Tamalpais High School: An Architectural History


By Leo DiPierro

Tam High has arguably the most beautiful and memorable campus in Northern California. Many students walk our halls oblivious to the rich history of the buildings. Since 1908, Tam’s campus has changed drastically, and has serviced countless people. The names of the various buildings around Tam often go unnoticed by students and faculty alike. However, these names are as entrenched in the history of Tam and Mill Valley as the physical buildings themselves.

Wood Hall

The oldest building on campus, and one of the most prominent buildings in Mill Valley, is named after Ernest E. Wood, the first principal of Tam and the founder of the school in 1908. In the first year of the school’s existence, classes began in small tent structures which had to be moved because of exposure to the elements. Classes continued with 64 students inside the unfinished Wood Hall. In its early years, the building housed classrooms and the school cafeteria, where the current administrative offices are. The clock tower was not originally part of the building, and was partially funded by the class of 1946 as a memorial to those Tam students who lost their lives in World War II.

Keyser Hall (2)

Constructed in the 1920s and then demolished in 2006 after discovery of extensive problems with drainage and toxic mold, Keyser hall was (and still is) Tam’s largest building. When originally built, Keyser housed the majority of English and Foreign Language classes. The rebuilt Keyser includes three science classrooms as well. The original building was constructed in 1922, with the ‘upper Keyser’ section being added in 1924. The building is named after Tam’s celebrated first teacher, Elizabeth Keyser. The building was dedicated to Ms. Keyser after she retired from Tam in 1947, the last of the original  staff to retire. The modern Keyser hall began construction in 2008 and was finished in 2010.

Hoetger Hall (3)

Hoetger Hall, or the Commercial Building as it was originally known, was actually designed, in part, by the architecture students and their instructors during the late 1910s (the very same students helped design the iconic arches at the foot of Wood Hall). However the building was officially named after well-regarded Tam teacher Conrad Hoetger came to the school during the 1960s and proceeded to teach at Tam for some time. Hoetger Hall was also one of the first buildings in, addition to Wood Hall, to be built.


George Gustafson Gym (4)

Gus Gym, as it is more commonly known, has been an iconic part of Tam since the 1920s. It is named after George Gustafson, who coached football, baseball, tennis, and swimming for 37 years at Tam, starting in 1933. After he retired in 1971, the gym was formally named after him. During extensive school renovations in the 1990s and 2000s, the gym received seismic upgrades. The original design for the gym included four towers, two on each end of the gym, and extensive windows on either side. These were removed as part of the retrofits.

Ruby Scott Gym (5)

The second gym on campus is named for Ruby Rowena Scott. Scott was a foreign language and English teacher at Tam from 1913 to 1957. The gym was built during the 1950s and officially dedicated to Scott in 1957, under the name “The New Girls Gymnasium of Ruby Scott Auditorium.” Ruby Scott also began the tradition of the annual Tam Roman Dinner. She taught Latin, and in 1935, she began to hold an annual banquet with Roman decorations, music, and food. Scott was one of the most prominent teachers to come to Tam during the 20th century, and even after she retired, her students often wrote and called her, at home in Berkeley. In the 1960s, the gym was renovated to improve its acoustics and seating capacity, and was also upgraded as part of the Caldwell Theater project in 2006.

Woodruff Hall (6)

The current math building was constructed after Keyser Hall, in the early 1930’s. Its namesake is derived from Margaret Woodruff, who was the head of the social studies department at Tam and the founder of what was originally known as the Honor T Society, which dealt with high-ranking academics at Tam.

Benefield Hall (7)

One of the most enigmatic buildings on campus, Benefield hall is a small and inconspicuous building that has existed for most of Tam’s history. Located near the back of campus among the trees, the building is situated on the edge of the hillside adjacent to Mead Theater. It was built during the 1930s and is named after Glidden Benefield, who was the head of the boys’ PE department and was the athletic director at Tam during the middle of the 20th century. The building once housed photography studios and drama prop storage, but is now used for to storage space and custodial items. The old murals that once adorned the sides of the Mead Theater stage, which was demolished in the 1970s, still lie in Benefield Hall. The building is condemned due to drainage issues stemming from the hillside it is situated on.

Mead Theater (8)

Mead theater was constructed in 1937 by members of the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This was an organization formed as part of the New Deal during the Great Depression to help with unemployment and civil works projects. The WPA built Mead Theater and a large stage, which was destroyed in the 1970s due to dry rot problems. The theater itself is named after Earnest Mead, a member of the Tam School Board from 1920 to 1944. The WPA also constructed the Myrtle statue that sits atop the fountain in orange court.

Mary Baker Student Center (9)

Not many Tam students know of the official name of the student center. It is named after Mary Baker, a member of the class of 1932. The student center was completed in 1972 and dedicated to Ms. Baker, who spent over 40 years at Tam as a student, English and history teacher, director of physical education, Dean of girls, and even assistant principal. The student center was constructed as an area for students to congregate, and includes an expanded cafeteria after the original one in Wood Hall was remade into administrative offices.

Palmer Hall (10)

The current science building, Palmer Hall was constructed during the 1960s and deviated into a more modern form of architecture for Tam’s traditional campus. It is named after Ray Palmer, who was head of the Tam science department from 1927 to 1959. The building stands in the footprint of principal Wood’s original house, which served as a classroom, home, and teacher lounge until it was demolished to make way for the science building in the 1960s. The large redwoods planted to the right of the building were planted by Mr. Wood, to celebrate the birth of each of his four daughters. The trees have thrived throughout all of Tam’s construction and remodels.

Daniel Caldwell Theater (11)

The second newest building at Tam, the Caldwell Performing Arts Theater, was completed in 2006 and currently serves as the headquarters for the Conservatory Theater Ensemble (CTE), Tam’s theater department. Daniel Caldwell was a former student at Tam who in 1976 formed the Ensemble Theater Company (ETC), as it was originally known. He headed the theater department for many years, and ETC was renamed to CTE in 1994.

Original Swimming Pool

Additionally, the original Tam pool was constructed out by the tennis courts on the remains of an old barge, and had to be demolished in the 1950s after it began to sink into the landfill. The modern pool was also constructed in conjunction with the Keyser Hall project.

Tam’s campus has survived for over a century, and has gone through many changes. Despite these changes, the original spirit abides on the campus, rooted in the rich history that connects Mill Valley with the people who have been part of the Tam community through the past 108 years.