Students…Students! May I have your attention please? Professor Chops here. Please take your seats for morning announcements: 

Welcome all to the fall 2020 semester! It is back to school season here in the US, and I know you are excited to start the new year! Unfortunately, this year is obviously a bit different, to say the least, due to the pandemic. We are in a new era. All the conventions and norms of everyday school life that you are used to have been remixed for the year 2020. There will be no pep rallies, no sports, no cheers from the bleachers full of athletic supporters shouting for their home team. There will be no band practices either. So if you have an instrument, you will have to play with yourself at home. 

Today, my lesson plan is for us to take a virtual “field trip” to the locations of some famous schools here in the LA area that depict a more normal time in American education on television and film. Back in the days when all you had to worry about were the “sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, dickheads”, and an angry, unreasonable principal or two.

Let’s begin our tour, shall we? Scroll and follow along, please. Be sure and take good notes. There may be a pop quiz at the end!

First, let’s pick a soundtrack. I’m an 80’s kid, which I know to you seems like the Paleozoic era, but hear me out. Every year, the moment I start seeing all the back-to-school supplies commercials, all I can think of is the song “Back to School Again” from Grease 2 sung by The Four Tops. In those days, though I know it’s hard to fathom now, there were no on-demand streaming services with a million viewing choices to spend an hour scrolling through before settling on something you didn’t intend to watch, but are worn out trying to find something, and you forgot the genre you had planned to watch an hour ago anyway. We only had cable, which at the time was also very limited. HBO ran this film ad nauseam, twice on the days it played, because there just wasn’t as much content back then. And know this! There was only one HBO channel at the time. Sounds like “the Dark Ages”, right?

Even though Grease 2 takes place at fictional Rydell High like the first film, it was not filmed at Venice High School (featured later on this field trip) like the original was, but was filmed about 35 minutes inland at Excelsior High School, which is now LaMirada Adult School. The school also served as a set for the short-lived 80’s sitcom Square Pegs starring a then unknown Sarah Jessica Parker .

Both structures look very similar, and the producers probably thought they could get away with a different, but close facsimile, because back then, there was no YouTube virtual time capsule to reference online, no Reddit nerds, or even an internet at all to contrast, compare, and obsess over them. Again, DARK AGES, kids.

Excelsior Adult School as it is today 2020; Grease 2
Grease 2 opening scene
Grease 2 opening scene
The front steps facing away from the school as they are today 2020
Grease 2 - Whoa! Whoa! I gotta go...back to school...again!

Next up, we travel a little further rolling up to Whittier High School, aka Hill Valley High in Back to the Future.

Whittier High has some notable alumni. Richard Nixon graduated in 1930, and John Lassiter, founder of Pixar, graduated in 1975.

Whitter High School as it is today 2020
Whittier High School posing as Hill Valley High in Back to the Future (85)

“We’re from Haddonfield,

Couldn’t be prouder,

Can’t Hear us now?

We’ll yell a little louder” – Haddonfield High Cheer 1978

Every American small town has a “boogeyman” of some type, whether it’s a ghost in an abandoned house, a witch that captures children, or a serial killer running around murdering horny, stoned teenagers on a holiday. Remember, “Just Say No!” to drugs, kids. It could save your life in a “slashic” horror film.

Which now brings our field trip to South Pasadena High School. It stood in for Haddonfield High School in John Carpenter’s Halloween. It has seen some renovations over the years, but still very recognizable today. Notable alumni: Hilary Swank, William Holden (Beedle), and George Hodel who has long been suspect #1 in the unsolved Black Dahlia murder case.

South Pasadena High School breezeway as it is today 2020 (photo courtesy David Kennedy)
South Pasadena High posing as Haddonfield High School in John Carpenter's Halloween (1978)
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

Van Nuys High School probably has the longest list of famous alumni: Marilyn Monroe, Robert Redford, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Paula Abdul, just to name a few. The campus has been featured in several big productions including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Rock N Roll High School, Christine, My Science Project, The Wonder Years, 7th Heaven, and Twin Peaks.

Van nuys High School as it is today 2020
As seen in 1982's Fast Times At Ridgemont High

Torrance High School is most notable for appearing in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series as Sunnydale High School, and as West Beverly High on the huge 90s hit, Beverly Hills 90210. To underscore the importance of these shows in the 90’s era, the casts from these series were your parents generation of “influencers” long before Vine, YouTube, and Instagram self-branders, complete with t-shirts, dolls, mall appearances, and fan conventions.

Torrance High School as it is today 2020
Beverly Hills 90210 (1990 - 2000)
Torrance High School as West Beverly High in Beverly Hills 90210 (1990-1993)
Buffy the Vampire Slayer tv series (1997-2003)
Torrence High posing as Sunnydale High School in the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series 1997-2000; "Hellmouth" is located under the library
Clueless (1995)

The next stop is for all you “virgins who can’t drive” on this field trip. Occidental College in Eagle Rock subbed for Bronson Alcott High in 1995’s Clueless.

It is also used as California University in the college years of 90210. And yes, Donna Martin did graduate, and was able to attend university with Brenda, Dylan, and the gang.

Occidental College aka Bronson Alcott High School in Clueless; California University in Beverly Hills 90210; 2020
Clueless (1995)
Student Union from Beverly Hills 90210 (1993)
Walkway at Occidental College; 2020
Clueless (1995)

Out of all the locations in this article, John Marshall High School in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles is the most used. It has even been registered as a historic landmark.

Johsn Marshall High is under a multimillion dollar renovation at the moment; 2020

First off, it has some extremely famous alumni including Leonardo DiCaprio, of the Black Eyed Peas, Julie Newmar of 60s Catwoman fame, and “Hollywood Madam” Heidi Fleiss.

The school’s main building and entrance is all over film and television and has played set/background to A Nightmare of Elm Street (84), Boy Meets World, The Wonder Years, Hannah Montana, Who’s The Boss, Space Jam, Pretty In Pink and Bachelor Party.

It has even been featured in music videos by Van Halen (Hot For Teacher), and The Pharcyde (Runnin’).

John Marshall High School front entrance as it is today; 2020
A Nightmare on Elm Street (84)
Johnny Depp, Amanda Weiss and Heather Langenkamp in A Nightmare on Elm Street (84)

There is even an eerie shot of Elizabeth Short, aka the Black Dahlia, sitting on the front steps shortly before she disappeared and was murdered. It is not confirmed if she was ever a student there.

The Black Dahlia sitting on the front steps of John Marshall High School (year unknown)
Bachelor Party (1984)
Bachelor Party (1984)
Pretty In Pink (1986)
Molly Ringwald and James Spader in Pretty In Pink (1986)

But its most famous scenes were in the 1978 global hit musical, Grease. The football field behind the main building was used to hold the carnival in the final scenes of the film.

Grease (1978)
John Marshall High School football field today 2020
John Marshall High School field and track today 2020

Which brings us to our final stop, class. Arguably, the most recognized high school building in pop culture history. Rydell High from Grease, aka Venice High School in Venice, CA.

Venice High School today; 2020
Rydell High, Grease opening animated credits
Rydell High, Grease live action opening credits

That is all for today, class. We’ve reached the end of our virtual “field trip” together. I hope you took notes and learned some things, but no pop quiz this time! Go have fun! And don’t forget your mask! Afterall, would you forget chemistry book, your math book, or your English book?

But, before you go, one more word of advice from revered Rydell Principal McGee to the class of 1960, which i think still resonates today:

“Attention seniors. Before the merriment of commencement commences, I hope that your years with us here at Rydell have prepared you for the challenges you face. Who knows? Among you there may be a future Eleanor Roosevelt or a Rosemary Clooney, and among you young men, there may be a Joe DiMaggio, a President Eisenhower, or even a Vice-President Nixon. But you will always have the glorious memories of Rydell High. Rydell forever. Bon voyage.”

Closing out today’s field trip soundtrack, I offer you a cross generational mash-up from Disfunctional DJ of the movie Grease vs Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg:

Students, if you have any other suggestions for the soundtrack, please submit them in the comments section. I’d love to know what’s on your back to school playlist. Keep it clean kids!