Griffin Quad sits squarely in the center of the campus and student life at San Mateo High. It includes an amphitheatre built in the Greek style and the Thomas Mohr clock tower, named after a longtime district superintendent and reminiscent of the tower and chimes that were removed from the building during the 1934-35 structural reinforcements. This beautiful and welcoming courtyard is a popular gathering place for students during lunchtime and rallies.

Other improvements to the school have occurred since the 2002 Centennial including transformation of the main athletic stadium with all-weather surfaces for football and soccer and an 8-lane all-weather track; remodeling of the swimming pool in 2003-05; an expanded weight room; and the building of a joint-use Community Gym housing the wrestling and dance rooms and a full-court basketball area.


The newly built Thomas Mohr clock tower looks over the central courtyard where students gather for lunch and other activities. Melodious chimes announce the hour to the student body.

The Merv Griffin Quad is named after
San Mateo High School's most famous alumnus who came to a dedicationceremony in 2006.
Students like to sit on the tiered, ampitheatre seating to watch lunchtime rallies or just relax.
  The ornate mantle was preserved and
high ceilings recreated in the rebuilt library, creating a quietly elegant atmosphere conducive to study and research.
Remodeling the pool was just one part
of a massive rebuild of SMHS's sports facilities which now include a new 8-lane all-weather track, a new weight room, and a new gymnasium housing dance studios, a wrestling room,
and a full basketball court.
Thank you to student Megan Cadwallader (class of 2009) for the photographs on this page.