DowneyView – 70 Years of History

By Steve Perry

A few weeks ago, I ran into some folks planning a gala. It was for Downey High School (my alma matter and soon to be my kids) to celebrate the 70th graduating class. What an interesting celebration, we thought, so what has happened with Downey, since its opening?

Thomas Downey was an esteemed educator and the first Principal of Modesto High School. Opening in 1951, with Principal Milford Olson, Downey was home to 670 students and 46 teachers. The current Principal is Dave Sanchez, who reports the current student body is about, 2,000. A far cry from opening day.

For about 2 decades, Downey was the only other public high school before Davis was constructed. More wings and a modern cafeteria were approved in 1954. Prior to that, the Knights Round Table (across the street and later known as Mamie’s) was the source of food service. Additionally, a second football stadium was built at Downey as long-range planning by the school district, as a shared facility for future construction, ultimately Davis and Beyer, who to this day, do not have stadiums. All the newer high schools have stadiums on campus.

As locals, when we think about famous people from Downey, one name rises high. Lucas. George Lucas, class of 1962, first came to fame for his very personal interpretation of his life at Downey High School, and the struggles of leaving high school for college, junior college or work. Set against the Viet Nam war, the movie immortalized cruising and its central role in Modesto culture, so much so, it reinvigorated a nation in cruising while creating an international interest. So much so, that regularly foreign visitors attend the American Graffiti Car Show and Festival and are making many inquiries to the Graffiti Museum. Oh yeah. He also created Star Wars.

In my years at Downey, Jerome Kopp was the principal. He was very proud to lead the school, and created his motto, “Make a Difference Downey”. His right-hand man was Joseph Gregori, who was an energetic and likeable character, and now has a high school that bears his name. Running the band, was George Gardner, who many of us know as the Director for MoBand at Concerts in the Park.

Spirited and friendly rivalry was a part of the everyday existence then. Sometimes we would return to campus to find that the Block D at the football stadium had been repainted, Davis green and gold. Although I never saw it myself, it was reported the Davis pool was dyed blue. Likely criminal acts in 2022.

Downey has had a long and successful academic history and has been a central part of our community for all these 70 years. So, about that Gala, it is Saturday, April 23, 2022, 6-9pm. This includes dinner from Downey Culinary in the cafeteria for $30 per person. Of course, silent auction items are available, and all proceed go to the student body. And yes, there will be a car show.

For more information you may contact;<>
A special thanks for historical information to Mr. Burt Vasche.
You can also learn more about Modesto’s High Schools on the Historic Cruise Route Walk of Fame

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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.