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NHHS History

Circa 1935
Newport Harbor circa 1935

History of Newport Harbor High School

The doors opened at Newport Harbor High School for the first time on September 22, 1930. The paint on the walls was still wet, the cement was still damp, and the rooms had no heat, but the students who came from Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach, Balboa Island, Lido Island, the Peninsula and Corona del Mar overlooked all inconveniences. At the end of World War I, the harbor area was a small town with few students of high school age. These students were attending either Santa Ana High or Huntington Beach High School. After a five-year battle to form a new district in the cities of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach, the school was built on the border of the Costa Mesa area and the high tower was built so the people of Newport Beach could see it. At that time, Irvine Avenue was a dirt road with fields of sweet potatoes and lima beans on both sides. When ground was broken on June 14, 1930, the nation was in the midst of a depression. There were an abundance of workers willing to put in long hours and work fast and cheap. It took only four months and $410,000 to complete the original school building. Now school could begin.


The original school comprised a main building, the main gym, the tower, a wood shop, the bus garage, and a caretaker's cottage. The total enrollment that first year was just 178 students, taught by 12 faculty members. There were no seniors, as they had chosen to remain at their original schools to graduate with their alma maters’ class.


New additions did not appear until the late 1940's when the math building began construction. It was named Dodge Hall after Judge Donald Dodge who had campaigned for years to separate this school district from Santa Ana. During that same year, some students went down to Mexico to find a bell for the tower. In 1948, metal shop, and snack bar were built. Eight army barracks were also installed to use as classrooms.


As the student population grew, the girls' gym and Irvine Avenue pool were added (1949). The home arts building was added in 1955 and Beek and Sims Halls were added even later. These two building were named for James Sims, who was a popular English teacher, and Joseph Beek, owner of the Balboa ferry line and a member of the board of trustees.


Academically, the school has grown from a very basic program, which included agriculture, to a very sophisticated school with many academies and advanced classes. In the year 2000 the school offered 12 advanced placement (AP) courses, had 5 computer labs, and offered many classes that were never dreamed of when the school opened. Students from Newport Harbor are accepted at the most prestigious universities in the country.


Ralph Reed was the man who started the Athletics program at Harbor High. He was the first teacher hired and he coached all of the sports the school offered in the thirties. He served thirty-two years as Athletic Director before retiring in 1963. In the beginning, athletics had to develop its own traditions. Because of the proximity of the harbor, Newport Harbor athletes chose their mascot to be the Sailors.


Newport Harbor was the smallest school on the Orange league. There was a big rivalry with Huntington Beach High because these were the only two high schools near the beach. School was often dismissed early so that everyone could go to the football games. Fans sat on wooden bleachers made in our own woodshop. When the big football stadium was finally built, it was named Davidson Field in honor of Sidney Davidson, the school's first principal. He had the altruistic distinction of working for the first seven months without pay.

NHHS First Staff Photo-1930
First Staff Photo-1930

Student Life

In the early days of Harbor athletics, the basketball team played Catalina and would take a two-day trip sailing to the island to compete. In those days, the school had no pool, so the swimmers would practice and compete in the bay.

Since 1930, the school has won at least one league championship per year. The sailors have won more 'All Sports' trophies than any other school with which they compete. In 1985, every major sports team won its league. The major rivalry is now across the bay with Corona del Mar High School.


Social life and crazy fads have varied over the years When the school first opened, girls were required to wear white blouses with navy blue skirts. The boys had no official uniform, but everyone wore dirty cords. They were washed as rarely as possible. The dirtier they were, the more students liked them. In the forties, the girls wore their hair in high pompadours and the boys wore crew cuts. The first homecoming dance was held at the Santa Ana Country Club in 1941. During World War II, many evening social events could not be held because of the threat along the coast. Even car headlights had to be turned off when drivers reached 15th street.


Secret societies and fraternities became popular in the fifties. As the car became the big thing in students' lives, drive-in movies and drive-in restaurants were the place to go. The school had sock hops in the gym. This all changed with the rebelliousness of the sixties when school uniforms were brought to an end. Folk music, Elvis, the Beatles, and Woodstock led to the style of boys' hair growing down their necks. Balboa's Rendezvous Ballroom, which had been a major hot spot for many years, burned down and teenagers learned to dance apart from each other.

The seventies found Harbor girls in mini-skirts and the boys with hair down their backs. Students toilet-papered houses, raised money with donkey basketball games, and initiated 'Can you top this?' pranks at graduation ceremonies. The school population topped 3,000 and there were over 150 teachers on the faculty.


The eighties saw the enrollment dwindle to around 1,100, and many of the older faculty members from the forties, fifties, and sixties retired. A $25,000 donation allowed Heritage Hall to be developed which preserves the history of the school through photographs and memorabilia.


In 1994 the school's football team brought the CIF championship to Newport Harbor High for the first time. Amazingly, just five years later, in 1999 this feat was repeated, and again in 2005. At the turn of the millennium, the senior class dedicated a monument to seventy years of school excellence. The enrollment rebounded to approximately 2,200 students. Currently, during the 2016-2017 school year, the enrollment is at 2,370.


During the 2013-2014 school year, Newport Harbor High School inducted its first Hall of Fame class-five faculty and fifteen alum were part of the inaugural class. This school year, 15 more members of Newport Harbor High Schools' illustrious history are being inducted.

Opening Day-1930
First day of school - 1930
DATE What Happened
September 21, 1929 Newport Union High School district created by 894-23 vote of citizenry
December 29, 1929 Irvine Company offers 20 acres to district at 15th and Irvine for $15,000
February 8, 1930 Bond election to raise $410,000 to build NHHS succeeds
1930 Harbor Area Boy Scouts raise flag at Ground Breaking Ceremony
1930 Ralph Reed is first teacher hired at NHHS
September 22, 1930 12 faculty and 178 9th, 10th and 11th grade students open school
1931 First school play: “The Jade Necklace”
1931 First school musical: “Belle of Barcelona”
1931 GAA formed under direction of Miss West
June 1932 54 students become first graduating class
March 10, 1933 School and tower withstand Long Beach earthquake
1934 First school dance held in cafeteria in afternoon
1935 Senior Class buys first piece of art, Thomas Hunt’s “Snow Scene”, as class gift
1937 Federal Art Project’s mosaic murals, “The Girls” by Jean Goodwin and “The Boys” by Arthur Ames, are installed in Inner Quad
1940 Math wing (5 classrooms) added to main building, cost of $44,470
1940 Bell added to tower
1941 First Homecoming Dance held at Santa Ana Country Club
1942 Football wins first league (Sunset) championship; plays in CIF title game
1942 Student Victory Corps established (one job: prepare school for possible air raids and fires)
1942-1945 NHHS students raise $50,000 for War Bonds
1943 Galleon dedicated to 33 “former Harbor men” who had become “a part of our armed forces” in World War II
1946 First of 21 annual Newport Harbor Art Exhibits takes place in the library; 46 oil and watercolor paintings are added to the Newport Harbor art collection
1948 Metal and machine shops constructed
1949 Girls Gym and A.H. Fitzpatrick Pool (Old Pool) built
1949 Bob Hope broadcasts from NHHS auditorium with Les Brown and his orchestra featuring Doris Day
1949 Teen Canteen opened
1950 Dodge Hall dedicated
1950 NHHS adopts Chonju Senior Boys’ and Senior Girls’ High Schools in Korea
1955 Domestic Home Arts building completed
1957 Beek Hall completed
1957 Clock added to tower (gift from classes of 1952 through 1956)
1958 First CIF Championship: C Swimming
1962 Ralph Reed, first NHHS Athletic Director, retires after 32 years at NHHS
1963 Female students vote to keep dress/uniform code and add “civie day”
1963 Davidson Field dedicated
1966 NHHS becomes part of Newport-Mesa Unified School District
1966 Girls’ dress code is eliminated
1966 First Advanced Placement Test (English) is taken by NHHS students
1967 Boys’ Water Polo wins first of 12 CIF Division 1 Championships (67, 68, 70, 75, 77, 78, 79, 80, 83, 84, 2000)
1967 Boys’ Tennis wins first of 3 CIF Championships (67, 70, 71)
1969 Governor Ronald Reagan addresses NHHS student body at assembly
1971 East Hall (renamed Sims Hall around 1974) completed
1972 Band marches in Rose Parade
1972 Environmental Nature Center created by NHHS teachers Robert House and John Echtenach
1975 NHHS enrollment tops 3,000 students
1975 Environmental Nature Center wins Disneyland Community Award (environmental ecology)
1978 Band marches in Disneyland Parade celebrating Mickey Mouse’s 50th birthday
1979 Major renovation of auditorium completed
1979 Girls’ Volleyball wins first of 7 CIF Championships (79, 87, 94, 97, 98, 99, 03)
1980 Over 1,000 alumni attend 50th Anniversary Celebration
1980 NHHS ASB begins Adopt-a-Family tradition
1984 Girls’ Cross Country wins AAAA CIF championship
1984 PTA holds first Grad Night on campus
1984 Heritage Hall opens
1985 “Changing Times/Changing Styles: The Ruth Stoever Fleming Collections of Southern California Art” is published in conjunction with retrospective exhibit
1986 NHHS library earns John Cotton Dana International Library Public Relations Award for school and community activities
1986 NHHS earns the first California Distinguished School Award
1987 Girls’ Cross Country wins Division II State Championship
1988 Girls’ Cross Country wins Division II State Championship
1991 Boys’ Soccer wins CIF Championship
1991 Girls’ Cross Country wins Division III State Championship
1992 Girls’ Volleyball wins first of 4 state championships (92, 94, 98, 99)
1993 Girls’ Track wins first CIF Championship
1993 Navigators parents’ group is founded
1994 Football team wins first ever CIF championship game
1994 Implementation of the academy program begins (smaller learning community)
1995 Newport Harbor Educational Foundation is founded
1995 Girls’ Tennis defeats Peninsula, unbeaten in prior 122 matches
1996 Tie in ASB election results in historic co-ASB Presidency (Michael Hoevel and Reagan Roney)
1999 NHHS earns California Distinguished School Award
1999 Girls’ Volleyball wins CIF and State Division I championships
1999 Boys’ Golf wins first CIF championship
1999 Girls’ Water Polo wins first CIF championship
1999 Football wins CIF championship
2000/01 Boys’ Water Polo wins CIF championship
2000/01 Girls’ Field Hockey wins league championship and 2nd in Tournament of Champions
2000 Plaque dedicated to honor students killed while serving in armed forces in 20th century
2000 NHHS earns National Blue Ribbon Award from U.S. Dept. of Education
2000 NHHS receives Digital High School grant
2001 First Evening of the Arts showcases performing, visual and culinary student art
2001/02 Boys’ Swimming wins CIF championship
2002 NHHS’ first website,, is inaugurated
2003/04 Girls’ Volleyball wins CIF championship
2003/04 Girls’ Field Hockey wins league championship
2003/04 Girls’ Water Polo wins CIF championship
2004 Beek Hall is renovated
2004 NHHS Culinary Arts team wins 1st Place in the California Restaurant Association statewide culinary competition and 4th Place in the National Competition.
2005 California Distinguished School
2005 Football Wins CIF
2007 Boys Waterpolo Wins CIF