Travelling Shoes: Manuel F. Cunha Intermediate

Written by Burl on May 10th, 2009

The 1939 entrance to Cunha Intermediate

Manuel F. Cunha Intermediate School, located on Kelly Street in Half Moon Bay, CA, recently began to wrap up several years of modernization. The original campus structure was built in 1939, had some outbuildings added in the ’50 and ’60s and the new structures are thoroughly ’90s … well, that’s when they were designed. I’m a fool for municipal infrastructure, and this school, with it’s variety of architectural styles reflecting educational missions of the past, is a fascinating time capsule.

The area, about an hour south of San Francisco, was largely setlled by Portuguese fishermen in the 1800s. Manuel F. Cunha served 43 years on the school board and 15 years as director of the San Mateo County soil conservation district more than a century ago, although local residents would be hard-pressed to actually identify Cunha today.

The campus was used as both a high school and elementary school in the past, and today serves more than 700 kids in grades 6, 7 and 8. The student body is almost equally divided between local white kids and first-generation Hispanics — you often hear the kids talk in Spanish outside the classroom.

An original plan to relocate the campus entirely to an empty lot down the road was scrapped due to an endangered-species conflict, and so instead — happily — the school board decided on adaptive reuse of existing structures plus new buildings designed to blend in. I like this. It creates a sense of cultural continuity within a fairly insular community.

Thanks to a friend who works there, we got a look at the campus. Click on smaller image to get bigger versions.

The 1939 buildings are flanked by flowered lawns — with plenty of moles, watch your step! — and an informational marquee. Today it’s notifying kids of a workshop in cyber-bullying, which is an interesting social contrast to the old building, which is from the Archie and Jughead generation of the 1940s.

The new library structure is spacious and quiet and designed for multi-use. The old library is being retained for after-school programs. All new structures on campus, plus most of the old ones, feature these anti-sway braces for earthquake protection. You find that folks call these “retro-fits” even when they’re constructed  with a new building.

Other features on the campus include a large, well-ordered wood shop, dating from the days when vocational education was all the rage, hallways that still have niches for lockers, signs for positions that disappeared years ago and wooden floors, slate chalkboards and double desk sleds.

The crucial difference between the old and new wings of Cunha, however, is that the older version faced inward, with class access via hallways, while the newer buildings have class access from outside. Another big difference — in the new educational architecture, everything locks behind you. Security is a key issue. 

But you’ll still find  teachers holding class outside on a pleasant day.


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. Cindy Hill says:

    Very interesting piece. I’m guessing this is where KS works? The seismic braces were an interesting touch in the library – and leaving them exposed.

  2. Burl says:

    Right you are, Ken!* That’s Kathy in the blue and Mary in the red, so I can tell them apart.
    * = Obscure MXC reference.

  3. Chris says:

    I went to Cunha in ’89-’92 and it’s changed so much I can hardly get my bearings from your photos. I’m curious though, why is security a “high issue” now that they must have doors that lock behind you? Even with the changing times, I can’t imagine anything in HMB being that dangerous. Or maybe I’m just getting old and fondly remembering safer times….

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