Harry Ells High School

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Harry Ells High School in Richmond, California was a major public high school serving the community from 1955 to 1985 with a gap of 3 years (1967-70) when it served as the temporary South campus of Richmond High School. It was named for Harry Leander Ells (1854-1943), a pioneering resident who served as Richmond's postmaster, a member of its first school board, and an assemblyman representing Contra Costa County.[1]

Ells originally opened as a middle school in 1944, as Richmond grew from the influx of World War II manufacturing and shipyard workers and their families. Ells was changed to a high school in 1955 and graduated its first class in 1958. In the Fall of 1967, it became Richmond High School South Campus while Richmond High's main campus was rebuilt and the new John F. Kennedy High School opened one mile away. In 1970, Ells reopened as a four-year high school, but by then had lost part of its student base, its Eagle mascot and red-and-white school colors to the new Kennedy High School.[2] The reopened Harry Ells returned with new colors of purple and white and new mascot, the Falcon. After 15 more years as a separate high school, Ells closed forever in 1985, the result of declining enrollment and the discovery of asbestos in many of its buildings. After the Ells campus was torn down, LoVonya Dejean Middle School was built and opened on the same site in 2001. A plaque marks the place where Ells once stood, and a section of 33rd Street has been named Harry Ells Place.

After graduating its first four-year high school class in 1958, Ells rapidly achieved prominence on several fronts. For example, its marching band was selected to play at the opening ceremonies at the 1960 Winter Olympics, held in Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe, CA;[3] the Ells basketball team won the prestigious iNorthern California Tournament of Champions in 1964 and placed three players on the All-Tournament Team,[4] and debate and forensics teams excelled in regional and state competitions throughout the decade of the 1960s, earning Ells a National Award for Excellence in Speech for the years 1961-1967 from the National Forensics League.[5]

In its short history, Ells produced prominent graduates in science, the professions, public service and the arts. The Hon. Kent N. Brown, nominated by President George H. W. Bush to be the first U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Georgia, was a 1961 Ells graduate.<ref.>Presidential Papers, July 2, 1992: www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid+21196</ref> The late Patricia McKinley, a member of the Class of 1967, was appointed by California Governor Jerry Brown to the Bay Municipal Court at the age of 33, making her the youngest and the first African-American woman ever appointed to that position, and three years later she was named presiding judge.[6] Congresswoman Susan Davis (D-CA), Ells Class of 1961, has represented California's 53rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2001.[7] Her sister, Eleanor (Alpert) Palk, Class of 1959, served more than three decades as judge and Commissioner of the Orange County Superior Court.

In the fields of art and entertainment, Ells is represented by Carl Franklin, Class of 1967, an award-winning actor, writer and director of motion pictures and television productions ("Devil in a Blue Dress," TV's "Good Times") and actor Michael Paul Chan (TNT's "The Closer" and "Major Crimes"). Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery and nicknamed "The Godfather of Zin"[8]grew up in Point Richmond, CA and graduated from Ells in 1965. Award-winning illustrator and artist James Dietz, a 1964 Ells graduate, is acclaimed for his aviation, combat and military paintings,[9] while Marilyn (Mimi) Wirth, Class of 1963, has a career spanning commercial illustration to oil paintings portraying the American Indian.[10] The late Robert DeVee, Class of 1959, left a legacy of colorful paintings still on exhibit at the Ren Brown Gallery in Bodega Bay, CA. <https://www.renbrown.com/store/index.php?p=biography&parent=17>

Ells stage performers include the late Cherie (Keane) Ewing from the Class of 1960, who acted, sang and danced in summer stock and dinner theatre productions with stars such as Gene Kelly, Dan Dailey and Van Johnson. Shirley Ann Lopez, a 1964 graduate, is a professional vocalist who has appeared in a variety of venues throughout California, from fairs and benefits to prison and military performances.

Harry Ells High School also graduated many famous athletes. Bob Gaillard ('58) went on to become head basketball coach at the University of San Francisco and took teams deep into NCAA tournaments. The late Ron Theobald ('61) played baseball for the Milwaukee Brewers.[11] Gene Clines ('66) played for four major league teams and is still a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization. Willie McGee ('76) played for the St. Louis Cardinals and was named National League Most Valuable Player in 1985. Travis Williams ('63) starred at Arizona State University and went on to play pro football for the Green Bay Packers.[{Benny Barnes}] was a member of the Ells Class of '68 that graduated from Kennedy High School; he went on to Stanford University, where he played on two victorious Rose Bowl teams before spending 11 years as a defensive back with the NFL Dallas Cowboys. [{ Andre Patterson}] went from football at Ells to a long career as a coach at the high school, college and professional levels; he is in his sixth season as defensive line coach of the NFL Minnesota Vikings.

Professional baseball players Cleo Smith ('72), Eddie Miller ('75), and Jim Williams ('65) also graduated from Harry Ells. Champion high hurdler Dedy Cooper ('75) led Ells to the 1975 team championship at the CIF California State Meet.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Comella, Doug. "Who Was Harry Ells". Harry Ells High School Class of 1960. Archived from the original on 19 September 2008. Retrieved 8 November 2015. 
  2. ^ http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-32806932_ITM
  3. ^ "Disney Finishes 2d to Mother Nature," San Francisco Call-Bulletin, February 19, 1960
  4. ^ John E. Spalding, "The Tournament of Champions(1947-75) plus The Northern California CIF Regional (1976-80)", p. 16
  5. ^ Plaque in possession of Ells graduate and former Richmond teacher from National Forensics League
  6. ^ Announcement of The Honorable Patricia Ann McGinley Memorial Luncheon from the Black Women Lawyers Association of Northern California, August 16, 2013
  7. ^ "Biography of Congresswoman Susan Davis". United States House of Representatives. U.S. Congress. Archived from the original on 8 October 2009. Retrieved 8 November 2015. 
  8. ^ "Ravenswood Winery - Joel". Ravenswood Winery. Archived from the original on 25 July 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2015. 
  9. ^ "About The Artist James Dietz - Military and Aviation Artwork". The Art of James Dietz. Archived from the original on 15 June 2012. Retrieved 8 November 2015. 
  10. ^ "About Mimi". Mimi Wirth Oil Painter. Archived from the original on 17 February 2015. Retrieved 8 November 2015. 
  11. ^ "Ron Theobald Stas". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved November 6, 2013. 
  12. ^ "California State Meet Results – 1915 to present". prepcaltrack. Retrieved November 6, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Emanuels, George. "California's Contra Costa County, An Illustrated History".
  • "California Blue Book, 1903 and 1909 editions"
  • Newcomb, Chester B. "Biography of Harry Ells", 1971

. Enos, Ben. "At Harry Ells High, Truly It Was 'We Are Family'", East Bay Times, Sept. 6, 2007.