By Susan Smith, library director
On May 8, 2003, the Harker history committee escorted Howard Nichols, president, and his former secretary and current board member Phyllis Carley on a walking tour of Harker’s roots to identify the sites of the original campuses of Palo Alto Military Academy (PAMA) and Miss Harker’s/Harker Day School.
The tour, organized by history committee chair Enid Davis, began at the Palo Alto Children’s Library, which was frequented by the neighboring PAMA cadets in the 1940s and ’50s. From the library, the group walked the neighborhood, strolling around what would have been the perimeter of the grounds of PAMA and Miss Harker’s/Harker Day School. Nichols pointed out where the original Manzanita Hall was located and identified the locations of where open fields, band cabins, rifle sheds, school buildings, admission buildings and dorms had been. Nichols reminisced about bike drills, formations, sports and, most importantly, friendships made during the years he attended PAMA between 1949 and 1956.
Major Donald Nichols, Howard’s father and owner of PAMA, lived directly across the street from the PAMA campus on Parkinson Street from 1950 to 1966. The house looks the same, as do several other houses that PAMA owned at the time. Many of the houses that stand along the perimeter of the campus can be seen in the photos in our archives. One of the highlights was identifying a stately palm tree that graced the front lawn of the Academy as far back as the 1920s and is still standing in what is now a residential neighborhood that was developed by the famous architect Joseph Eichler when the school property was sold in 1972.
In 1966 the Major moved from Parkinson to a home he built on the Harker school property on the corner of Harker and Melville. He lived there until the schools were moved to San Jose in 1972. At that time he sold the home at 814 Melville and then re-purchased it a few years later after he moved back to Palo Alto. That house still stands today surrounded by the same fence and yellow rose bushes that Nichols remembers were his dad’s favorites.
On the corner of Harriet and Harker Streets, diagonally across from PAMA, stood the Miss Harker’s School/Harker Day school campus. Carley, who was employed there in 1952, described the location of the main building at 1050 Greenwood Street, whose lovely grounds were the scene of many annual Maypole celebrations. Carley recalled how Major Nichols, after purchasing the school, would change out of his military uniform into a business suit before coming over to Miss Harker’s! Major Nichols transformed the school from a girls’ boarding school to a coed day school in the mid-1950s and eventually combined Harker Day School with PAMA and moved the school to the present site on Saratoga Avenue in San Jose in 1972.
For a few hours on this cloudy May afternoon, you could almost hear the cadets of PAMA marching and see the Miss Harker girls trimming the Maypole. As time has marched on, so too has the tradition of educational excellence that has come to mean The Harker School.