University Height’s Normal School

One of Uptown’s great architectural monuments once sat between Normal and Washington streets at Park Boulevard (B on 1955 aerial photo below). San Diego State Normal School, the birthplace of SDSU, was a fine expression of Beaux Arts classicism. While the old school has been demolished to make room for a parking lot, the teacher training building and several other auxiliary buildings remain.

The term “normal school” refers to an institution for the training of teachers, a concept that originated in Europe and gained popularity in the US during the nineteenth century. The term used a secondary definition of the word “normal” referring to a “model” or “pattern” for imitation by students. The location of this school inspired the naming of University Avenue, Normal Heights and University Heights (which originally encompassed Hillcrest).

Hebbard and Gill designed the stately Main Building in 1899. Eleven years later civil engineer Nathan Ellery and architect George Sellon, senior employees for the State of California completed the Teacher’s Training Annex (C). The two-story reinforced concrete building reflects Italian Renaissance Revival architectural detailing. Although the building was not apparently modeled after any one particular precedent, the rectangular plan, symmetrical fenestration and broad overhanging eaves common to this style evoke a number of villas of the Tuscany region from the late 15th century. The reinforced structure was made following the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.

Although presently somewhat forlorn, the structure remains sound and is being used for archives for the San Diego Unified School District. (A shows their current education center complex.) The local community association is working with the school district and the city to restore and reuse this historic structure. Future uses might include a library, community center or other cultural institution.

1955 aerial photo

About the Author: Fedora-topped Steve Russell has also worn several hats throughout his San Diego career including theatre management, community building and a stint at City Hall with Toni Atkins before finding his true passion — architecture.

(First published in HillQuest Urban Guide, volume 4)

Contact : Privacy Policy : Terms of Service : Site Map