The Gymnasium was one of the eight Nelles-era School buildings remaining on the school grounds after the California Youth Authority modernized the facility. It was one of several buildings added to the complex during or just following Fred C. Nelles’ tenure as superintendent to improve the school and fulfill the ideal of a cottage system for the school. The Gymnasium was one of the main recreation areas of the school, and its proximity to the football field was also significant, as it provided locker room facilities for participants. The school had a strong athletic tradition that provided recreation and life lessons to its wards, and the gymnasium played a large role in that tradition. It was a community gathering space, a temple to the athleticism of the young wards, and its utilitarian design accented by a heavy Romanesque Revival arched entrance reflected that purpose.

Architectural Character

The Gymnasium was a single-story structure with a rectangular plan. With its high pitched roof and flared eaves and dormers, the Gymnasium’s eclectic design featured an arched door and window openings in the Romanesque Revival-style on the front façade harking back to the school’s original Castle building (1891-1916). Yet, the utilitarian board-formed concrete construction materials, side and rear walls devoid of ornamentation, and tall multi-light metal windows that lighted the Gymnasium’s interior, were associated with early modernism. The Gymnasium had an entrance porch with a pair of wood batten doors decorated with ornate wrought-iron hinges and fixtures. The pair of doors were set within a large, deeply-recessed arched opening that was supported by flanking, engaged columns with plain basket capitals. The arch was decorated with a denticulated molding around its outer edge and chevron ornamentation along its inner edge.

Floor Plans

The Gymnasium was broken into three parts: the entrance lobby near the building’s east end, the gymnasium in the center, and the dressing room/showers at the west end. The entrance lobby contained a ticket office, men’s restroom, and closet on its south side and women’s restroom on its north side. Two sets of double wooden doors were located on the west wall and led into the main gym area. The interior of the Gymnasium was double height with basketball hoops at either end, and a small scoreboard on the east wall. Large windows lined the north and south walls while the east and west walls had three small, arched, pivot sash windows. At the west end of the Gymnasium were two sets of double doors leading to a hallway, off of which were the dressing room and shower area. Accessed via double wood doors, this area of the Gymnasium was divided into multiple spaces with varying uses. At the south end was a dressing room, drying room, and shower room, while at the north end was a supply room, storage room, and office. In between the showers and the supply room was a bathroom area. Below the first floor was a basement, which mostly saw use as a storage space.

Historical Landscape Design

When the Gymnasium was built in 1934, it was constructed to the east of the athletic field and replaced the former Kitchen and Dining Rooms building (demolished). The Gymnasium entrance was aligned with the primary entrance into the property and the main traffic circle (removed). The landscape around the Gymnasium at the time of construction was simple and limited in size. In front of the Gymnasium was a small grass lawn and concrete pathway to the primary entrance. A historical photograph of the primary elevation showed a Deodar Cedar tree to the north of the primary entrance. Along the south elevation was a grass area improved with a row of palm and other trees setback behind a paved road with a concrete curb that led to the Assistant Superintendent’s Residence. While the Gymnasium retained this side lawn, the trees were replaced with a row of approximately six Jacaranda trees planted at a later date. In front of the north elevation there was a grass lawn between the Gymnasium and athletic field. A concrete path led from the rear of the Gymnasium curving around to the north elevation and branched off to the Gymnasium basement. The construction of a vocational classroom in 1988 and the vocational arts classroom (28-33) building in 1966 eroded the landscape to the rear of the Gymnasium behind the curved concrete pathway.

The athletic field was located to the immediate west of the Gymnasium and hugged the western boundary of the lot. It consisted of a recessed oval-shaped field framed by a running track. Because of the change in grade, a sloped concrete retaining wall bounded the perimeter (alteration in 1964) with a concrete view platform at the northern end of the east side. The athletic field appeared to predate the construction of the Gymnasium built in 1934. Prior to its construction, a 1928 historical aerial showed the athletic field was an oval-shaped grass field which remained until the site was developed. Historical aerials from 1928 and 1933 showed that the oval field was framed by trees north, west and east perimeter (no longer extant). The area where the Gymnasium was later built was occupied by a dirt road and the Kitchen and Dining Rooms building (later demolished). However, as demonstrated in architectural drawings, while the athletic field retained the same oval shape, repairs were made to the athletic field in 1964, including paving, grading, and drainage work. Few changes occurred to the athletic field after 1964.

Additional Information

For more historical information, including more building specifics, floor plans, and photos, download the HABS Report and reference page 305.

Physical History

Date of Erection

Constructed in 1934


George McDougall

Builder, Supplier, & Contractors

The Division of Architecture at the State of California Department of Public Works



The Gymnasium was primarily rectangular with overall dimensions of approximately 138’ long by 72’ wide.


The Gymnasium sat on a reinforced concrete foundation.


The exterior walls were constructed of poured-in-place concrete. The original plans intended for the walls to remain as exposed concrete, however the building appeared to be finished with paint.

Structural System & Framing

The Gymnasium’s structural system consisted of exterior reinforced concrete-framed bearing walls and reinforced concrete girders and beams.

Porches, Stoops, Balconies & Bulkheads

There was a large concrete stoop at the Gymnasiums main entry on its east elevation.



There were two stairways in the Gymnasium. The stairways were located at either end of the hallway between the gymnasium and the dressing rooms and led to ground level exits.


The interior floors of the entrance lobby were finished with large clay tiles, while the Gymnasium had been finished with wood flooring. The dressing room/showers consisted of a combination of concrete and tile floors.

Walls & Ceiling Finish

Walls in the main entrance lobby were clad with stucco and finished in paint. The Gymnasium’s concrete walls were also finished in paint. In the shower and dressing room, the walls were finished with both paint in some areas and tile in others.

Decorative Features & Trim

The interior of the Gymnasium was void of ornamentation with the only exception being a copper plaque commemorating the building’s ground breaking on October 28th, 1934. The plaque had a raised garland border and listed multiple members of the institution’s faculty as well as members of the State Department of Public Works, including the Gymnasium’s architect, George McDougall.


The bathrooms in the Gymnasium were updated with modern fixtures. The main gymnasium space was updated with new basketball goals. The building did not appear to retain any of the original hardware elements.