I was zipping through Saturday Night Live the other day on my DVR (it’s the only sane way to watch the show), when a sketch involving a classroom made me jam on the pause button. The establishing shot was a video still of the entrance of a school building. It was a traditional Collegiate Gothic structure, very much a typical design one would see in the Northeast, but I couldn’t place it. Needless to say, I wanted to find out what this school was.
Luckily, a friend of mine knows the production staff at SNL, and found out what school they used. I was surprised to learn it’s not on the East Coast at all, but rather California; it’s John Marshall High School in Los Angeles.
A bigger surprise came when I saw pictures of the whole school. The entrance tower is incredibly similar to that of my alma mater, Columbia High School.
On the left is Marshall, the right Columbia. The similarities between the towers are clear; the massive recessed limestone entrance with medallions and lanterns, the 2-story oriel window above the entrance and the buttressed pinnacles at each corner.
There are differences between the schools, certainly. Marshall is much smaller than Columbia and is more purely Jacobean in style. It has a flat roof, whereas Columbia has gables, dormers and chimneys. It also has more ornamentation on the roof-line and windows.
Marshall High School was designed by the West Coast architect George M. Lindsey, and completed in 1931, nearly 5 years after Columbia. It went through some rough times, but has since become a local landmark, and was used in various movies and television shows.
Was Marshall inspired by Columbia? Possibly, given James Betelle’s national renown and the exposure Columbia garnered through the journal articles written about it. Individual elements of the facade are of course common in the Collegiate Gothic vocabulary, but taken as a whole, the similarity is hard to dismiss. Still, it’s a lovely structure, and its use in popular entertainment certainly helps keep the style in the public eye.