It was not easy to bring a UC campus to Riverside in 1954. Other cities were lobbying to host the next UC campus. The Korean War made bricks and steel scarce. But Riverside citizens, including newspaper publishers who bought ink by the barrel, would not be denied.
They mounted a full-scale effort to convince UC Regents, Southern California legislators, and all those competing communities, that Riverside was the perfect spot.
A 200-member booster club shipped crates of oranges and grapefruit to legislators. They traveled to hundreds of meetings across the state where UC Regents were making plans to expand the UC to accommodate the baby boom generation, as well as soldiers coming home from Korea. They invited Regents to the homes of wealthy citizens, to dine on barbecued steak and fresh-squeezed orange juice on patios overlooking the city.
And when Governor Earl Warren, in 1948, finally signed off on a $2 million plan to help shape a new campus in Riverside, these citizen boosters lined up gladly to hear the vision of the first campus provost, a Welsh-born economist from UCLA, Gordon Watkins.
“He was a very fine, very bright, very down-to-earth sort of fellow. I think everybody in the community was impressed with him,” remembered Howard H “Tim” Hays, publisher emeritus of The Press-Enterprise newspaper, who with his father, Howard Hays, Sr. and dozens of others, attended those first meetings in the late 1940s.
“He was practical. He wasn’t theoretical. He may have been a little theoretical at times, too, but where it called for practicality, he was practical,” Tim Hays said of Watkins. “And he was determined to go ahead. I thought he was very impressive in the job.”
The campus that Watkins created, through his choice of first administrators and first faculty, resembles him even today. It is a down-to-earth place, with practical plans for its research. It is a campus that pushes ahead, even through adversity. And unlike some of its sister campuses, it is a campus fully admired and owned by its surrounding community. Theoretical when called for, the campus grew from its liberal arts roots into a full-fledged research university, now populated by 17,200 students, a number that would have seemed unimaginably large to its founders.
Early UC Riverside was much smaller, a liberal arts college that was the dream of UC President Robert Gordon Sproul. A Riverside community that wanted its own ivy-covered walls to complement the Mission Inn and the new public library quickly and enthusiastically adopted the Sproul idea. They attached this rigorous liberal arts college onto the long-established UC Citrus Experiment Station just as naturally as if they were grafting a cutting of an exotic mandarin onto a hardy and well-established rootstock. They had confidence it would produce excellent fruit.
Eventually, despite some initial tension between the citrus researchers and the professorial “invaders,” as they were genially described by UC Riverside plant research legend George Zentmyer, the effort at cross-breeding took hold.
A critical obstacle was a war-related shortage of building supplies that delayed construction for several years. Campus boosters found a champion in Henry J. Kaiser, head of Kaiser Steel in Fontana, who in 1952 found the building materials needed for five original brick buildings, laid out in an open pattern at the center of campus: Webber Hall, Geology, Physical Education, Watkins Hall and Life Sciences.
That spirit of persistence stayed with the campus as evidenced later in the year-long fight to start a biomedical sciences program in partnership with UCLA. Politicians alternately approved the money and then changed their minds. After many visits by UCR boosters, Governor Jerry Brown finally signed the bill. The first students started in 1974 and the UCR/UCLA Haider Program in Biomedical Sciences has since sent over 600 doctors through the medical school at UCLA, and countless others off to other medical schools and medical research careers.
Budget cycles over the years have also tested the stamina of the campus. Economic downturns or less than friendly governors have caused periodic layoffs, early retirement opportunities, down-sizing of faculty and staff. But the overall growth trend of the campus has always meant that recovery was just around the next corner.
A quiet, academic environment in the midst of green foothills reminded some people of Scotland in the early years, a perception probably encouraged by Arthur Campbell Turner, a founding faculty member and administrator who spoke with a trace of Scottish brogue. The campus took on names such as Highlanders and Bannockburn, and adopted the Tartan-clad bagpipers that remain a tradition today.
Surrounded by orange groves and quite a distance from city development, UC Riverside for most of its life was the city on the hill, full of green expanses of lawn and shade trees, greenhouses and graceful colonnades. And always, new construction projects that meant larger classrooms and better equipped laboratories.
In the beginning Provost Watkins scoured the country, hand-picking administrators dedicated to the most rigorous and culturally enlightened kind of personal instruction. Judy Baker Field, a freshman in 1954, remembered how faculty members had students over for dinner and held fireside chats on Sunday evening, or lunched with students at The Barn.
“Most of that faculty had been carefully recruited by Gordon Watkins and Dean Nisbet and Dean Olmsted and Arthur Turner and others,” she said. “They were hand picked because they were bright and they were ambitious. They wanted to show this system that they could put UC Riverside on the map with really good students. So, they were very proud of us when we did well. And they saw to it that we did well. They just couldn’t do enough for us.”
UC Riverside started out with 65 faculty members and 127 students on the first day of class, Feb. 16, 1954. “Never had so few been taught by so many,” Watkins quipped. But those days were short lived. In 1959 UC Regents approved a switch to a general campus, including graduate divisions, and the growth spurt was on.
With the exception of a period of falling enrollment in the 1970s, UC Riverside has always been recruiting faculty, starting new programs.
The world-class agricultural research that had been going on since 1907 in Riverside, while at first a separate operation next-door, gradually intertwined its research with the College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences, as it is known today.
Class sizes grew from the 10 to 30 students of the very early years to classes of 50 or 100 in the 1970s, making it easier for students to blend in to the mix.
Prof. Bill Mayhew, who taught biology at UCR from 1954 to 1989, said the teaching remained just as rigorous. But in the early days it was impossible to hide from the eyes of the instructor. “You stuck out if you weren’t prepared.” He said extremely small class sizes (in his first class he had a single student) account for UC Riverside’s reputation in the early years as academically more rigorous than other UC campuses.
Generations of bright, creative students have come through UC Riverside, in fact, the campus now claims 55,000 alumni. For most of its history, UCR had the reputation of sending more people on to graduate studies than is typical in the UC sytem.
In every era, students have visited the concrete “C” on Box Springs mountain, whether to paint it gold or to modify it in some way. One group covered it with dirt and wrote a ransom note to the campus. A dedicated group made the “C” the second letter in the last name of “peace candidate” Eugene McCarthy, who visited the campus in 1968.
The first students seriously pursued their studies, but also community service and social clubs. They banned fraternities and sororities as too social and created personal challenges, such as finding the elusive “stone face” on Box Springs Mountain. They founded the Order of the Golden Thistle as an honor society devoted to advancing the intellectual life of UCR.
Greek life eventually did come to campus and remains a social focus for about 3 percent of the student body.
In the late '60s and early '70s, while newscasts showed pictures of shootings at Kent State and burning ROTC buildings, UC Riverside students dissected the intellectual merits of the protest itself, sometimes at great length. Perhaps due partly to the influence of a patient and avuncular Chancellor Ivan Hinderaker, who famously served coffee and donuts to one protesting group in 1969, protests never deteriorated into violence. Hinderaker himself, in a speech the following year to the faculty, credited an attitude on campus lent by its earliest pioneers, the ability to cope with change.
“UCR has remained violence-free during this most trying period because hope has always existed - among students, among faculty and among administrators - that, working together in concert, we could, somehow, find solutions to the problems that have threatened to divide, and on one or two occasions, destroy us.”
In May, 1970, students who went door-to-door in Riverside to talk about their opposition to the U.S. bombing of Cambodia were received courteously, if not enthusiastically, by average residents. The Press-Enterprise editorial the next day practically glowed with paternal pride: “If everyone continues to do as many things right as they have done so far this week ... Riverside can be enriched in the understanding of a burning public issue while still protected on its civic peace.”
Art and art history, music, dance and theater were all honored and encouraged by the early liberal arts emphasis, and that led to strong programs that lasted through the years. An early emphasis on dance, with founding faculty member Christena Schlundt, evolved into the first Ph.D. program in dance history in the nation. Prof. Schlundt, along with Dean of Women Students Loda Mae Davis and art history professor Jean Boggs, also left a mark on the campus when they sat on the steps of the established “Men’s Faculty Club” in a silent protest that eventually opened the doors of the club to women.
Professor of Music William Reynolds, another founding faculty member, brought his expertise to the creation of the 161-foot carillon tower, raised in the middle of campus in 1966, a true musical instrument with bells forged in France.
The expert instincts of faculty member Ed Beardsley brought a camera collection to campus that eventually evolved into the UCR/California Museum of Photography, now in downtown Riverside. And UCR is home to the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy, the largest catalogued collection of its kind in the world.
Similarly, the historians and political scientists of early UC Riverside built some of the first graduate programs to augment the undergraduate experience. Francis Carney, a founding faculty member in political science, remembers that he helped draft the proposals for the masters and Ph.D. programs almost immediately after the UC Regents declared UCR a general campus.
On the other side of campus, the entomologists and plant scientists who were so important in the early agricultural research continued to grow and prosper, applying their knowledge through the UC Cooperative Extension, a hands-on resource to California’s important agricultural industries.
Research centers important to quality of life in the surrounding area found homes at UC Riverside, such as the statewide Air Pollution Research Center, the Dry Lands Research Institute, the Center for Water Quality or UC Institute for Mexico and the United States. Today citrus research remains a top priority, including the maintenance of the Citrus Variety Collection, an outdoor museum of 900 varieties of living citrus trees, a unique resource.
The Riverside campus, because of the lifetime efforts of Professor Mayhew and the generosity of Regent Philip Boyd who donated his Deep Canyon property, can claim credit for creating the UC system’s large research “backyard” made up of property representing California’s natural ecosystems, from desert to ocean, wetlands and sage. Today, the Reserve System of the University of California contains 133,000 acres of unspoiled wildlands available to researchers and their students from around the world.
“I couldn’t have asked people for the land for myself, but doing it for the university, I could talk to the devil himself to get the land,” Mayhew said. “So we were successful.”
Relations with the Community
The Citizens University Committee that first brought UC Riverside into existence is still in operation today. Among its members are campus boosters who have endowed faculty chairs and scholarship funds. One couple, Philip and Dorothy Boyd, funded the construction of the campus’ signature carillon tower. Another, Rupert and Jeannette Costo, endowed a faculty chair and left a large personal library of Native American recordings and papers to the campus.
The Press-Enterprise in conjunction with the campus started a Lecture Series in 1966 to bring prominent media figures to the community, such as Katherine Graham, James Reston, Howard K. Smith, George Will, Ben Bradlee and others to speak at the University Theatre.
A wide array of cultural and artistic performances has enriched community life, and outreach programs sponsored by the campus have helped teachers and students in K-12 schools prepare for higher education.
Faculty and students have often led political action in the community, including the drive to integrate the Woolworth’s lunch counter in the late 1950s and so many other causes related to the intellectual and political life of the community. Ron Loveridge, a political science professor at UCR, was always a hands-on mentor to young people who wanted to work in government. Eventually, Loveridge was elected to the Riverside City Council and is now Mayor.
Of course many faculty members served on city boards and commissions and in leadership roles in schools and churches, as just a natural part of living in Riverside. While the effect of that is hard to calculate, Riverside is undeniably a different place socially and culturally because of the influence of the people and resources of a major public research university.
And the original members of the Citizens University Committee, some of whom are still living in the area, look on with pride. Judge John Gabbert, one of the leading members of the CUC, said, “I don’t think anybody, anybody in the beginning had any conception of what we see today. This is like walking to the top of the mountain and suddenly seeing a great city in front of your eyes.”
The UCR Oral History Project contributed to this story. www.ucrhistory.ucr.edu