The Story of Porter School
School on site of Alameda High burned in one of city’s worst fires
In 1879, Alameda students started attending a new elementary school on Alameda Avenue near Oak Street. The members of the board of trustees who oversaw education in the city chose to name the school to remember one of their late colleagues Nathan Porter, a former board member who went on to serve in the State Senate. Porter had passed away on Jan. 7, 1878.
The stately school with all its Victorian-era gingerbread stood where today’s Alameda High School students shoot hoops in the gymnasium and play tennis on the nearby courts. It served Alameda until 1916, when it met the wrecking ball and was replaced by a less-interesting brick affair.
This second incarnation of Porter School met a more devastating fate than its predecessor. It burned in a spectacular fire on St. Patrick’s Day, 1973. The fire broke out on a Saturday night. The first alarm sounded at 9:35 p.m. Firefighters from Alameda, Oakland, Fremont, Hayward and the Naval Air Station responded. The fire’s intensity led Fire Chief Ernest Servente to suspect an arsonist had been at work. Witnesses told Servente that they noticed smoke and an almost instantaneous ball of flame engulf the entire second floor.
Not long before the fire the state of California told the school district that the brick school did not meet tough new earthquake standards. The school board already had plans in place to take the school down and replace it.
Fire engulfed not only the school, but the home of Mrs. Emily Coke, a 65-year-old who lived next door. There were no deaths associated with the Porter School fire, which came just 38 days after a Navy jet crashed into the Tahoe Apartments on Central Avenue. That disaster cost 11 lives.