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The West's First Technical School was Once Part of the Mission

Welcome to Curbed's ongoing series titled Hidden History, where Curbed highlights a Bay Area location with a secret past. Maybe it's no longer there, maybe it's been converted into something else, but each spot holds a place in Bay Area history - even if not many people know it. Have a suggestion or know a place with a secret history? The tipline's always open or you can leave a comment after the jump.

Cogswell College at SE corner of Folsom and 26th Streets, 1895 [Photo: San Francisco Call via Library of Congress]

San Francisco has a long history of ground-breaking western education, and one such school was the Cogswell Polytechnical College. Started in 1887, the school was the first technical training institution in the West. Open to both boys and girls, it offered courses in industrial design, carpentry, engineering, art and sculpture, typewriting, dressmaking, commercial law - you name it. The school is still in existence down in Sunnyvale, but got its start in the Mission.

Cogswell College location at SE corner of Folsom and 26th, 1905 [Photo: David Rumsey map collection]

The school got its start as a high school when dentist Henry Cogswell and his wife began offering technical classes to boys and business classes to girls - pretty revolutionary considering it was 1888. The original Mission District campus at the SE corner of Folsom and 26th Streets was apparently pretty great, described in a journal a the time as "beautiful and most attractive in design and finish [...] the most perfect of its kind, in all its structural arrangements, in the United States." It was damaged in the 1906 earthquake, so they eventually moved across the street to a new campus on the SW corner of Folsom and 26th. Designed by prolific SF architect Frederick Meyer in 1917, the new campus was complete with everything a budding industrial designer could dream of - forge shops and foundaries, chemical labs, auto and carpentry shops. In 1930, the high school became a technical college, and the 1888 original Mission campus was torn down in 1941 (that site is now housing built in 2002).


By 1974 the school outgrew its Mission campus and relocated to the old Met Life headquarters building at Stockton and California streets - since converted into the Ritz Carlton in 1990. The new location didn't last long - in 1984 the college moved to Cupertino, eventually relocating to Sunnyvale. The 1917 Mission campus site is now housing built in 1987.

· History of Cogswell College [Cogswell]
· Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Francisco [Architect and Engineer via Internet Archive]
· Manual Training in San Francisco [California State Board of Forestry, 1887-1888 via Google Books]
· The Cogswell College, A Corp of Competent Instructors Elected for the Ensuing Year [San Francisco Call via Library of Congress]