Pomona High fire, May 14, 1956

This is described as the only known footage of the fire that gutted Pomona High School, and it probably is. The event is still described as one of the most traumatic in the city’s history, even though no one was injured. Classes were never held again in the East Holt Avenue building, which was later torn down and replaced by a shopping center. The school was rebuilt elsewhere in town.

I’m not sure what I think of the “Chariots of Fire” theme as background music, but the video is fascinating, if sad, viewing.

A separate video made last year of a former student’s reminiscence of the event can be seen here. It’s informative and moving.

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  • Kristin McConnell

    I lived in the SB county area of Pomona — East End and Phillips. I used to help a man do his laundry in that shopping center. It was always rundown and in such disrepair. I was incredibly shocked to hear that I was actually standing on what used to be a school.

    I actually think that given today’s firefighting techniques and construction techniques, the school may have been saved, today. I think that everyone was just so heartbroken that they gave up on the idea of rebuilding. I think they could have done it. Soo, soooooo sad.

  • http://www.lagumbay.com/ Allan


    That’s great historical video footage!

    As for the California of the Past video, there was also one done by Ms. Gwen Robinson from the Pomona Library’s Digital Stories collection about her senior year (the year the school burned down).


    [Ooooh, I forgot about that one. Thanks, Allan. — DA]

  • Ramona

    Well, David. You have accomplished the nearly impossible.

    You’ve made me teary-eyed and almost speechless.

    Wonder why so few females are seen watching the blaze.

  • Dennis Yates, Mayor, City of Chino

    In 1956, I was eleven years old and I was sitting on my bike with my friend across the street from Pomona High watching it burn. I was under the tree in front of the Ebell Club. I was in the first graduating class of the new Pomona High on Towne Ave in 1963.

    [You didn’t mention sitting on your bike across the street with a camera, so I guess the footage didn’t come from you! Welcome to the blog, Mr. Mayor, and thanks for your comment. — DA]

  • Brent

    Kristin, I agree that the school would have stood a chance with today’s firefighting techniques and equipment.

    The back of the school isn’t visible, but there’s no ladder truck to be seen on the film. Squirting water up at a fire like that is futile. Ladder trucks were needed to squirt water down from above on the fire. (The opinion of a non-professional).

  • http://www.hughcmcbride.com hugh.c.mcbride

    Wow — what a quietly powerful video. As a relatively new 909er (’bout 2 1/2 years in country) I always appreciate the opportunity to learn about the area’s history via posts such as this one.

    On a quasi-related note, as sad as this event was (and for some, obviously still is), I have to admit to being somewhat relieved when I realized the video was historical in nature. From the image that appears on the blog (stately building going up in flames), I was afraid that the Friends of the Sanamluang Cafe had taken their revenge on the Allen Mansion 🙁

    [To the music of “Chariots of Fire,” no less. — DA]

  • Scott in R.C.

    My mother-in-law went to Pomona High (’56) and speaks of the tragedy of that day in May. To this day, it still is a very sad story for the students who attended that beautiful school.

  • Jim Stillinger

    I, like Dennis, watched this from across the street. I was perched on a phone booth in front of the Harley Davidson store after classes were over at Emerson Junior High School.

  • Jim Shumacher

    As a kid in the sixties I used to walk by this building all the time (it was enclosed by a high chain link fence and since you couldn’t get within 200 feet you could not tell it was burned inside). I was only 7 years old when it burned and so did not know about the fire. On the outside the building looked fine. I always wondered why it wasn’t used for anything! It’s amazing how long the brick shell stood before they finally demolished it. I believe it was still standing in 1968, 12 years after the fire, maybe longer than that.

    [Really? Whoa. — DA]

  • Clinton H. Moses

    I graduated from Pomona High School in 1950. In 1952 I left San Diego State College to begin my USAF Aviation Cadet Flight Training and earned my Wings and Commission in 1955. I returned from flying the F-86 Sabre Jet in Korea, August 1956. I was so saddened when home on leave to learn of PHS Fire. To this day those of us who attended this beautiful high school are still saddened by its loss. On August 21, 2010 the Graduating Class of 1950 will be holding its 60 PHS Reunion at the Ebell Club, across the street from the former PHS location. I am quite sure that there will be many tears flowing that evening….

    Clint Moses

  • Robert Tackett

    I was a student on the top floor for 5th period English class when the alarm sounded. We had to walk down the hall past the girls bathroom to the stairs going out of the building. (I remember they said the fire started in the girls bathroom on the top floor.) We gathered on the front lawn on Holt Blvd. I remember watching as the fire progressed. I was a sophomore in 1956. I attended the remainder of high school in the portable classrooms brought to the campus for school the next year.

  • Dave Pierce

    I graduated from PHS in June of 1951, then Mt. Sac in 1953, and returned from the Army shortly before the fire. I was across the street on Holt Ave watching the fire in disbelief. This video is a sad reminder of the loss of our good days. Even my old Junior High — Emerson — is gone. Thanks for the video.

  • http://etec.hawaii.edu/video/videofiles/medtech/medtech_ov_big.mov John Southworth

    I was in chemistry class that day when the fire started and never returned to the building. It was really a shock to see the little poofs of smoke first showing coming from the roof (though, presumably, starting in a ground floor restroom where an incendiary device was placed). There were no fire walls so it spread through the school and suddenly exploded out the roof…as you can see in the video.

    During the summer a group of portable classrooms were built on the field. The following year the school was divided into two halves. Upperclassmen attended school in the morning and underclassmen in the afternoon during our senior year.

    Our class graduated from the Greek Theater in Ganesha Park in 1957. I attended Pomona College and then was in England (Rotary Fellowship) and Malaysia (Peace Corps) before coming here to Hawaii where I was involved in science education and distance learning before retiring last June.

    Have been in Pomona off and on and find it hard to believe PHS ever existed when you travel on Holt Ave.

    Thanks for the (sad!) memories, Dave.

    [And thanks for yours, John. — DA]

  • Richard Hughes

    I was also a 1951 graduate of PHS along with David Pierce. I also knew Clinton Moses. (Both commented above.) I was married and stationed at Fairchild AFB in Spokane Washington when the fire occurred. It was unbelievable that our wonderful high school would burn. We also graduated at the Greek Theater, which is now a police training site. Our 60th reunion is coming up next month (September, 2011.)

  • Michael Dice

    Hi, this structure was built by William Weeks, a relatively famous architect (d. 1934) based in San Francisco who also designed the manual arts building and the gym on the campus. My aunt also watched the structure burn. Out of hundreds Weeks built, the only remaining building of his in southern California is the David and Margaret Home in La Verne, a former orphanage.

  • Bruce Glover

    I entered the closed building a few times when I was about 10 or 11, in the early 60’s. The fire damage was mostly on the top floor, open to the sky and with some interior walls gone. Not a lot of debris. Floorboards were mostly charcoal. a few book cabinets were along the wall, and even some books, charred on the outside. Other floors seemed almost undamaged except for water stains. A small library building or wing in the back of the main bilding was still intact, with books on the shelves. I also saw some of the demolition, I believe not long after that.

  • Bill from Pomona

    I was born in 1959 so i missed the fire. The edifice was there for several years. In 1966 a shopping center was built with a Hughes market on the east side and a Thrifty drug on the west. There was a Winchells donuts on the northwest corner of the lot.

    The Hughes was very nice when it opened (arent they all) and was still pretty decent in 1978 when I moved nearby for about 6 months (much better than Boy’s on Indian Hill). I remember in 1971 getting ice cream at the Thrifty’s and seeing men shuffling in who looked like they had lived very hard lives even though they probably were in their 40’s. Some of the nearby neighborhoods were pretty blighted.

  • http://www.vogelstudy.org Dave Akers

    Like John Southworth, I was in class at the time the fire broke out. It is still kind of hard to realize that the fire represents the only strong memory I have of my experiences at Pomona High. Going to school in the Pomona school system was a really dismal experience. Sad…


  • william skelton

    I did my sophomore year 1958 in huts off of San Antonio Ave. The gymnasium was still in use as were the boys and girls PE locker rooms. The following year I became a Ganesha Giant (A brand new school) and graduated from there in 1960. I was a soda jerk at Betsy Ross Ice Cream @ 969 Holt Ave. From my 8th grade year at Emerson Jr. High all the way through High School. At Pomona High I had copies of On The Road and Peyton Place in my book bag. So hip and so naughty. LMAO.