Dr. A.J. Chandler – The Early Years
The town of Chandler, Arizona, was established in 1912 by Dr. Alexander John (“A.J.”) Chandler. Dr. Chandler was born on July 15, 1859, in Coaticook, Quebec, Canada. He studied veterinary medicine at the Montreal Veterinary College at McGill University, graduating with honors in 1882. He then moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he established a successful private practice. Much of his work was for one client, Dexter M. Ferry, a leading supplier of seed for Midwestern farmers. Dr. Chandler’s knowledge of livestock nutrition was invaluable to the Ferry Seed Company’s research to develop better strains of alfalfa and other feed crops.
In 1887, Will C. Barnes and C.M. Bruce, two officials from the Arizona Territory, came to Detroit to offer Dr. Chandler the position of Veterinary Surgeon. The post was responsible for overseeing the Livestock Sanitary Board, a new agency created to set health standards for the territory’s growing cattle industry. The board had searched across the country to find the best man for the job before offering the position to Dr. Chandler. To their surprise, Dr. Chandler agreed to take the relatively low-paying job and move to Arizona.
The Chandler Ranch, 1890-1911
In 1890, Dr. Chandler purchased 80 acres southeast of Phoenix and established his own small ranch and trading post. He contacted Dexter Ferry and other business associates in Detroit and convinced them to provide him with financial backing. Two years later, Dr. Chandler resigned as Veterinary Surgeon and established the Consolidated Canal Company. By creating an efficient network of canals and installing electric pumps to draw groundwater, he was able to transform his ranch into a green irrigated empire. Dr. Chandler was soon able to cultivate 3,000 acres, producing enough alfalfa and grain to feed 2,000 head of beef cattle and several thousand sheep. A small settlement known as Headquarters Camp was built at a site near what is now the northeast corner of Ray Road and Arizona Avenue. It included a ranch house, a blacksmith shop, a school and two wells. Meanwhile, Dr. Chandler continued to acquire additional land; by 1904 his landholdings had grown to 18,000 acres.
Despite his success, Dr. Chandler recognized that the only permanent solution to the area’s water problem was to construct a storage reservoir on the upper Salt River, where the water flowed through steep canyons. A potential dam site had been surveyed in 1889, but area farmers lacked the resources to undertake such a monumental project. This changed in 1903 when President Theodore Roosevelt signed the National Reclamation Act and Congress authorized the Salt River Project as the first federally sponsored water project in the country. The completion of Roosevelt Dam eight years later guaranteed a dependable year-round water supply for the first time.
The Chandler Townsite
In December 1911, the Chandler Ranch was subdivided and a townsite plat map was prepared. Soon advertisements were appearing in newspapers across the country announcing the sale of the Chandler Ranch lands.
The townsite was one square mile in size and was aligned with the cadastral survey system so that its principal roadways were at section lines and its boundaries at half-section lines. The north-south streets were generally named after U.S. states, and the east-west streets were generally named after cities. The principal north-south street was Arizona Avenue and the primary east-west street was Cleveland Street (now Chandler Boulevard).
The centerpiece of the town would be the elegant Hotel San Marcos (NRHP listed 4/29/1982), designed by California architect Arthur Burnett Benton. Benton had been involved in the effort to preserve the original Spanish missions in California and later became a proponent of the Mission Revival Style. He is perhaps best known for the Mission Inn in Riverside, California, built in 1902. The Hotel San Marcos utilized the same architectural style and was the first reinforced cast-in-place concrete structure to be built in Arizona. It was also the first of many upscale golf resorts that would be built in the state to cater to wealthy winter visitors.
Initially, agriculture continued to be the primary industry in Chandler, based on cotton, corn, and alfalfa. During the 1910s, there were several ostrich farms in the area, catering to the demand for plumes used in women's hats of the era. The demand eventually faded, but the legacy of the ostrich farms would be commemorated by the city’s annual Ostrich Festival, beginning in 1989.
The founding of Higley Field in 1941 (renamed Williams Field in 1942 and Williams Air Force Base in 1948) approximately ten miles east of Chandler marked an important point in the town’s development. Over a span of 52 years, more than 26,500 men and women earned their wings at Williams. The base was the U.S. Army Corps’ foremost pilot training facility, graduating more student pilots and instructors than any other base in the country and supplying 25 percent of the Air Force’s pilots annually.
On May 24, 1954, Chandler’s status was upgraded from town to city. In the years that followed, its population increased dramatically. In 1950, there had only been 3,800 residents; forty years later the number had risen to 90,533. By 2000, the city’s population had increased to 176,581. Much of this growth was fueled by the establishment of manufacturing plants for communications and computing firms such as Motorola and Intel. A 2005 census estimate put the fast-growing city’s population at 234,939, making it the fifth largest city in Arizona.
The Chandler Schools
Early School Buildings
The first recorded school in the Chandler area was at the Chandler Ranch in 1907. The school was established for the children of farm workers who lived at the ranch. Classes were held in a canvas-sided schoolhouse at the small settlement of Headquarters Camp, near what is now the intersection of Arizona Avenue and Ray Road.
When the plat for the Chandler townsite was prepared in 1911, a large parcel of land at the northeast corner of Cleveland and California Streets was reserved for a school building. That same year, the first members of the Chandler School District Board of Trustees were elected. The first trustees were T. J. Duncan, Leonard George and J.W. Heffner. G.A. Markham was selected as the first superintendent and principal.
Work soon began on the new Chandler Grammar School (later known as the Cleveland School). When the townsite officially opened on May 17, 1912, the building was already under construction. Not surprisingly, the new schoolhouse was designed in the Mission Revival Style, matching the other important buildings in the new townsite.
When the school opened in September, there were 67 students enrolled, and every seat in the two rooms was taken. G.A. Markham, the superintendent and principal, taught grades four through eight, while Louise Kolmire taught the primary grades.
By December the number of students enrolled at the school had doubled, and another teacher was hired. The trustees quickly realized that the schoolhouse needed to be expanded and agreed to build a new $6,000 structure that would essentially double the size of the existing building. In the meantime, a temporary structure was erected to hold the overflow of students.
The new building, constructed by W.H. Snell of Phoenix, was completed in time for the following school year. When classes began again on September 15, 1913, Ella Page Seward had replaced G.A. Markham as principal and superintendent, and three additional teachers had been hired, bringing the total to six. F.V.N. Dana and E.N. Larimour had replaced J.W. Heffner and T.J. Duncan, respectively, as trustees.
An October 10, 1913 article in the Chandler Arizonan announced that school enrollment in Chandler had passed the 200 mark and that another new unit was needed. The article also announced that Chandler was now eligible for a high school.
The High School
In September 1914, a separate high school district was created. Its boundaries were identical to those of the elementary school district, and both districts had the same board of trustees, superintendent and principal. Ella Page Seward continued as superintendent and principal, while Leonard George, the last remaining original trustee, was replaced by W.H. Robinson.
High school subjects were taught for the first time during the 1914-1915 school year. There were four teachers who taught a class of 19 freshmen. Classes were initially held at the Chandler Grammar School, but after the first year other classrooms had to be found. Several churches permitted the use of their facilities, and some local merchants allowed classes to be conducted on their premises.
In 1919, the first of two bond issues was passed to allow the construction of a new, permanent high school building. The first bond issue provided $121,800, while the second, approved in 1921, provided $170,000. A site was selected at the northwest corner of Arizona Avenue and Detroit Street, adjacent to the grammar school, thus allowing the two schools to share an athletic field and other facilities.
In 1920, Fred P. Austin became the new high school principal and superintendent, positions that he would hold for the next 17 years. During this same time, the three members of Board of Trustees were Henry L. Peterson, A.T. Morgareidge and John Andersen, all of whom occupied their positions for many years. These four individuals played an important role in the building of the new high school.
The first phase of construction took place in the spring of 1921, with the work performed by J.W. Tucker, a Phoenix contractor. The initial phase consisted of the north and south wings, in order to complete the classroom space as quickly as possible for the 1921-1922 school year. After the second bond issue was approved in 1921, work began on the rest of the building. Collins Brothers, of Kansas City, were the general contractors for the project, with 13 subcontractors involved. The entire structure was completed on May 1, 1922.
The completion of the building was marked by a special 20-page “High School Magazine Section” in the May 4, 1922 edition of the Chandler Arizonan newspaper. The opening article, titled “New High School Marks a Chandler Epoch,” described the building as follows:
Standing like a wide-flung monument of tan gold against the Chandler skyline, the new high school building, just completed … marks a glowing period in the educational annals of the Chandler school district.
The setting of the handsome building is splendid. Greeting the stranger who enters the town on a paved road from the north, it creates a first impression, always lasting as to towns, that is not changed or modified at any time. Lofty and noble, with architectural lines of simple yet stately beauty, the structure is the last word in piles of this kind. It must be seen to be appreciated …
It required 1,750,000 brick, 25 carloads or 3,750 barrels of cement, nearly 2,000,000 yards of sand and a carload of steel to put the structure on its feet. The square of the building is 130 by 300 feet … The new home contains 30 class and experimental rooms and is regarded by those who know as the finest plant of its kind in the state.
The article goes on to describe the various rooms inside the school, which included a state-of-the-art physics laboratory; a domestic science room with a pantry, kitchen and model dining room; a chemistry room; a study hall and library; administrative offices; nurse’s room; cloak rooms and restrooms; and students’ locker bays.
The article also states: “What is probably the prize possession of the school and something that the community has long needed, is the Auditorium, which has a seating capacity of 1,000 people on its main floor and balcony. It is cool and comfortable and the acoustics are so perfectly attuned that a person sitting in the farthermost corner of the balcony can hear a pin drop on the stage.”
The new building was also touted as “semi-fireproof,” as there were only 70 lineal feet of wood in the entire structure. “There is not another schoolhouse in Arizona that can boast of such a small amount of wood, none having less than 80 percent, while Chandler’s contains only 2 percent.” The exterior was of cement plaster, with a coat of “fireproof stucco” over it. The roof was of tile, while the trimmings were terra cotta.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the new high school was the “ultramodern” electric clock and bell system. This system could ring all the bells in the building at one time, or allow the principal to buzz into an individual classroom. A telephone system was built that connected all the classrooms to a switchboard in the main office.
Chandler High School was formally dedicated on May 10, 1922. Opening remarks at the ceremony were offered by A.L. Jones, Superintendent of Schools for Maricopa County, and Elsie Toles, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Arizona. The dedicatory address was offered by Dr. John J. Tigert, United States Commissioner of Education. The speeches were followed by several musical numbers, including the Chandler High School Girls’ Chorus, which sang “America.” Following the ceremony, there was a formal inspection of the new building.
The first commencement exercises to be held in the new high school took place on June 9, 1922. There were 12 students in the graduating class. The commencement address, titled “Opportunities for the Trained Mind,” was given by John J. Thorber, Director of the University of Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station. Diplomas were presented by A.L. Jones, Superintendent of Schools for Maricopa County.
Over the next decade, enrollment at the high school continued to increase. The largest graduating class during the 1920s was in 1928, when 32 students received diplomas. In 1930, only 15 students graduated, as the country sank into the Great Depression. During the late 1930s, the numbers increased again, with an average of about 34 members in each class.
In 1939, a new gymnasium was constructed on the high school campus, immediately southwest of the old gymnasium. Built at a cost of $70,000, the new structure had a cafeteria at the rear, with dressing rooms for boys and girls in the basement. An April 13, 1939 article in the Chandler Arizonan touted the new building as “one of the finest in Arizona … as modern as up-to-date builders and equipment furnishers can make it.” The work was funded by a $33,000 bond issue as well as a $27,000 federal grant from the Public Works Administration. The original gymnasium was remodeled to create woodworking and agricultural shops. The old building was “refinished” on the outside to conform to the main building and new gymnasium.
By the late 1930s, W.G. (“Bill”) Austin had replaced Fred P. Austin as principal and district superintendent. Bill Austin served in both capacities until 1945, when he became superintendent of Chandler schools and another man was hired as high school principal. This man was W. Wilson, who served from 1945 to 1947. He was followed by Homer Elledge, who served one year. In 1948, Harry L. White was hired as principal, and he occupied the post for many years.
In 1947, a building which housed the Band Room was constructed northwest of the new gymnasium. On the west side of this building was the bus garage, where all district buses were parked. The building was accessed from California Street, which was the western boundary of the campus at that time. That same year, a used barracks building was obtained and remodeled to become the dressing rooms for the football team. It later was remodeled and moved behind the main building for use as a bookstore.
A new Home Economics Building was constructed in 1950. Located behind the main building, this structure had two wings providing classroom space and areas for cooking, sewing and crafts.
In 1953, the football field and track were moved from behind the original building to a new location at the northwest corner of Nebraska and Erie Streets. The school district had purchased this property four years earlier and had already moved the baseball field to this location. The new football field was named “Austin Field” in honor of W.G. Austin, who had served for nearly 30 years as a teacher and administrator. Austin, who was a Chandler High School graduate, had also spent 10 years as the CHS football coach. A November 10, 1960 newspaper article recognized him as “Mr. Chandler High School” for his long-time service to the school. The same article referred to the new athletic field as “the frosting on the cake that is CHS.”
A new Vocational Agriculture Building was completed in 1959. This structure fronted California Street and contained two classrooms and a large shop area.
In 1960, a new north wing was added to the main building. The new addition, known as the “Science Wing,” contained 11 classrooms and science labs. The main building was also remodeled at this time, with classrooms and locker bays converted to a guidance center, teachers’ lounge, nurse’s office, registrar area and other administrative offices. The November 10, 1960 article called the new addition “a sight to be proud of” and the updated campus “one of the most modern, up-to-date high schools in the state.”
By 1960, the total enrollment at the high school had reached 899, with 136 students in the 1960 graduating class. The faculty consisted of 33 teachers. That same year, the school board was expanded from three members to five. Board members at that time were Dr. Clifford Goodman, president; Gene Patterson, clerk; and Hugh Arnold, Jackson Bogle and W.E. Wilson, members. An assistant superintendent was also hired for the first time, with Richard C. Carpenter filling the post.
High school personnel included two secretaries, four custodians, eight bus drivers, and eight additional workers who also drove school buses and maintained the shops and grounds. “Special personnel” who worked at the high school as well as other schools included a truant officer, primary coordinator, school nurse, lunchroom supervisor and lunchroom accountant.
Aerial view of Chandler High School and grounds, looking west ca. 1965. The Science, Wing is located at the north end of the main building, with the Music Building directly behind it. The Physical Education Building (later known as Coy Payne Gym) is located further to the west. Courtesy Chandler Historical Society.
A new Physical Education Building was constructed in 1964 at the southeast corner of Erie and California Streets. The new, structure included a gymnasium with pull-out bleachers; a wrestling room; locker, dressing and shower rooms; and restrooms. An outdoor swimming pool was built in conjunction with the City of Chandler just to the south of this building.
In 1968, the South Annex was created when the Cleveland Elementary School (originally the Chandler Grammar School) closed. The classrooms were remodeled, with Special Education classes placed in one of the original buildings. At this time, the high school auditorium was also closed so it could be converted to a new use, and the elementary school auditorium became the high school auditorium. By 1970, the original high school auditorium had been converted to a media center and additional classrooms.
A new Technical and Industrial (T&I) Building was constructed in 1973 and was named for longtime CHS teacher Gail T. Gaddis, who retired that year. Gaddis, who taught at Chandler High for 25 years, championed a quality trade-school curriculum and is remembered as a visionary who “ran a tight ship.” The new structure was built on the site of the Cleveland School; by this time, all of the original buildings had been demolished except for the one housing Special Education. The former Industrial Arts Building (the original gymnasium) was enlarged and converted to the Arts Building.
In 1975, the Chandler Elementary and High School Districts were officially unified to create the Chandler Unified School District. That same year, a new wing was added to the Home Economics Building making it into a “U” shape. The new wing included a pre-school. A few years later, a new bookstore was constructed to the west of the main high school building. It later was enlarged to accommodate the Audio Visual Department.
In 1988, Chandler Junior High School was closed upon the opening of the new Andersen Junior High School. The former CJHS campus became the North Annex to CHS with all of its facilities utilized by the high school.
Campus renovations continued in 1987 when the following items were added: ramadas, a locker shelter, covered walkways, bus loading benches and shelters, a perimeter masonry fence and landscaping, and parking lot west of the Arts Building. The cafeteria kitchen was also remodeled with new equipment.
In 1989, the Chandler Center for the Arts, a joint venture between the Chandler Unified School District and the City of Chandler, opened at 250 North Arizona Avenue on four acres, part of which was the athletic field adjacent to the South Annex. The central feature of the center, designed by Rossman Schneider Gadbery Shay Architects, was the turntable divisible auditorium which utilized two large rotating platforms, 82 feet and 69 feet in diameter. These platforms subdivided the large hall into a 350-seat intimate theater, a 250-seat recital hall and a 1,000-seat legitimate theater, each of which could be used at the same time, and independently of, any of the other two areas. The Center also featured a 2,000 square foot exhibition hall for touring and student displays, a foyer to serve each of the theatres independently or combined, and a catering facility. Additional features of the building included a rehearsal stage; dance studio; a television studio; a full stage shop; dressing facilities for over 100 actors and musicians; and an orchestra shell and wall for a full orchestra with choir.
The years 1995 and 1996 saw major changes to the CHS campus. In 1995, the Arts Building (the original gymnasium), Music Building and Home Economics Building were demolished to construct the two-story Academic North and South Buildings, Administration Building and Media Center, Cafeteria and Courtyard. This complex included 70 classrooms, workrooms, laboratories, guidance offices, all administrative offices, a bookstore, restrooms and storage. In 1996, the original high school building was extensively renovated and renamed “Old Main.” The updated building contained 48 classrooms, storage and restrooms. Around this same time, the school board voted to rename the Physical Education Building the “Coy C. Payne Gymnasium,” in honor of Chandler’s first Black mayor.
By 1998, enrollment was increasing so rapidly that the Chandler Unified School District opened its second high school, Hamilton, at Arizona Avenue and Ocotillo Road, approximately four miles south of Chandler High School. Five years later, the district’s third high school, Basha, opened at Val Vista Drive and Riggs Road, approximately 11 miles southeast of Chandler High. The district’s fourth high school, Perry, is currently under construction at Val Vista Drive and Queen Creek Road, approximately eight miles southeast of CHS; it is scheduled to open in 2007.
The most recent chapter of Chandler High School’s campus expansion began in November 2002, when Chandler voters approved a $60 million school bond package. The big-ticket item was the promise of a renovated and expanded Chandler High School, with approximately $30 million earmarked for that purpose. The ambitious project included condemning and demolishing 90 homes west of the campus to make way for the school’s expansion from 40 to 60 acres.
The work was completed in time for the beginning of the 2005-2006 school year. Among the new features was the 41,000 square foot Gail T. Gaddis Career and Technical Education Center, a two-story structure located at the center of campus. The $6.4 million building replaced the old T&I Building, which was demolished to create additional parking. The new structure included a state-of-the-art TV studio, a media classroom, computer labs and classrooms for automotive repair and agriculture.
As of 2007, the only historic structures remaining on the Chandler High School campus were the original building now known as “Old Main” and the 1939 gymnasium. Despite the numerous changes that have taken place on the campus over the years, Old Main is still its stately centerpiece. It is still the building that gives Chandler High School its identity.
From The National Register of Historic Places Registration Form Prepared for the CUSD.