Pacific High School

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Pacific High School

Pacific High School and the DomeBooks
by Court Tefft and Patsy Dodd

( Pacific High School,)

Most of the Back to the Landers or New Communalists I knew in the Skyline Area of the Santa Cruz Mountains did not hold full time jobs. If they did they tended to be temporary jobs like carpentry, or gardening where one could earn enough to get by for a while. Hand to mouth was a way of life.
Freedom from wage slavery was important. Even those with long term goals of buying their own land were not compelled to work 40 hours a week. Life was for living and learning, socializing and enjoying.

Hot dry dusty summer days in the Santa Cruz Mts. often meant swimming, naked of course, in a nearby lake. The best and biggest lake was at Pacific School where they had a great rope swing.
Pacific was a place to get to know your neighbors, smoke a joint and get tan all over. Pacific High School was founded in 1961 as the high school for Peninsula School, an alternative private school in Menlo Park. Bob Weir and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead played together in public for one of their first concerts at a Peninsula School graduation in 1961. They earned $5.00. Bob Weir attended Pacific High School where he had lasted for only 6 months. According to Bob “his entire program there consisted of playing guitar and chasing chicks.” “Other than conveying a certain sense of beatnik life, Pacific was useful only for giving him time to practice his instrument.” Pacific was a do your own thing kind of school.

Pacific School was best known in the early 1970’s for creating Domebook I and Dome book II. Offshoots of The Whole Earth Catalog. They were created and printed in the garage I used to live in on another commune down the road at Rancho Diablo. According to Domebook II, which is very hard to read for older people like myself without glasses and a magnifying glass and my eyes aren’t even bad, “Pacific is what is called a free school, not free to attend, because tuition is high, but free in the sense that there’s freedom from institutionalized education, it's an attempt on the part of the founders to make their own school.” Students were encouraged to pursue their own interests.

Pacific was given 40 acres with a view, some buildings, and a beautiful lake to establish a permanent residence for their alternative school in the Santa Cruz Mts. At first buses came up everyday from the flats, a 45 minute one way journey on winding country roads, which just seemed crazy and counterproductive. “People had toyed with the idea of making it a live-in school but we were so lame and could barely keep the buses running and everyone out of jail, much less feed and house 60 people.”

The late 60’s and 70’s were can do anything times where dreams became reality almost overnight. Take a little imagination and mix it with a little will power fueled by the high energy optimism and idealism of youth, combine it with some adventurous and supportive adults and you too could create a new sort of boarding school… constructed from the bottom up by it’s students, almost overnight. “At first people lived in tents, parachutes, trucks, trailers and one beautiful house." The school “started accepting students for boarding even though we had no place for them to live.” The dream was that Domes could be built in a day…well almost anyway.

“The kids and the lumber for the first domes arrived at about the same time. With fantastic vitality, energy, and movement. We walked around and picked out dome sites. We held an impromptu dome class, everyone came”. The dream was manifesting. “What the place has been doing despite what we write about it, what will be written about it by educators, it is a place where kids can come and live with freedom, do as they wish, make mistakes, learn what they want, or do nothing at all. Some have built their fantasies. There are no masterminds, philosophers guiding forces, or directors; it’s just a place to be.” “When I look back I see that what happened was a community forming itself created with no real plan other than the need to live together. Things were moving a long of their own accord, no one directing, no grand design, and no master plan.”

In a two year time span the students and teachers built 17 domes. “Probably through the Whole Earth Catalog, dome builders from all over the country found out what we were doing, started writing, asking for information, and pressure for a dome building book began to mount. Obviously it was more efficient to take the time to publish, rather than write hundreds of individual letters.” Steward Brand loaned them the “Whole Earth production factory and the Dome- Books were born. The Last Whole Earth Catalog review of Domebook II reviewed by Lloyd Kahn states: “This is an instruction manual for builders and a storybook of some new communities in America. It is the beginning of an information net of people making their own shelters. This book is not so much specifically about domes as it is a call to get you moving, to take things in you own hands and act.”

The New York Times book reviewer Hugh Kenner had this to say in 1971 “One subgroup of outlaws started building geodesic domes at an experimental high school in the Calif. hills." “Part of the domes appeal is their status as metaphor. They are Whole Systems. They draw together functional shelter, elusively simple laws of nature's structuring symmetry, mandalas, medium high math, countercultural community (or solitude, as you wish) Eskimo simplicity, and utter up-to-dateness. None of the freaks is so unwashed as to forget his dependence on computer printouts of chord factors, substituted by a NASA study on “Advanced Structural Design for Future Space Missions.” (Those tables, the scoop of the first Dome book and much augmented in the second, spell exactly the difference between the precision fit that gives geodesics their incredible strength and the chicken coop funk of every boys backyard playhouse)”

The modern day version of the dome was the creation of Buckminster Fuller. Hippies loved domes because they looked cool, and were not prohibited by local building codes and they are cheap and quick to build, though not always easy to assemble. The dome culture began to take off circa 1967-68 after Drop City residents in Colorado built a community of Domes and published the Dome Cookbook full of recipes for dome construction.

"Fred Turner in his new book (2006) from Counterculture to Cyber culture states “In their ability to distribute structural tension evenly across a wide area and in their refusal to concentrate in it pillars and pinnacles, Fuller domes modeled the sorts of collaborative, distributive power arrangements that characterized the New Communalist ideal.” “With their interlinked triangles, each apparently identical to every other but in fact sized slightly differently, domes were futuristic, space age shelters. The process of building these structures required measuring the various surface parts of the dome to very precise tolerances (without such care, and often even with it, domes leaked.)".

I know the plastic blue dome I lived in for a while at Black Mountain leaked, not a good thing when the rainy season brings over 60” of rain a year. Three miles down the road at Pacific most of the folks on the building crew were between 15 and 17 years old. “We had some serious leakage problems with half these domes due to a combination of improper joint design, funky workmanship and faulty caulk.” Many if not most of the building materials used to create the hobbit like structures, outpost cabins and domes in the area were recycled materials scavenged by residents of the local communities. Domebook II says it all in big bold print…The Only Growing Resource is Trash.

Many of the domes were covered with vinyl, not a good environmental idea. “Vinyl turns out to be utter horror. Domebook II warns us that maybe its something to do with the mercury used in its production. It gives off gases when the sun hits it.” “Plastics are super products of western oil man sucking the earth dry of petroleum. Hucksters delude the American public into demanding products made from oil: big hungry cars/plastic pin curlers/plastic wrapped food.”

Domebook II is more than a resource for building domes and community it is also a resource for creating solar and wind energy. Just as The Whole Earth Catalog was a resource for turning away from petroleum-based fertilizers and garden products whose overuse sucks the life out of the soil, creates mildly toxic plants and super resistant bugs, bacterial and fungus's that require heavier dozes of the products sold by the petrochemical industries. Back-to-the-Landers tended to embrace and experiment with alternative home-grown systems that made life simpler and conserved energy.
“Community is a more economical way to live than single family. One sink, washing machine, kitchen for 50 people. It’s an exercise for expanded awareness with many problems. Your consciousness will change, or you’ll leave the group, but if you can ride with it for a while, you’ll learn a fantastic amount about yourself and others. So different from anything you’ve done in the white middle class trip with all roads open to you from birth, color, poverty not wrecking your chances to do something”

“The place is governed by weekly meetings. With so many people, so many trips, there’s little coherence. Half of the meetings are shout outs. As intense as the joys are the problems of living with 60 people, everyone alternately loves the place and is ready to pack and leave."
Living communally was and is an adventure worth taking. For most folks back in the day it was not a long term sustainable lifestyle. Too many people, too many conflicting interests, not enough space especially with the arrival of children and like everything else community evolves and to this day there is a burgeoning and strong communal movement in America, it has a new name Co-Housing.

Inside a Hippie Commune
By Holly Harman

I have always travelled on the path less trodden and stayed out of the mainstream corporate world as much as possible. I feel that people need to stand up for their rights. In the sixties the people did have rights, and people did prevail against legal battles. Much grew socially and environmentally out of this time, especially in Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Mountains.


After attending Pacific High Holly graduated from the San Francisco Art Institute. She has done many things including teaching graphic design and printing technology at San Francisco City College. Holly has also published 5 books. Inside a Hippie Commune is also available as a DVD film documentary, and CD soundtrack.

Hollies mother Gloria Harman was a faculty member at Pacific High School.

Holly’s History of Pacific High
“Pacific was founded in 1961 by a group of parents and teachers who had been associated with Peninsula School, a private elementary school in Menlo Park, in an effort to provide secondary education opportunities somewhat in the manner of that school.
“School opened in the fall of 1961, in a suite of offices behind the crow drug store in downtown Palo Alto. From these they moved to the Duvenecks Hidden Valley Ranch in Los Altos Hills, where they stayed until a house was mad available in Portola Valley.”
“When Pacific High purchased and moved to the 40 acres near La Honda not much of a school existed. There were a few small outbuildings, prefabs, and a Quonset hut.
“At first, Pacific was a private experimental high school. After 1963 it began to change and it became a boarding school. It was no longer a day school, as it had been. It became a live-in community, the domes went up, people took up bread baking and organic gardening. Students had more control over the school, of their lives, and what they did with their time. They started having families together.”

Compiled by Court from her Book