The Former Panama Canal Zone Balboa High School


The school plaque formerly found in the main hall of Balboa High School, Balboa, Panama City, Panama.  (Credit:  Wikipedia Encyclopedia)
The school plaque formerly found in the main hall of Balboa High School, Balboa, Panama City, Panama. (Credit: Wikipedia Encyclopedia)

The Balboa High School (BHS) was a public high school in the former Canal Zone under the administration of the U.S. Department of Defense. It was the Alma Mater for thousand of students who then populated the extinct Panama Canal Zone.  The history of the BHS  is intimately bound to the history of the Panama Canal  and the Canal Zone.

Aside from thousands of American dependents of the Panama Canal Company (later Panama Canal Commission), Canal Zone Government,  and U.S. armed forces, the Balboa High School was also the Alma Mater for many Panama’s business and political elite.  For example, Guillermo Ford, who later became Vice-President of Panama, studied and graduated at BHS.

Construction of the first permanent building to house a high school in Balboa was completed in 1917. What came to be Balboa High School was not started until 1942 and completed through additions in 1948, 1949, 1963 and 1969.  Prior to that, the high school was located in part of Building 710, known for most of its history as the Balboa Elementary School and in a temporary wooden building.

In January 1964, the Balboa High School was the scene of a controversial confrontation between high school students from Panama’s Instituto Nacional and groups of students and parents from the Balboa High School.  The confrontation got out of hand, and for four consecutive days, the Panama Canal Zone was an area of intense violence.

The ensuing bloodshed led the government of Panama to break off diplomatic relations with Washington.  “The pushing, the shoving, the tearing, the shooting and looting, and burning, these unfolded over the next few days.  By the end of it all,  27  souls had lost their lives and the Panamanian and American government weren’t speaking to one another.”

I can’t tell you exactly what happened at the premises of the BHS that unfortunate day of January 9, 1964.  I wasn’t there,  plus I’m not a historian to give you an unbiased opinion of what led to those violent incidents.  I found two sources that might clear the picture for you.  The first is an article dubbed, “As Befits the Occasion” written by Eric Jackson which is self explanatory and extracts of the book, “Yankee No:  Anti-Americanism in U.S. Latin-American Relations” authored by Alan McPherson.

The BHS campus is currently a training center for the Panama Canal Authority—Centro de Capacitación Ascanio Arosemena.   A new annex was created at the front entrance of the building to accomodate a pantheon for the  Panamanians who were killed during the 1964 riots. The architectural style of the addition is similar to that of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The BHS was closed in 1999 in anticipation for the handover of the Panama Canal to the Republic of Panama, the removal of  the last U.S. armed forces from the Isthmus, and the closure of the U.S. Southern Command in Panama.  It was the end of an era than lasted almost one hundred years.

I was at the BHS campus on Sunday, March 22, 2009 and took several pictures of this historic educational landmark in the former Panama Canal Zone.  This is what I saw that early morning.  Here we go.

Photograph of the former Balboa High School building located at Balboa, Panama City, Panama.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the former Balboa High School building located at Balboa, Panama City, Panama. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the former Balboa High School Building with the new addition which houses a pantheon for the Panamanians who were killed during the 1964 unfortunate events.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Photograph of the former Balboa High School Building with the new addition which houses a pantheon for the Panamanians who were killed during the 1964 unfortunate events. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
Another landscape view of the former Balboa High School campus located at Balboa, Panama City, Panama.  In the distance you can see Sosa Hill.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
Another view of the former Balboa High School campus located at Balboa, Panama City, Panama. In the distance you can see Sosa Hill. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)
A view of the former Balboa High School Building in a black and white version.  (Credit:  Omar Upegui R.)
A view of the former Balboa High School Building in a black and white version. (Credit: Omar Upegui R.)

For those of you who have a keen eye for photographs, the streetlight in the previous picture might seem out of place.  It’s not a proper thing to do according to the rules of photographic composition.  But there is an underlying message in this image.  The street lamp is there with an intentional purpose.

When I shot this picture I thought that the street lamp constitutes a symbol of  trust between the United States and Panama who have traveled together a journey of almost one hundred years.  There were problems during the trip, but who doesn’t have problems in a long relationship?

The pole itself represents the Panama Canal that is deeply beloved by both nations and by the whole world as well.  The light bulb on the left represents a flame of hope, optimism, and friendship of the American people in its new relationship with Panama.  The light bulb on the right represents the challenge, responsibility, and  gratitude of the Panamanian people towards the United States for building a waterway that united the globe like never before.

In a nutshell, the street lamp my dear readers, represents friendship in a new relationship between two nations after middday December 1999.  Friendship between two great allies at the beginning of a new Millennium.  Good Day.

39 thoughts on “The Former Panama Canal Zone Balboa High School”

  1. Hi AS:

    Destiny is sometimes determined by trivial, small, and insignificant events.

    History acts in very strange ways and there are many examples to prove it like the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand—heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire

    “Two bullets fired on a Sarajevo street on a sunny June morning in 1914 set in motion a series of events that shaped the world we live in today. World War One, World War Two, the Cold War and its conclusion all trace their origins to the gunshots that interrupted that summer day.”

    Thanks for dropping by,

    Omar.-

  2. My mother graduated from BHS in 63 or 64–where can I go to get information on her graduation date? I lost her 23 years ago to Cancer and this information is lost to me.

    1. Hello Elizabeth:

      I’m sorry about your mother’s loss. Since the former Balboa High School no longer exists, all files have been transferred by the Department of Defense (DOD) to the United States. I suggest you write to the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. about your mother’s graduation information.

      At this end, the Panama government does not have access to this information. Good luck in your search.

      Best Regards,

      Omar.-

    2. Hello Elizabeth,
      I hope you’ve been able to find the information you’re looking for. You may be able to connect with one of her former classmates via google groups, facebook, yahoo groups or the like, but I haven’t found any such groups yet for 1963/64.
      Did your mom ever talk about the riot that took place at Balboa High School in 1964?

    3. Hello Elizabeth,

      I am a graduate of Balboa High ’64 and my brother ’63. Your mother’s last name was probably not Castorena, but I will check the yearbooks for those years. Online there are copies of those yearbooks…..

      http://gozonian.org/CZyearbooks.shtml

      Hope this helps. If she was in one of these classes let me know and I will pass the information along to the class. Maybe someone might have been a good friend.

      Good luck,

      Bill

    4. If you will give me your mother’s name – I have my year books from 61-64. I also graduated in 64. I would be happy to help you, if I am able.

  3. Elizabeth; My name is Richard Cressy and I was a student at BHS and graduated in 1964. What was your mother’s name when she went there?
    There is a group of 1964 graduates that get together for alumni meetings every 5 years, thei year we will be in Park City, UT at the Prospector Square Lodge from 9/2-9/6. If you have a chance to get there you will probably find someone who remembers your mother. If you can’t make it you might want to try contacting the reunion coordinator: Sherry Hozack. at shozack@msn.com
    I hope that this helps, if not let me know and I may be able to put you in touch with someone else.
    richard@cressy.net

  4. Hi Elizabeth: I just came back from the Panama Canal Society reunion which is held every year in Orlando FL over the July 4th weekend. I graduated from CHS in 1964, and this year our reunion was a combined BHS/CHS 1964 reunion. The BHS 64 reunion coordinator was Roberta Evans and she may be able to help you with any info that you’re looking for about your mom. Her e-mail address is: balboa1964@live.com. Good luck. Frank Borsellino

  5. Hello…I attended BHS and graduated in 1980. Do you have any information on how I can get a copy of my diploma? Thanks for those pictures, I was in panama this past july of 09. I went everywhere around the CZ. All I could say was WOW!! Before then I was in panama a couple of years earlier. I was born and raised in Panama……….GO BULLDOGS!!! CZ FOR EVER!!!

    1. Hi Jesse:

      I would suggest you contact the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. to obtain your BHS diploma. That’s where all records were taken after the BHS was closed in Panama.

      Regards,

      Omar.-

  6. Student Records All requests for student records should be directed to the DoDEA Records Center. The address is:

    DoDEA Records Center
    Attention: Transcripts
    7441 Custer Rd. Bldg 2670
    Ft. Benning, GA 31905
    Phone: (706) 545-4785 Fax: (706) 545-1239
    DSN Voice: 835-4785 DSN Fax: 835-1239
    Email: transcripts@am.dodea.edu

    Requests may be mailed or faxed to the DoDEA Records Center and should include the following information:
    •Full name under which enrolled at the time of attendance
    •Social Security Number
    •Date of Birth
    •Name of school and year of graduation or last date of attendance
    •A daytime telephone number
    •Address student record should be mailed to
    •The requestor must sign the request letter because of the Privacy Act
    Note: REQUEST ALL PANAMA CANAL STUDENT RECORDS/TRANSCRIPTS FROM THE DODEA RECORDS CENTER, Fort Benning, Georgia.
    If it takes more than 10-12 working days to receive a student record, the requestor may call DoDEA Records Center at 706-545-4785 or DSN 835-4785 to inquire into the status of a request.

    REQUESTS CAN BE FAXED TO (706) 545-1239 OR DSN 835-1239

    Requests may be mailed or faxed to DoDEA Records Center and should include the following information:

    •Full name and/or maiden name under which enrolled at the time of attendance
    •Social Security Number
    •Date of Birth
    •Name of school and year of graduation or last date of attendanc
    •A daytime telephone number
    •Address transcript should be mailed to
    •The requestor must sign the request letter because of the Privacy Act
    If it takes more than 10-12 working days to receive a transcript, the requestor may call (706)545-4785 to inquire into the status of a request.

    All requests for transcripts for students who attended the secondary schools in DoDDS Panama, previous to 1991, should be directed to the DoDEA Records Center. This includes all former Canal Zone secondary schools. The address is:

    DoDEA Records Center
    Attention: Transcripts
    7441 Custer Rd. Bldg 267
    Ft. Benning, GA 31905
    Phone: (706) 545-4785 Fax: (706) 545-1239
    DSN Voice: 835-4785 DSN Fax: 835-1239
    Email: transcripts@am.dodea.edu

    1. Linda thanks for the information i too was looking for a copy of my transcripts. I graduated in 74. How about a copy of my diploma will they be able to furnish that as well.

  7. Searching for an old friend and graduate of Balboa: Patricia Creago. How might I locate her. I think she graduated between 1963 or 1964?

  8. My grandmother went to Balboa High School back in the late teens. . .Her name was Florienette Matter. I know she swam in the pool and set an endurance swimming record for women. I have a faded clipping from a NYC newspaper but the YEAR is not clear. I think it was 1921 or so. I am going to Panama in December and wonder what I might be able to see to find a record of either her or my great-grandfather who was chief electrical engineer for the canal. Any help anyone can give me would be great. you can email me at margotknight11@yahoo.com

  9. I have a book from the panama canal library balboa heights class b from the administration building . My great great grandfather took it out and kept it. He passed away and left it to my grandfather , then my father , then me, be interested to know it’s value.

  10. How can I get a copy of my High School Diploma for : Balboa High School
    Panama- DODDS School System
    Former Canal Zone
    Thank You

    1. Hi Susan:

      The following information may help you out with your request:

      Student Records All requests for student records should be directed to the DoDEA Records Center. The address is:

      DoDEA Records Center
      Attention: Transcripts
      7441 Custer Rd. Bldg 2670
      Ft. Benning, GA 31905
      Phone: (706) 545-4785 Fax: (706) 545-1239
      DSN Voice: 835-4785 DSN Fax: 835-1239
      Email: transcripts@am.dodea.edu

      Requests may be mailed or faxed to the DoDEA Records Center and should include the following information:
      •Full name under which enrolled at the time of attendance
      •Social Security Number
      •Date of Birth
      •Name of school and year of graduation or last date of attendance
      •A daytime telephone number
      •Address student record should be mailed to
      •The requestor must sign the request letter because of the Privacy Act
      Note: REQUEST ALL PANAMA CANAL STUDENT RECORDS/TRANSCRIPTS FROM THE DODEA RECORDS CENTER, Fort Benning, Georgia.
      If it takes more than 10-12 working days to receive a student record, the requestor may call DoDEA Records Center at 706-545-4785 or DSN 835-4785 to inquire into the status of a request.

      REQUESTS CAN BE FAXED TO (706) 545-1239 OR DSN 835-1239

      Requests may be mailed or faxed to DoDEA Records Center and should include the following information:

      •Full name and/or maiden name under which enrolled at the time of attendance
      •Social Security Number
      •Date of Birth
      •Name of school and year of graduation or last date of attendanc
      •A daytime telephone number
      •Address transcript should be mailed to
      •The requestor must sign the request letter because of the Privacy Act
      If it takes more than 10-12 working days to receive a transcript, the requestor may call (706)545-4785 to inquire into the status of a request.

      All requests for transcripts for students who attended the secondary schools in DoDDS Panama, previous to 1991, should be directed to the DoDEA Records Center. This includes all former Canal Zone secondary schools. The address is:

      DoDEA Records Center
      Attention: Transcripts
      7441 Custer Rd. Bldg 267
      Ft. Benning, GA 31905
      Phone: (706) 545-4785 Fax: (706) 545-1239
      DSN Voice: 835-4785 DSN Fax: 835-1239
      Email: transcripts@am.dodea.edu

      Good Luck,

      Omar.-

  11. I need the address of Balboa high got an application .
    Can someone provide me with that by chance;)
    Class is 85
    CZ FOREVER!!

  12. I am trying to find a phone number for Balboa High School in the Republic of Panama so I can send for my transcripts can anyone help me….
    Lisa Hall class of 86

    1. Hi Lisa,

      The Balboa High School is no longer operating as an educational center. It was transferred to Panama Panama Canal Authority. All their files were turned over to the following authorities in the United States:

      Student Records All requests for student records should be directed to the DoDEA Records Center. The address is:

      DoDEA Records Center
      Attention: Transcripts
      7441 Custer Rd. Bldg 2670
      Ft. Benning, GA 31905
      Phone: (706) 545-4785 Fax: (706) 545-1239
      DSN Voice: 835-4785 DSN Fax: 835-1239
      Email: transcripts@am.dodea.edu

      Requests may be mailed or faxed to the DoDEA Records Center and should include the following information:
      •Full name under which enrolled at the time of attendance
      •Social Security Number
      •Date of Birth
      •Name of school and year of graduation or last date of attendance
      •A daytime telephone number
      •Address student record should be mailed to
      •The requestor must sign the request letter because of the Privacy Act
      Note: REQUEST ALL PANAMA CANAL STUDENT RECORDS/TRANSCRIPTS FROM THE DODEA RECORDS CENTER, Fort Benning, Georgia.
      If it takes more than 10-12 working days to receive a student record, the requestor may call DoDEA Records Center at 706-545-4785 or DSN 835-4785 to inquire into the status of a request.

      REQUESTS CAN BE FAXED TO (706) 545-1239 OR DSN 835-1239

      Requests may be mailed or faxed to DoDEA Records Center and should include the following information:

      •Full name and/or maiden name under which enrolled at the time of attendance
      •Social Security Number
      •Date of Birth
      •Name of school and year of graduation or last date of attendanc
      •A daytime telephone number
      •Address transcript should be mailed to
      •The requestor must sign the request letter because of the Privacy Act
      If it takes more than 10-12 working days to receive a transcript, the requestor may call (706)545-4785 to inquire into the status of a request.

      All requests for transcripts for students who attended the secondary schools in DoDDS Panama, previous to 1991, should be directed to the DoDEA Records Center. This includes all former Canal Zone secondary schools. The address is:

      DoDEA Records Center
      Attention: Transcripts
      7441 Custer Rd. Bldg 267
      Ft. Benning, GA 31905
      Phone: (706) 545-4785 Fax: (706) 545-1239
      DSN Voice: 835-4785 DSN Fax: 835-1239
      Email: transcripts@am.dodea.edu

      Best of luck in your search for your documents,

      Regards,

      Omar.-

      1. Omar can you give Lisa Hall my contact info. I’ve been looking for her for SO long. I’m also class of 86. I noticed she didn’t respond to your post but I can’t see her email on this thread. Mine is czsoper86@gmail.com, THANKS

      1. Lisa, I’ve been trying to find you!!! Please contact me at my email, or Facebook karen soper robins. I would love to catch up with you!!

  13. Hi Karen:

    I’m sorry, but I can’t contact Lisa Hall. I only took pictures of the venue. I have no relationships with the persons who studied there.

    I wish I could do more to help you out, but no joy. Maybe somebody reading this blog might read your request and write to you. Fingers crossed.

    Bye,

    Omar.-

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