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Fairfax High School was founded in 1924 under the direction of Principal Rae G. Van Cleve, for whom the athletic field is named. The original Spanish Colonial Revival main building did not meet earthquake safety standards, and most of the original campus facilities were demolished in 1966. However, the historic D. S. Swan Auditorium and iconic Rotunda were spared by preservationists and retrofitted. The theater was renovated in 2014. Greenway Court, originally built in 1939 as a social hall by the students at Fairfax as a class project, was also spared and was moved to its current location on Fairfax Avenue, where it was converted into a theater in 1999 by the Greenway Arts Alliance and renamed the Greenway Court Theater.
Fairfax High School has been known since the 1930s as a breeding ground for future major figures in the entertainment industry.
In previous eras, the school had a reputation for academic excellence and it had a majority Jewish student body.
Former NFL official Jim Tunney served as the school's principal from 1964 to 1970. Under his watch, most of the current campus facilities, except for those mentioned above, were built between 1966 and 1968, including the gymnasium.
When the 1971 San Fernando earthquake struck with a moment magnitude of 6.5-6.7, nearby Los Angeles High School was damaged severely and closed for repairs. Students from Los Angeles High attended Fairfax High on "double sessions," with Fairfax students using the campus from 7 am - 12 noon, and LA High students from 12:30 pm - 5 pm.
Fairfax was the foreign language magnet school in the 1960s and 1970s, offering Hebrew, German, Chinese and Latin, among other languages. The Fairfax Magnet Center for Visual Arts opened in 1981 and remains the only visual arts magnet in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In 1984, Dr. Virginia Uribe, an LAUSD teacher and counselor for 42 years, founded LAUSD's Project 10 program, the first dropout prevention program specifically for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in the United States.
By the 1980s, the proliferation of magnet schools caused an exodus of many White students and several of the school's best teachers. By that time the test scores declined and many school clubs and activities ceased operations.
Organized by a group of local theater artists, the first Melrose Trading Post was held in 1996 in the school's parking lot. Regarded as most successful on-going fund-raising activity in the LAUSD, the flea market evolved into the Greenway Arts Alliance, the Friends of Fairfax and the Institute for the Arts at Fairfax High School, all which are of immense benefit to the school and students.
In Fall 2008, Fairfax High School was reconfigured from a comprehensive high school into a complex of five new small learning communities (SLCs) and the existing Fairfax Magnet Center for Visual Arts.
As of the 2015-2016 school year, there were 2,108 students enrolled in Fairfax High School.
The racial/ethnic composition (as of the 2015-2016 school year) was as follows:
According to US News and World Report, 92% of Fairfax's student body is "of color," with 79% of the student body coming from economically disadvantaged households, determined by student eligibility for California's Reduced-price meal program.
In the 1950s, Fairfax High School was known for having a large Jewish student body, as a Jewish community surrounded the school. It became known as a "Jewish" high school, and some non-Jewish parents withdrew their children from Fairfax as they felt discomfort with the Jewish character of the school. In 1953, Fairfax High introduced Modern Hebrew classes, initially taught by the principal of the Beverly-Fairfax Jewish Community Center, Ronnie Tofield.
The racial composition became significantly more multi-cultural following the integration efforts of 1968. As Fairfax principal William Layne told the Los Angeles Times in 1975, "Fairfax began changing in 1968. Then the boundaries were adjusted to include an area past Pico. It caused a trauma to what had been an all-white, academic school. There was strong reaction from the community as well. The senior citizens got upset when they saw a kid they couldn't identify with. There was also unrest at school, fearfulness, and an increase in thefts, people being molested."
Eventually, racial tensions subsided as the school worked toward an active integration plan led by Layne.
The table below represents the number of enrolled students at Fairfax High School through 2003-2007.
Fairfax High School re-opened in Fall 2008 reconfigured into a complex consisting of the existing Fairfax Magnet Center for Visual Arts and five new small learning communities (SLCs). The campus was divided into six areas of "contiguous space." Non-magnet students and staff were reorganized into five new schools-within-a-school. Subsequently, in 2010, two of the SLCs were replaced by a single SLC, bringing the total down to four SLCs and the Magnet. Currently, these SLCs are:
Academy of Media & Performing Arts (AMPA)
Academy of International Business and Communications (IBC)
Health Sciences Academy (HSA)
School of Mathematics, Science and Technology (SMST).
Fairfax Magnet Center for Visual Arts
Fairfax is home to the Fairfax Magnet Center for Visual Arts, which attracts students from across the 700 square miles (1,800 km2) of the district. It opened in 1981 and is the only visual arts magnet in Los Angeles Unified School District.
Greenway Arts Alliance
Fairfax High School is home to the Greenway Arts Alliance, which operates the Greenway Court Theater, a 99-seat Equity-waiver playhouse, and through the Institute for the Arts at Greenway, provides arts educational programs, mentoring, and employment opportunities to Fairfax students.
Since 1997, the Melrose Trading Post outdoor flea market has created opportunities for Fairfax High School and the surrounding neighborhood.,Money raised by this nonprofit organization from the low-cost patron admission and vendor booth fees fuels an arts education program on the FHS campus called, Institute for the Arts at Greenway.
Annette Kleinbard (later changed her name to Carol Connors), lead singer of the Teddy Bears ("To Know Him Is to Love Him"). As Connors, co-wrote "Gonna Fly Now" from Rocky, and the Ripcords' "Hey Little Cobra."