1876 Immaculate Heart Academy

The Immaculate Heart School ~1900
Class of 1880

As California was under Spanish rule, San Luis Obispo of the 1800’s was a mostly Spanish speaking area. Even after California’s statehood, the predominantly Spanish and Mexican population of the area meant that Spanish was the main language in the county and all county schools taught in Spanish and English.

Don Dolores Herrera (a Spanish American) had 6 daughters and didn’t wish to send them to Santa Barbara for their education. In 1857, he gave some of his land to the Mission for the purpose of erecting a Convent school.

Unfortunately for Mr. Herrera’s daughters, it wasn’t until 1876 that the new school was built. At the time, the new Academy was the third-most prominent building in San Luis Obispo with the Mission and Courthouse being the largest.

The 1876 building was a wooden three-story frame structure on a mortared stone foundation. The building measured 80 x 40 feet. In August of 1876, eight Sisters of the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary arrived by boat and stage from the Motherhouse at Gilroy. Sister Raymunda Cremadell (a native of Spain) was the Lady Superior of the school and was assisted by 7 sisters (3 natives of Spain, 2 Americans, and 2 Irish).

The Sisters equipped the new boarding school with the most modern desks, globes and maps, linen and food. A Steinway piano was brought from San Francisco and a second piano was donated. On August 16th, 1876, the school opened with 50 students (12 of whom were residents). Within 5 months the enrollment had increased to 80 with 40 in residence. The celebration at the end of the first year of operation was attended by the acting Governor of California.

In 1882, a 90 x 28 foot Chapel wing was added to the school. This wing contained a large chapel with a 22’ high ceiling, a sick room for aged and infirmed women, and upstairs dormitory rooms for the Sisters.

Boarding Student Fees

Entrance Fee$10
Piano Lessons$60/year

Day Student Fees

Secondary Tuition$3/month
Piano Lessons$6/month

In 1886, the secondary school department was closed because the staffing of the new Cathedral School in Los Angeles required that some of the Sisters leave San Luis Obispo.

After nearly 50 years of use, the main building was sold for $1 and moved off the lot to make way for the new “Mission High” which opened its doors to students in 1926. Although moved, the 1882 Chapel Wing and old dining hall still served as the Convent until they were destroyed by fire in 1930.

In 2002, construction behind Mission Prep High School in San Luis Obispo uncovered the remains of 17 historical features dating from the Mission period (1780-1830) through the 1920’s. Archaeological monitoring of the construction managed to record and recover many of these features, including the intact remains of the 1880 outhouse which served the nuns and students of the Immaculate Heart Academy.