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Happy century, Cleveland High School!


COURTESY OF PORTLAND BUREAU OF TRANSPORTATION - One of East Portlands first schools was built on this farmstead of Clinton Kelly, who donated this portion of his property to the Portland School District for Clinton Kelly Elementary School. Commerce High moved into that schoolhouse in 1929, later updated to Cleveland High School. The man with the horse would be near todays Powell Boulevard.  A lot can happen in 100 years – and, if you attended Commerce or Cleveland High School during that time, you were involved in a lot of life-changing decisions.

High school is a time when you make new friends, become inspired by teachers, and increase your knowledge – learning about world events that will shape your future forever.

In September of 1916 the leaders of education in Portland were intent on improving the status of this city and its citizens. One of their goals was to establish a school devoted to the improvement of the business community; and the High School of Commerce (Commerce High) was soon officially declared open – accepting students who wanted to pursue a career in the fields of accounting, bookkeeping, and secretarial duties.

Thus it is that September of 2016 marked the start of the 100th anniversary of Commerce High School’s – now Cleveland High School’s – commitment to the education and success of its young people.

With the big anniversary looming, Cleveland High alumni Nancy Carr and Nancy Beaver, as well as other fellow graduates, wanted their school to be recognized for its excellence in educating Portland’s youth.

Banding together, the school’s Alumni Association members are offering, this fall, many events and reunions, to summon back the students who once roamed the halls or represented the Indians and Warriors on the sports field, sang, danced, spoke, or created art and poetry at CHS during their teenage years.

Spending endless hours talking to other ex-classmates and teachers, and reviewing past photos and yearbooks, in order to compile the history of the school, the Alumni Association is now proud to present the Centennial Edition of “Commerce-Cleveland High School 1916-2016”, available at Cleveland High.

All of the photos, including past Rose Festival Princess pictures from past Ledger yearbooks, were collected and presented to the editors of the book by Dennis Maloney (CHS grad, 1960).

These centennial events are already underway, as Cleveland students and alumni participated last spring in the Rose Festival Starlight Parade, followed by a golf tournament in August at the Eastmoreland Golf Course. But there’s plenty of more in the offing.

Events for the anniversary still to come include the classic rivalry Cleveland-Franklin football game on Thursday night, October 13th. The alumni Cleveland High School Tour will be 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, October 15th, and the All-Class Reunion follows on the same evening.

Anyone wanting to attend the remaining celebrations is encouraged to call and register for this once-in-a-lifetime observance. Most all of the festivities are free, but registration is required to allow for staffing, and to supply enough party favors for the attendees. So get cracking, you ex Warriors and Indians – and Stenographer alumni – and get in touch with your old school chums.

For those of you who forgot about your high school days at Commerce High or Cleveland High, here’s a brief history to bring back memories for you, thanks to the research of Nancy Carr, and her book….

From as early as when the first settlers arrived in Portland, the founding fathers of the city were firm believers in providing an education for the city’s children. Continuing education, at that time, was available only for children whose parents could afford the fees. Most all of the instructional courses for young folks were offered through private schools -- and the few public schools, mostly located west of the Willamette River. And, too, students had to find their own way to school.

By the 1900’s Portland was becoming a thriving city, and as the population doubled, so too did the business district. Factories, stores, manufacturing companies, lawyers, and transportation companies had plenty of openings – but there were few qualified workers. Owners were so desperate for experienced employees that could read, write, and think, that there was a strong push for public education for everyone.

And, there was such demand for services in accounting, bookkeeping, mathematics and clerical services, that a specialty school – the School of Commerce – was created.

Located in the same building that housed Lincoln High School students downtown, new pupils were offered a choice. They could continue with fellow classmates at Lincoln High, or become adventuresome and challenge their minds by learning the business world at the newly-established Commerce High.

The first years of Commerce High were an exciting time for its students as they became involved in new social clubs and activities. Everything was available – from Drama to Speech, and outdoor excursions with the Camera Club. There was even a History Club. A Spanish Club was popular with both girls and boys, as was the Glee Club and after-school Orchestra practice.

Each Commerce class wanted its own identity. And pupils who weren’t a member of any particular group could always attend the many dances, sport rallies, and games, or enjoy the entertainment of the school vaudeville shows organized each year.

Since Commerce was then still downtown, the “Eastside High School” (Washington High) was the only secondary school available for teenagers living on the east side of the Willamette. And, as it happened, the majority of families lived on the east side of town. That was to change by the next decade.

Business was booming in downtown Portland; and as more high-rise structures were built, private and public schools began to experience negative impacts from the encroachment of the business district. The disrupting sounds and noise from the streetcars, vendors, and delivery vehicles constantly traveling about the city streets also interfered with the study skills of the students.

COURTESY OF DANA BECK COLLECTION - A photo of Clinton Kelly Elementary School in 1896. By 1928, it had been closed to move the elementary student body to a new location on Holgate Boulevard, now known as Grout School - so on June 1, 1929, this building was rededicated as the Clinton Kelly School of Commerce - later, Commerce High School - and now, Cleveland High. Over 800 students registered for classes on opening day in the fall of 1929. School officials were challenged to find a spot for the High School of Commerce on the east side of the river. The Clinton Kelly Grammar school, standing at 26th and S.E. Powell, was at that time vacant, and a logical choice. Clinton Kelly had officially closed in 1928, and its elementary children were relocated to a two-story brick structure on Holgate and 29th (now the Daniel Grout Elementary School).

The land along Powell at 26th was once part of Clinton Kelly’s farm, and had been deeded to the school district for educational purposes. If there weren’t a school on the property, then the land would revert back to the heirs of the donor. That made the decision easy, and on June 1, 1929, the new high school was officially dedicated there. A handful of students marched from the old school downtown, across the Ross Island Bridge up the hill on Powell Boulevard, to their new school – the Clinton Kelly School of Commerce.

As described in the Centennial edition of “Commerce Cleveland High School”, by the start of school in January 1930 CHS students were offered classes in English, History, Law, Mathematics, Writing, Art, Spanish, Band, Orchestra, and Gym. A new library was available for students, with over 3500 books on hand to borrow, and a state-of-the-art cafeteria was opened to serve lunch to the school’s pupils.

The pride and spirit of the students shone brightly in 1930: The first Rose Festival Princess for Commerce High was chosen, and football and baseball teams began competing.

Commerce High fielded many sports teams in both men and women’s athletics, but playing against such powerhouses as Jefferson, Lincoln, Benson, and Washington High proved a challenge. Especially since the school attracted students interested in business, few were recruited for athletic abilities.

Early on, Commerce High occasionally won a championship or two in various co-ed sports; but in 1930 the athletics outperformed the academics. Let’s just say, the 1930’s were the golden era for the boys of Commerce High. As the decade began, Commerce won its first men’s football championship, followed by city championships in men’s basketball and men’s baseball, for only the second time in the school’s history. Nobody was calling the fighting Commerce stenographers a bunch of pencil-pushers anymore. The theme was set for the decade.

On November 16, 1939, the men’s football team posted one of the most notable upsets ever in the Portland Interscholastic League (PIL) when they beat a highly-favored Grant Generals team 7 to 0. The “Stenogs”, as they were called back then, were not only predicted to lose by a large margin, but they beat Grant using only eleven players for the entire game, both defensively and on offense. This feat was so spectacular that they were thereafter referred to as the “Iron Men” of football.

In 1996, a group of those former athletes from the 1939 football squad started a scholarship program for chosen Cleveland High seniors. Over 75 scholarships have been handed out to graduating seniors since then, with between five and six $2,000 scholarships presented annually.

In 1940, students enrolled at Commerce still felt the aftershocks of the Depression Era. As in other schools around the country, families exited the Great Depression without much. Boys wore jeans and usually had two pairs of pants. One for high school and one for church; and if you couldn’t afford a new pair of shoes cardboard would have to be inserted in the soles of shoes to cover the holes worn into them.

For girls, middies and skirts with pleats were commonly worn, often made by their mother or themselves in a school sewing class. A “middy” was a blouse that zipped up the front, usually worn with a sweater. The girls usually wore sailors’ collars with the middy on the outside of the outfit.

Just recovering from the Depression, the citizens of the country, along with the students at Commerce High, were stunned to hear in radio bulletins that U.S. soldiers and civilians had been killed by a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawai’i, on December 7th, 1941, by Japanese aircraft.

Many of the boys enlisted right after the news was broadcast, lying about their age to support the cause – and many others went away to war after graduation, postponing a business career. In a 1945 school photo of the senior class, only five boys can be seen among the 105 girls who posed for the class picture that day. A plaque purchased by the students was dedicated to honor the thirteen boys and two girls from Commerce High who lost their lives serving their country in the Great War.

When World War II ended, and the young servicemen returned to the United States, a change in Portland public education was in the wind. Specialty schools – like Commerce High, which mainly offered classes in the business field, and Benson High, which provided training in technical and engineering skills – should be eliminated in favor of general education schools, many said. Such a change would also mean that students could no longer choose the school they wanted to attend in the Portland School District.

All of the academic Schools in Portland would be converted into comprehensive schools, leaving just two specialized schools. School boundaries were established by the School Board and teenagers living within a school’s defined boundary would have to attend that school.

Commerce High would continue to offer traditional business courses, but additional classes were added – French, Latin, Mathematics, and Science, plus a variety of Music and Drama courses. To conform to the established pattern of Portland High Schools being named after presidents, Commerce High was renamed Grover Cleveland High in 1948. It might be noted that Benson High, named for civic leader and philanthropist Simon Benson, didn’t have to conform to these rules.

When the last students of Commerce High graduated in 1947, a new chapter began for the young people of Cleveland High School.

Next month here in THE BEE we will continue with Cleveland High’s history, and tales of the students and the classes from the 1950’s up to the present. Meantime, if you ever attended this historic, century-old school, don’t forget to register for the October celebrations of Commerce/Cleveland High School. Call Nancy Carr at 1-916/202-7132 to do so, or contact through the Alumni website: chs-alum.bogspot.com