Website is devoted to Alhambra High, Martinez history

March 29, 2011
Contra Costa Times

By Lou Fancher

David and Karen Rich have created an online shout out for Alhambra High School alumni and Martinez history buffs.

The website, chock full of East Bay facts and folklore, 110 years of photographs, and nearly all of the yearbooks from 1909 to 2006, is a labor of love.

“We scanned every page of those yearbooks," Rich said. "I can't tell you how long it took!”

Rich explained that the site is still expanding, and although there is a tremendous amount of information in the public section, they have introduced a password protected section to cover their costs.

A $20 annual membership fee gives visitors complete access to browse the Torch yearbook collection, contact classmates from years past and support ongoing research for the site. A portion of the dues are donated back to today's Alhambra High School students.

The original school, started in 1901 and forming its own district -- K-8 was a separate district -- operated in a rental space in the public library. The first graduating class from AHS had just seven students. From 1904 to the 1930s, a downtown building on Henrietta and Court streets, near the current administration building, was used.

“The school built after that was torn down in the early 1970s,” Rich remembered. “My freshman year, they sealed it off because it wasn't earthquake proof. A year later, you could look through the windows from the outside and see empty desks in a row and old assignments written on the board. The clocks kept ticking and the bells still rang on schedule. It was almost haunting.”

Ironically, even though the building failed to meet earthquake safety standards, Rich laughed, he recalled the extra heavy-duty equipment the demolition required.

His favorite entry in the history section of the website is the minutes from the first school board meeting July 31, 1901.

The teacher's salary was set at $125 per month for a ten-month term. The classes were Latin, English, algebra, geography, and physical education. Asian, medieval and modern history, plus physics, were added in subsequent years. Thirty student desks, two recreation benches, one teacher's desk and one dictionary plus its stand were ordered.

“Later, when they built the new school, they tossed all the old furniture out," Rich said, his tone suggesting regret and a certain amazement at how things have changed. "You'd never hear of that now, but antiques didn't mean anything then: Everyone wanted new.”

Rich and his wife are still searching for eight of the Torch yearbooks. Missing are 1910-11, 1915 and 1921-1925.

“We got a call out of the blue that a lady out in Rio Vista had one we needed. We went over and while we were there, she called another alumna in Fremont and that person drove right over and lent us another one!” Rich said.

The Riches' love affair with Martinez didn't end upon graduation and extends beyond the borders of the schoolyard.

“It is still a beautiful town. It maintains the flavor of a tight-knit hamlet. It's hard for me to know where Concord ends and Walnut Creek starts, but Martinez has a definite geography,” Rich said.

“When the high school has a graduation or a football game, there's no one left at home. They're all there, supporting their school.”

Phone calls from alumni strike the same nostalgic chord, with people requesting current photos of Martinez or connections to long lost friends.

The website contains not just civic and school history, but personal memories for Rich.

Two of his favorites are 8 mm motion pictures taken by his father.

“One is of the flood down Alhambra Avenue in 1958,” he said. “The second is of moving Southern Pacific Engine Number 1258 to Rankin Park in 1959. It went right by our house on a flatbed truck. Can you imagine? Standing in your kitchen and watching a train go right down the street on a flatbed!”

Fortunately, alumni and website members won't have to imagine it. They can join, and see it for themselves.