• Take a walk into history with this guide, provided by the Mill Valley Historical Society, by clicking on this link.  This Guide from the 2008 Centennial celebration describes the various buildings on the Tam High campus, and gives background about the important people who have shaped our school.
    A Brief History of Tam

    “In Tam’s buildings, classrooms, nooks, crannies, and corridors, on lawns and courts, in gardens, and especially up in the clock tower, you can feel the spirit of the school, a spirit of joyous learning. Every student, teacher, secretary, custodian, and parent who has set foot on the Tam Campus over the past 90 years has felt the Spirit of Tam High. It is in the very buildings, put there by those staff, students, and others who designed and built them. When I sit in Mead Theater, I become one with every student and teacher there before me.

    The school is full of friendly ghosts – students who carved initials in their desks, teachers who chalked the boards in Woodruff Hall, basketball players who pounded the maple floor Gustafson Gymnasium…”

    -Frank Gold
    Teacher/Principal, 1966-1998

    On December 18, 1906, voters decided to create a new high school called Tamalpais. This was the result of a petition drive by 5 students who were tired of traveling to San Rafael every day. 2.8 acres were purchased for $2,800, plus an additional 5 acres of marsh for $509. Soon, Northwestern Pacific Railroad added a special stop on its line right in front of the school.

    On August 5, 1908, Tam opened its doors with 64 students (including 5 seniors), 3 teachers, and Principal Ernest Everett "the Duke" Wood. During his 36 years as Principal, Mr. Wood saw enrollment grow to 1,500 and watched the campus go from barren hillside to a stop on Grey Line Tours which described it as the "most beautiful campus in the state of the California."

    Between 1910 and 1919, the Boys' and Girls' Athletic Associations were established. The Girls' Home Education cooked and served lunch in the cafeteria everyday. Originally, the school was called Tamalpais Union Polytechnic High School. Students actually designed some of the buildings, inlcuding the archway. They built the Commercial building, old Gym, and Woodshop as well as making classroom furniture, partly because of a lack of money.

    During the 1920s, bonfire rallies were held annually the night before the Big Game against San Rafael High (until Drake opened and became Tam's closest rival). The first pool was built with money raised by students. Built on landfill, the pool eventually sank and was condemned in 1957 before being replaced the following year by the district. Students attending Tam could take classes in cosmetology, blacksmithing, and watch-making. A poultry house and chicken pen were added to the campus by the 4H Club. The first lawn was planted during this time by Principal Wood, only after a "No Walking on the Lawn" agreement was reached with the students (this agreement was honored until well after his retirement and was enforced by the students themselves.)

    Mead Amphitheatre was built by the WPA during the early 1930s. It originally included a stage and band-shell. Two large murals were created as a WPA project including a Maurice Del Mue (Federal Artist Project) painting of rural West Marin, which hung in the library until 1961, at which time it was put into storage. The WPA also created Myrtle fountain in Orange Court. Grey Line Tours continued to stop at Tam. Added to the list of things to see was a Begonia Garden planted by Principal Wood. Two full-time gardeners were employed.

    During World War II, the population of Tam increased significantly as a result of the expansion of the shipyard in Marin City. The area next to the Ceramics Building contained "flight cockpit simulators" used to train pilots for the war. The Wood Hall Clock Tower was built to honor young men who gave their lives in World War II. A plaque bearing 55 names was dedicated December 7, 1948. A chime was added by the class of 1986.

    During the 1950s, the Senior Bench was dedicated. Although the original bench has been replaced, it is still painted every year by the senior class. The Junior Wall (across the path from the bench) was dedicated, as was Sophomore Tree (a silver spruce in the lawn) and Freshman Court (above Hoetger Hall). Drake High School opened in 1951, and Redwood opened in 1958. Russian was added to the list of languages taught: French, Spanish, German, and Latin. The Tam choir sang at the 8th Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley.

    Girls attending Tam in the 1960s were forbidden to wear pants, and were often sent to the office for short skirts or too much perfume. Boys were disciplined primarily for smoking, fighting, littering, or walking on the lawn. Punishment for the boys was gardening and picking up litter. Punishment for the girls was either to help in the office or be sent home to do ironing or chores.

    Football halftime shows would find Tam's all male Marching Band, the Tamettes Drill Team, and the Tam mascot, an Indian dressed in full feathered headdress with a tomahawk (the Indian mascot was changed to the Hawk in 1990). The Tam Marching Band was featured in the Woody Allen movie "Take the Money and Run." (Tam teachers Dan Caldwell and Don Michaelion played a prison guard and a prisoner.)

    By the end of the 1960s, there were 29 clubs including the Organization for Racial Understanding, the United Vulcans Under Spock Club, Yoga, and the Society for Prevention of Peruvian Takeover. In 1967 girls were banned from bare feet and mini-skirts, but could finally wear long pants.

    During the 1970s, all AP and Honors classes were eliminated. The movie "American Graffiti" was filmed in Gus Gym. Swahili was added to the list of languages offered. World events brough student strikes, peace marches, grape and lettuce boycotts, and an ecology center to campus. Tam's Black Student Union was founded. Proposition 13 eliminted most drama classes.

    Eventually, Tam's AP and Honors classes were reestablished. A first-of-its-kind program to distribute condoms on campus brought the local and national spotlight to Tam. An AIDS awareness group, HIVA, is established and begins distributing condoms and information from the median strip on Miller Avenue. Tam High Foundation is created, a parent volunteer group that raises money to provide academic support and enhance the quality of education at Tam.

    Tam Boys' Basketball won the State Championship in the winter of 2000. A Modernization Bond passed in March 2001 providing $120 million to renovate and modernize all five high schools in the District. In 2003, portables began to arrive on campus, displacing parking and tennis courts, starting one of the country’s most significant public-school modernizations. The modernization of Wood Hall (built in 1912) unveiled a steam tunnel under campus six feet deep, five feet wide and sixty feet long. The football field and track re-opened with state-of-the-art synthetic surfaces.

    In 2005, the Tam community rallied against alleged hate crimes, receiving attention as a school that fosters tolerance and acceptance. The Parcel Tax renewal passed, maintaining small class sizes, a seven period day, and arts programs. AIM students brought home Emmy Awards for their films. The Tam Mock Trial Team won the National Championship; this success followed on the heels of ten consecutive county championships and the 2005 California State Championship. Tam, once again, was named a California Distinguished School.


    We collect Tam memorabilia.  Do you have something of interest to donate for our History Room or Archives?  Please contact Executive Assistant Mary O'Leary at 415-945-1020, or email moleary@tamdistrict.org
    The archive room has transcripts, documents, programs, scrap books, photos, and other items of historical interest.   

Last Modified on November 8, 2019