Ramona Convent Secondary School
James de Barth Shorb had a problem: his daughter, Edith, was homesick. The granddaughter of Alhambra’s founder had been attending a Catholic boarding school in Oakland because there was no local one. Shorb decided, in the late 1880's, the time had come for Alhambra to create its own Catholic school to provide an education for his growing family and the children of neighboring rancheros. He donated 15.5 acres at the town Ramona at Shorb Station (what today is West Mission Road in Alhambra) to the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary to build a convent boarding school. Today this is Ramona Convent, the oldest private, Catholic, all-girls’ school in the San Gabriel Valley.
In November 1889, eight sisters traveled by boat from Northern California to establish this school for young women. The original building was a four-story red brick edifice on that dominated the convent grounds on “Adobe Hill.” Out of gratitude to their benefactors, they called their convent, Ramona, in memory of Maria Ramona Yorba Wilson, the first wife of Alhambra founder Benjamin (Benito) Wilson.
At the time of Ramona’s dedication in 1890, the Los Angeles Times reported that the school was “…a beautiful Christian home where young ladies will be educated amid artistic surroundings.”
Academic studies, as well as fine arts and domestic arts, such as sewing and embroidery, were part of the set of courses. At the time, academic education for young women was not generally considered important. But the Sisters of the Holy Names brought with them a dedication and mission to educate with in a well-rounded curriculum. In fact, the science department began in 1890 with a gift of a telescope so that the girls could pursue the study of astronomy.
Ramona Convent opened with seven boarders and nine day students, three of whom were the daughters of James de Barth Shorb. Fourteen years later, the City of Alhambra was incorporated. As the city’s population grew, so did enrollment at Ramona. Groundbreaking for “Greater Ramona” took place on April 18, 1910. The original red brick was enlarged, a new wing was added and everything was covered with a coat of plaster. In 1913, Ramona was awarded accreditation by the University of California.
Nearly 100 years after Ramona Convent’s construction, the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake caused irreparable damage to the main building. It was fortunate that the boarding school had closed in June of 1983 so no students were living in the building when the earthquake occurred. Ramona alumnae and students gathered one last time on December 6, 1987 to mourn the loss of the stately landmark which had been home to so many girls. Demolition began on December 11. One year later, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new building, and thirteen months later its dedication took place.
Although the school has changed greatly since its founding 121 years ago, Ramona Convent has remained consistent in its commitment to provide quality Catholic education to the young women of the San Gabriel Valley, with all of Ramona graduates attending college.
Julie Huntley graduated from Ramona Convent in 1972 and is the Director of Alumnae and Communications