Cecil B. DeMille meets students who will attend DeMille Junior High School, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Sept. 9, 1956.
Schools are often named after historic or famous figures that offer inspiration, hope, and good examples to students of that neighborhood or district. While many buildings are named after Presidents, authors, inventors, and the like, sometimes world famous film folk like Cecil B. DeMille are honored as well. In the 1950s, two Southern California schools were named after the legendary director at the peak of his popularity.
In 1955 Long Beach, California required a new junior high for its expanding district. After much consideration, school Supt. Douglas Newcomb announced on January 3, 1955, that they would honor both the motion picture industry, the largest Southern California industry, and the great director by naming their new school the Cecil B. DeMille Junior High School. It would be located on land they hoped to acquire from the city of Long Beach.
Hollywood at Play, by Donovan Brandt, Mary Mallory and Stephen X. Sylvester goes on sale Feb. 1.
Cecil B. DeMille and Elizabeth Hudson at the dedication of Cecil B. DeMille Junior High, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Sept. 15, 1956.
The January 25, 1955, Long Beach Telegram reported about Newcomb’s appearance in front of the City Council meeting the night before. Newcomb announced that the district would pay $4,700 an acre for 24.4 acres, including money to relocate water mains required for water development programs, to acquire the land required for building a school to house 1,200 students in the northeast part of the district. The school district intended to start construction immediately in order to open in the fall of 1956.
At the time, the acreage at Parkcrest Street and Los Coyotes Drive on the west side of the San Gabriel River in Heatwell Park sat mostly undeveloped, and the Long Beach Parks and Planning Commission opposed the idea of the school on park land, though it sat unused and undeveloped. The City Council, however, gave their approval for the new project.
On April 24, the Long Beach School District paid over $98,000 to purchase the land from the Long Beach Board of Water Commission. The School District Board approved the spending of approximately $1.6 million to construct the Cecil B. DeMille Junior High building in May.
A fire a DeMille Junior High, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Aug. 20, 1961.
Building commenced quickly, and proceeded rather smoothly until a minor disaster on the evening of January 30. Vandals broke into the construction site and started fires in two school rooms adjacent to one another, causing over $10,000 in damage. It took firefighters several hours to put out the blazing fire during rain downpours.
Even with the vandalism, construction finished on time for the Friday, September 14, 1956, dedication ceremony, less than a month before the premiere of DeMille’s monumental “The Ten Commandments.” The school finished a tad over budget in completing its eight buildings and 36 classrooms, the first building to be named after any motion picture industry performer or leader.
The September 15, 1956, Los Angeles Times reported that over 2,000 people attended the event and printed excerpts of speeches by Newcomb and master director DeMille. Flood lights illuminated the building for the grand ceremony. Newcomb stated the school board honored DeMille for his “inspiration to youngsters and for his continued demonstration of high principles and vast accomplishment over three quarters of a century of living.” DeMille informed the audience, “I am grateful to have my name linked with those of the dedicated teachers and the thousands of young people to whom they will be imparting the foundation of good citizenship.”
Motion Picture Daily also printed DeMille’s praising of the film industry that day. “I know full well that the naming of this school is not recognition of any personal merits of mine so much as it is recognition that motion pictures have come of age as an industry, an art, and educational force in American life and throughout the world. Motion pictures have become the greatest and most effective means of conveying thought from one mind to another, and that is what makes them so powerful and educational. They speak a universal language… .”
Like its namesake, the school chose a knight on horseback as its mascot, and also called themselves the knights. They also honored the director by hanging an oversize portrait of him in their front office.
Cecilia Harper, Charlton Heston and Ada B. Clegg at the dedication of DeMille Elementary in Westminster, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 1959.
On November 2, 1957, Supt. John Lawler of Midway City, California near Westminster announced that his school district would construct a new building and name it the Cecil B. DeMille Elementary School. It opened in August 1959 at 15400 Van Buren Street eight months after DeMille’s death. In dedication ceremonies, Lawler stated what an inspiration DeMille offered students. DeMille’s daughter Cecilia Harper and Charlton Heston, who played Moses in the director’s last epic, attended the dedication ceremony.
The DeMille Junior High School evolved over the years, becoming a Middle School late in life. It even survived another fire on August 20, 1961, when vandals once again struck, setting a two-alarm emergency requiring five fire companies to put down during a two hour fight. Four of ten half-completed classrooms were destroyed, suspicious in that it happened just weeks before the start of a new school year.
The June 17, 2010, Long Beach Press Telegram reported that the school district would demolish the Cecil B. DeMille Middle School during the summer of 2012 in order to build a new school that would serve as a math and technology center. While the school no longer stands, it still survives through vintage yearbooks as well as film clips on the internet.
Larger than life, monumental film director Cecil B. DeMille achieved the rare designation of seeing schools named after him in recognition of his powerful inspiration of initiative, daring, and perseverance in fashioning his great career as well as the beginnings of the Hollywood motion picture industry and Paramount Studios.