Feature

Published on March 27th, 2017 | by Kyla Walker

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History of Samo

When you Google Samo, you find images of the faces we’ve seen before. The shining smiles that once lit up the fading LEDs of the auditorium and a burning spotlight on the silver screen. Rob Lowe, Robert Downey Jr., Sean Penn, Dean Cain and Charlie Sheen, to name a few, represent an era where Hollywood was the place to be, and Samo was the school with proximity and a beach. But our school goes deeper than the stars of old rom-coms and blockbusters. There are teachers here that have poured their hearts and souls into their passion, and have been able to pass down the way they love and the words they cherish to a generation of students eager to delve into the history of America. This all starts with our very own hallways and historic auditorium.

Barnum Hall was built in 1938 and was designed by the firm Marsh, Smith and Powell. The facade was later designated as a city landmark on Dec. 9, 2002. Dean of Students Catherine Baxter explains why the whole of Barnum Hall is not designated as a landmark.

“Only the facade of Barnum Hall is designated as a city landmark. The building itself is not because if designated it could not be renovated. For example, the more efficient LED lights that have replaced the old light bulbs would not have been allowed, because we can not change a historic landmark,” Baxter said.

Originally, it was named the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and served the public as a retreat from ordinary life and an escape into concerts, plays, musicals and ballet for all to enjoy.

Over the years, it has become a sacred hall where students can share their gifts and perform on a stage that shines amongst the pixie dust of an era that never grows old. W.F. Barnum held the position of Samo Principal from 1916 to 1943 and worked with the architects to design and build the auditorium, that was later named after him. In 1997, Barnum Hall underwent a five year restoration, but the renovators made sure that the delicate and time-honored acoustics of the theater remained to leave us in the atmosphere of a true legend of Samo.

The History Building opened in 1912 with only fifty students enrolled at the school. As the population improved in our sleepy beach city at the time, so did our campus. The Open Air Memorial Theater was built in 1921 to honor the veterans of World War I.

“The Open Air Memorial Theater was built as a memorial for the students at Samo that died serving the country during World War I. The American Legion is currently working on a grant to restore the Greek with a ceremony on Armistice Day,” Baxter said.

Today, we use it for pep rallies and for strengthening our athletes. Some days, when the air is crisp and the ocean is opaque in the view from the top, you can close your eyes and still hear the roaring chants and feel the dripping sweat from all those that began their stories in the heart of our Greek Theater.


The school hopes to renew the face of the opening gate that pours into Samo so that we could revive its heritage and eloquent beauty that would become a freshman’s first impression of our community.

“The arches of the English Building used to serve as the entrance to the school. In the coming years, we hope to open them up again to give a fresh face to Samo while preserving history,” Baxter said.

Baxter anticipates revitalizing the historic attributes and art pieces that are tucked away.

“An owl used to sit on the top of the old history building, and there was a legend that said it would impart its wisdom upon all students who walked through the halls below. Today, it rests in the storage, but I would like to make some of these historical pieces more public again by displaying them in the new innovation building,” Baxter said.

In regards to renovating the aging buildings on campus, the school looks to improve the rooms in order to enhance the learning of our students.

“Not all the classrooms are ideal for instruction at the moment, such as [math teacher Kelly] Okla’s room in the second floor of the history building, due to the growing population and changing times,” Baxter said. “But it is about wanting to make the best of the instructional space here and embracing the history we have.”


Within the walls and windows of our hometown, known for its summer sea shining beneath the wooden logs of our Pier and where the Ferris wheel flies us high above the streets of Silicon Beach, we sit in classrooms where we glance to our left and see the falling horizon and to our right, only the rising stars of Hollywood.

We’re at the crossroads of two clashing streets and stuck between the ocean or the mountains, between adolescence or adulthood, and between facing our reality or becoming our dreams.

The history of our school was taught to us all the first week we stepped through the doors. The legends and the myths we hear from upperclassmen about the echoes of the old bathroom by the business building, or the superstition of stepping on the Viking stamp, they stay with us as we carefully walk around that holy circle and avoid the ghosts in the halls, but the strangers that lived far before us meant to honor the dignity and the respect Samo deserves.

They were trying to tell us something. The message of our lives that we will ignore over and over again until we learn it ourselves. They were trying to teach us, maybe unknowingly, but insistently about the lessons that aren’t taught in science labs or dusty books. Those that sat in the same Greek all those years ago, were whispering that all we needed was right now because our teachers will one day retire, and we will lose touch with our closest friends, but today our lives are tied to each other and we discover more in the eyes of the the people we will meet in these seats, these halls, and between the bells of Samo.

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