The Changing Face of Fairfax High

Sitting shiva for public high schools has recently become a national pastime. In the wake of Littleton, schools are alternately pitied and blamed as the breeding ground for a generation of violent and disenfranchised youth.

Now comes Fairfax High School’s 75th anniversary to remind us that it was not always so. For several generations of kids — a large percentage of them Jewish — Fairfax was the springboard into a world of culture, achievement and ambition.

Hamilton, University, Palisades and Birmingham high schools can all lay claim to renowned Jewish alumni. But “Fax City” was there early on, at the corner of Melrose and Fairfax avenues, smack in a neighborhood that was once the epicenter of Los Angeles Jewry. Over the years, Fairfax High has overcome everything from rural beginnings to urban traumas, building a reputation that rests on its spectacular alumni contribution to education, art, entertainment, sports and politics. On Saturday, May 22, the school, along with the City of West Hollywood, will sponsor a daylong Diamond Jubilee festival that commemorates its remarkable history.

Fairfax High School was erected in 1924 at a time when Los Angeles was the nation’s largest agricultural county. Originally dubbed an Agricultural & Mechanical school, the 28-acre campus focused on landscape gardening, forestry, architecture, agronomy and arboretum. The Beverly-Fairfax area, now residential and commercial, was largely rural.

At that time, a migrational shift of Los Angeles’ Jewish population evolved. As other parts of town developed and Jews prospered financially, families abandoned Boyle Heights (a Jewish immigrant mecca since 1913) and set down roots in the Fairfax area, the Westside and Beverly Hills (the cultivation of the Pico-Robertson area followed in the 1940s). Across the school’s first decade, Los Angeles’ Jewish population nearly doubled, and Beverly-Fairfax caught much of this westward flow. Brooklyn Avenue businesses such as Canters Delicatessen and Solomon’s Book Store now sprouted up on Fairfax Avenue.