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The Webb Schools

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Title: The Webb Schools  
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Subject: 1922, Art Clokey, Claremont, California, Eva Gabor, David Lee Roth, Ron Reagan, William R. Webb, Brooks Firestone, List of boarding schools, Webb School of Knoxville
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The Webb Schools

The Webb Schools
Principes non Homines
"Leaders, not Ordinary Men" (WSC)
Sapientia Amicitia Atque Honor
"Wisdom, Friendship, and Honor" (VWS)
Claremont, California
Type Private
Established 1922, 1981
Head of school Taylor B. Stockdale
Faculty 56
Grades 9-12
Enrollment 410  (2012-2013)
Average class size 16
Campus size 70 acres (28 ha)
School color(s) Blue and Gold
Blue and White
Athletics 42 teams in 15 sports
Athletics conference Prep League of the California Interscholastic Federation
Mascot Gauls
Accreditation(s) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
Schools Webb School of California
Vivian Webb School

The Webb Schools is the collective name for two private schools for grades 9-12, founded by Thompson Webb, located in Claremont, California. The Webb School of California for boys was established in 1922, and the Vivian Webb School for girls in 1981. Both are primarily boarding schools, but they also enroll a limited number of day students.[1] The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology is a part of The Webb Schools.

The schools share a campus of approximately 70 acres (280,000 m2) in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains. There are 410 students and 56 faculty members (as of the 2012-2013 school year).[2] Annual tuition (as of the 2013-2014 school year) is $45,330 for boarding students and $32,240 for day students, including meals, books, and fees.[3] For the 2013-2014 school year, Webb offered $3.6 million in need-based financial aid awards.

The majority of ninth- and tenth-grade classes are taught in a single sex environment. Co-educational courses are introduced after the first two years.


The Webb School's founder, Thompson Webb, was born in 1887 as the youngest of eight children. His father, William Robert “Sawney” Webb, had established the Webb School in Tennessee in 1870.[4] Thompson graduated from his father’s school in 1907, and continued his education at the University of North Carolina, graduating in 1911.

After college, Webb's health and the suggestions of doctors led him to move west to a warmer climate. He moved to the California desert near Indio, worked as a farm hand, and eventually bought his own piece of land and started a career as a farmer. He married Vivian Howell, the 20-year-old daughter of a Los Angeles Methodist minister, on June 22, 1915. She joined him in farming. The Webbs farmed together and increased their holdings until 1918, when a diseased onion crop wiped out all their savings. Broke and carrying high debt, Webb did not have the capital to farm and, because the country was involved in World War I, he was unable to sell his land.

Webb returned to Tennessee, where his father's school was experiencing a shortage of male teachers (due to the war) that threatened the school’s existence. Thompson Webb worked as an instructor at the school in Bell Buckle, Tennessee for four years, after which he returned to California to open his own private residential school. The first suggestion that Thompson Webb start a school in California came from Sherman Day Thacher, founder of the Thacher School in Ojai Valley. Thacher told Webb that his school was turning down dozens of qualified students every year and that an empty school near Claremont was for sale. If Thompson opened a school there, Thacher agreed to refer his applicants. Through a proposal to I.W. Baughman, real estate broker for the Claremont property, Thompson Webb struck a deal that got him his school in 1922.

Initial enrollment at the school was 14 boys. Over the years Webb built the school through the support of many influential business leaders in the greater Los Angeles community, including the Chandlers, Guggenheims, Boeings, and many others. As the number of students grew in the ’30s and ’40s, Webb added seven major buildings, five faculty homes, and two smaller structures to the campus. Two of Webb’s landmark buildings were constructed during this time, the Thomas Jackson Library and the Vivian Webb Chapel.

The school operated as a family-owned stock company until the late 1950s, when the Webb family turned it over to a non-profit corporation. After the non-profit corporation was established, Thompson Webb continued as headmaster of the school and Vivian Webb as general housemother until their retirements in 1962. Vivian Webb died in 1971; her husband died four years later in 1975.

The concept of a girls’ school on the Webb campus first came up for discussion in the early 1980s. After the private Girls Collegiate High School in Claremont closed, a group of Claremont parents led a campaign and persuaded the board of trustees to establish a girls’ school on the Webb campus. Vivian Webb School opened in the fall of 1981, with 34 girls as day students. Four years later, Vivian Webb School admitted 34 girls as its first class of boarders.


The schools' 70 acres (28 ha) sit on a heavily planted hillside. The lower part of campus contains the "plaza group," consisting of the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology, the W. Russell Fawcett Library, classrooms, the Susan A. Nelson Performing Arts Center, the Price Dining Hall, the administration building, the Copeland Donahue Theater, and the Frederick R. Hooper Student Center. One original building remains: a clapboard structure built in 1917, called the "Old School House." East of the plaza group is the house that the Webb family occupied for years, a girl’s dormitory, and the Thomas Jackson Library.

Up the hillside are dormitories, a swimming pool, and Chandler Field, one of four large playing fields. Further up the hill are the health center, the Vivian Webb Chapel (which sits atop its own knoll), additional dormitories, tennis courts, and faculty houses. At the top of the hill are a cross-country track course, the Les Perry Gymnasium, McCarthy Fitness Center, and Faculty Field at the Mary Stuart Rogers Sports Center. South of the football field is a fully functional observatory. Behind the Faculty Field the Webb property extends into the San Gabriel Mountains. The cross-country course goes through this part of the property.

Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology

Webb is the only high school in the United States with a nationally accredited museum,[5] and the only high school in the world with a paleontology museum on campus.[6] The Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology is named for long-time Webb science teacher Raymond M. Alf (1905–1999). Alf developed an interest in paleontology while teaching at the school. In the late 1930s he and several students, including Thompson Webb's son Bill, found a fossil skull in the Mojave Desert in the Barstow area. Chester Stock, a paleontologist at the California Institute of Technology, identified the find as a new species of Miocene-age peccary, Dyseohyus fricki.[6][7] This experience inspired additional fossil-hunting trips in the western United States with student groups.

Alf decided to become a paleontologist, and went to the University of Colorado to study the subject, earning a master's degree in geology in 1938.[8] The fossil hunting continued when Alf returned to Webb, and he and his students created a small museum in the basement of Jackson Library to house their collection of thousands of fossils. The collection eventually outgrew the shelves in Alf's classroom and the library basement, so in 1968 the museum moved to its own campus building, designed by renowned California artist Millard Sheets. Alf himself retired from Webb's faculty in 1974, and died in September 1999 at the age of 93.[5]

Today the museum is professionally curated by Dr. Donald "Doc" Lofgren, and is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. The lower level, the Hall of Footprints was renovated in 2002, and the upper level, the Hall of Life was renovated in November 2011. The museum features one of the largest collections of fossil animal footprints in the world,[8] a dinosaur egg, a recently discovered rhinoceros skull, and the original peccary skull found in 1937. Webb's freshmen class still goes on excursions to digging sites in the desert every year, and most of the fossils that students find go to the museum lab. In 2002-2003, a team from the Alf Museum discovered another new species of dinosaur, Gryposaurus monumentensis, in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah. The fossils were removed and identified in collaboration with the University of Utah and the national monument, using bones that the Alf Museum had previously collected.[9]

Vivian Webb Chapel

Thompson Webb was fascinated by California missions, and took the mission at San Juan Capistrano as the inspiration for the Vivian Webb Chapel, a monument to both his religious faith and his love for his wife. In 1937, with the help of a small cement mixer and two hired workers, Thompson began making 60-pound (27 kg) adobe bricks. After a year of turning out 60,000 mission-style bricks and drying them in the sun on the school’s tennis courts, he began building the chapel’s foundation in 1938, and laid the chapel’s first brick in 1939. He built the walls of the chapel with the help of students, parents, visitors, prospective students and even the governor of Tennessee.[10]

Near completion of the structure, Webb learned that sculptor Alec Miller was in the United States because of World War II, and lacked the funds to return to his native Scotland. Miller was well known in England because of his carvings for the cathedral at Coventry.[11] Webb hired the artist at a modest fee, plus room and board, to design the furnishings (Miller called them “fitments”) for the chapel. Miller lived with the Webbs for three years while he designed the chapel’s “fitments” and the insets for the chapel’s entrance doors. The chapel was completed in 1944; the bell tower was added later.

Thomas Jackson Library

The parents of Thomas Jackson donated the Thomas Jackson Library to the school as a memorial to their son, who graduated from Webb in 1930 but died of a heart attack while in his sophomore year at the California Institute of Technology. The library, dedicated in 1938, was designed by acclaimed architect Myron Hunt, who also built the Rose Bowl, the Pasadena main library, and Thompson and Vivian Webb’s campus home. The building, in a Mediterranean style with small balconies on the second floor and a mezzanine balcony around the interior, won an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects soon after its dedication.[12] From 1937 to 1948, Vivian Webb helped each graduating senior design and carve a wooden plaque bearing his name, his graduating year and some symbol of his interest. These plaques line the library’s walls. On the library’s heavy oak doors, Vivian Webb herself carved the names of the 158 boys who graduated before 1937. The library is now used as a formal reception room.

Notable alumni

Related Schools

The original Webb School founded by Thompson Webb's father still operates in Tennessee. A son of Thompson and Vivian Webb, Howell Webb, founded the Foothill Country Day School in Claremont in 1954.[19] A nephew, Robert Webb, started the Webb School of Knoxville in Tennessee in 1955.

See also


External links

  • The Webb Schools
  • Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology
  • The Association of Boarding Schools profile

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