Rock and roll. Hot rods and slicked-back hair. Elvis Presley and poodle skirts. Mark Keppel welcomed the fifties amid the bustle of a society that was still regearing from a wartime to a peacetime economy. Student participation in campus activities was high and school spirit was soaring. Born with the break from Alhambra High School and its associated attendance boundaries, the Aztec-Moor rivalry dominated San Gabriel Valley high school news. By the early 1950's Keppel's student body had grown to above 2,000; and by the end of the decade, district administrators were forced for the first time to consider the erection of temporary classrooms-the notoriously permanent temporary bungalows-in the school parking lot behind the lunch court.
The decade saw the campus expand to the east. The east-west situated football stadium that had stood at the northeast corner of campus was demolished and relocated-on a north-south orientation, the bleachers having been condemned. Paul Baldwin ('61), for one, was happy to see the bleachers go: "My teammates and I were glad they tore down the old bleachers. The team locker rooms were located under the bleachers, and the locker rooms were terrible. The light was really bad, and there was hardly any ventilation. I was on the baseball team, and can you imagine the smell in there after a game on a hot day in May? And there was mildew all over the place. No matter how many times the coaches made us clean the place, it still looked and smelled bad!"
The new stadium, christened Montezuma Field after the Aztec emperor, was built of concrete, and could accommodate the entire student body. Builders took advantage of the natural slope of the land to create two athletic tiers: the upper field where basketball and volleyball courts were set up and where most general physical education classes would meet, and the lower field where the new football stadium, dirt track, baseball field and a small parking lot were built. While the stadium was being constructed, Aztec football had to be played at Moor Field, home of the cross-town rival Alhambra Moors, so Keppelites were happy once the new stadium was completed and Aztec teams could again play games on their home turf.
The Keppel-Alhambra rivalry, the oldest inter-school rivalry in the history of the California Scholastic Federation, had become so important by the mid-1950's that it had outgrown both Montezuma Field and Moor Field, and had to be moved to the capacious Rose Bowl in Pasadena. In addition to the importance of the game itself, the intensity of the rival often spilled off the field into "extra-curricular" activities that further motivated officials to move the game site to neutral turf.
Alumni recall another side of Keppel life. By the 50's many Mark Keppel students perceived that although the city of Alhambra claimed both Alhambra High and Keppel High, civic sentiment was clearly with AHS. Its location-in the heart of Alhambra-and its population-mostly Alhambra residents-was in marked contrast to Keppel's location-literally on the "wrong" side of the tracks-and population-residents of outlying areas of Alhambra, Monterey Park, and Wilmar. Keppel students' perception that AHS enjoyed favored-son status fanned the fires of the inter-school rivalry. Alumni point to Alhambra's newspapers of the time as evidence of this favoritism, remarking that it seemed that Alhambra High's coverage reported only its successes while Keppel's coverage reported only its controversies. This negative experience was transformed into a positive one for racial relations, as white and Mexican Keppel students bonded more closely together in the face of this adversity.
Campus activities gave students many opportunities to interact with fellow Keppelites. There were as many as twelve girls' TriHiY clubs alone. School dramatic and musical productions were usually standing room only, and the school featured a large marching band and drill team. Musical dramas featured Keppel drama students acting and singing to the accompaniment of the Keppel orchestra. To raise funds, clubs sponsored popular lunch time bake sales. Because of the large student body-too large for the cafeteria-school officials instituted two lunch periods. Alumni recall that the selection of one's classes before the opening of school in the fall hinged as much on the ability to share the same lunch period with friends as it did with choosing appropriate classes. The 1957 Senior Prom was held at the Huntington Sheraton Hotel in San Marino.
Ms. Arzt. The name conjures up images of girls kneeling in the office of the Assistant Principal for Girls while the legendary school disciplinarian determined whether hem touched floor. If it did, the relieved girl returned to class. If it didn't, she was sent home to change into clothing more appropriate for an academic institution.
The city of Alhambra sponsored a Rose Parade float every year in the 50's, and Keppelites could be found working on Rose Parade floats being constructed in the several airplane hangers left after demolition of the airport between the campus and Valley Boulevard in the approximate area now occupied by the Valley Mall at the corner of Valley Boulevard and Almansor Avenue. In addition to the float, the Aztec marching band alternated with the band from Alhambra High as the City of Alhambra's representative in the Rose Parade.
Off-campus social activities were vintage 50's. On Friday and Saturday nights, Keppelites cruised Valley Boulevard between Sixth Street eastward to Almansor Street and frequented several restaurants on the boulevard. By this time, Rod's, the Hat, Henry's, Farmers Boy's, and other "hangouts" were vying with one another for Keppelites' patronage. Surprisingly, despite the fact that both Alhambra and Keppel claimed Valley as their cruising grounds, very few incidents of conflict occurred to mar the fun-filled evenings. Seeing and being seen was the thing to do on a Saturday night.
As the 1950's ended, the Mark Keppel student body continued to bask in these years of relative innocence. There had been problems. Mark Keppel High School saw some of it sons go off to fight in Korea. Some did not return. There had definitely been controversies and challenges to school spirit and the collective sense of stability that the students enjoyed. In 1957, nearly half of the graduating class was transferred to the new district high school-San Gabriel High School-that had just been constructed in the alfalfa fields at the corner of Ramona Road and Mission Road just inside the eastern city limits ofAlhambra. But nothing in the 50's prepared society and Mark Keppel High School for what was to come… the "Age of Aquarius"-the 1960's.