The Challenge of the Campus
“The Analyst Papers,” named in honor of CMC’s first student newspaper, the Analyst, is a five-part series published by the Forum, the official student publication of Claremont McKenna College.
For the first time, the history of Claremont McKenna has been brought online. The Analyst Papers has been published in the form of five accessible articles, with the aim of navigating through years of characters, monuments, and obstacles. CMC's history is a short one, but a good one, and few know much of it. To learn it is to better understand what CMC stands for, its challenges and its future.
In 1996, the Trustees of CMC commissioned California historian Kevin Starr to write a book commemorating the College’s first fifty years. His remarkable work, “Commerce and Civilization: Claremont McKenna College, 1946-1996”, has been a key source for this series.
Additionally, CMC’s Development Office has opened the College’s archives to Forum staff for this project. We thank them, as well as the CMC Alumni Association, for access to primary sources and first-hand interviews.
Part II: CMC's Conservative Heart
Highlights in Part III:
· CMC's campus mirrors the school's founding philosophy, as well as the conditions in California that existed as it was developed. North Quad in particular represents a unique space on its own terms, personifying the school's founding struggles.
· Within its first four years, the school grew from six prefabricated units to an early draft of North Quad, with CMC's four most iconic dorms standing erect.
· The Athenaeum, an idea first concocted in 1968 by Donald McKenna, was not completed as a space until 1983 - giving the campus an intellectual mantlepiece.
Part IV: Claremont Men’s College, with Women
Part V: Our Place in the Liberal Arts
The Challenge of the Campus
In June of 1946, Robert Bernard made a judgment call. Gordon Kaufmann, architect behind the primary Scripps College Quad and Harper Hall, had just completed his preliminary drawings for Honnold Library. Bernard, a founding trustee, was planning on sharing these drawings with Marie Rankin Clarke – a wealthy and generous philanthropist who had expressed interest in the Group Plan. George Martin, another trustee, had warned Bernard not to ask Clarke for money on behalf of the new men’s school, but rather to approach her as an emissary for the entire consortium. But Bernard, before bringing the drawings to Ms. Clarke’s room at the Biltmore, asked Kaufman to sketch in the hopeful foundations of CMC’s campus to the East of Honnold.
Up to that point, the only plans for a Claremont Men’s College campus were six prefabricated buildings, acquired as a result of a housing surplus at an Army Air Force Base in Santa Ana. Called "hubs," these units lived on as the original nickname for the Student Union and, now, The Hub. President Benson had purchased these units through the Federal Public Housing Authority – another New Deal program vital to the anti-New Deal boosters of the new college.
In its very first days, before these units arrived, CMC students lived in the basement of Bridges Auditorium, famously decorated with potted palm trees and referred to by its inhabitants as Coconut Grove. They took classes in makeshift rooms, surrounded by sheets draping from the ceiling in Bridges’ attic before the arrival of all the units.
While meeting with Ms. Clarke, Bernard explained what the area just East of the library contained – Claremont Men’s School.
Starr writes, “When Mrs. Clarke showed interest in the new school, Bernard followed up by sending her a copy of the program of the opening convocation, together with the photos of students living in the basement of Bridges Auditorium.”
Mrs. Clarke ended up giving $500,000 before the first semester of the school came to a close. With such bold beginnings, the school incorporated, and began to plan out its physical environment.
Sixty years later, another trustee, Henry Kravis, would sit down with another architect, Raphael Vinoly, to dream up the next step for CMC’s academic village. In between were six decades of transitional and incremental campus development.
Unlike Scripps, largely planned out and financed with Ellen Browning Scripps’ initial investment, CMC could only build a campus environment piece by piece. Each piece would provide CMC's founders with serious fundraising challenges. But each piece, at least through the 1970s, would reflect both the foundational ideas – California conservatism – as well as the norms of the typical American campus structure.
Somehow, these campus foundations had to be reconciled with a college that had visions way beyond the confines of acreage.
CMC’s campus is often discarded or discounted when compared to the gorgeous gardens of Scripps or the handsome and traditionally tailored campus of Pomona. But while there is no aesthetic competition with the Scripps physique, CMC – North Quad in particular – has its own architectural legacy and stories.
This past reflects and twists the American notion of the campus space, symbiotic of both CMC’s daunting and unlikely struggle for national success, and its roots in California’s growth. In short, the bleakness of CMC’s architecture, thanks to Benson, who had little concern with its form, is in itself something to celebrate. CMC's campus space is a story representative of conservative roots, social norms after World War Two, and California’s multi-partisan progressive tradition. In this, North Quad provides its own brutal beauty.
The Group Plan became a vestigial of Los Angeles traditions of progressivism and boosterism. Bernard, in a Harper’s article, explained not just of CMC but the entire consortium: “No period of American history has a monopoly on founding…there is nothing to be undone here; we start from scratch.”
Only in California could such a statement be made. In 1923, a Los Angeles Times editorial read, “We are being hotly pursued by our future.” Los Angeles, never a static place, internalized these fears, explain historians, soldering themselves to doctrines of development. CMC’s founding is rooted in California's fanatic 1920s growth.
Architecture, particularly in southern California, is an expression of history and social process. CMC is no exception, representing its own flavor of the “academic village,” derivative of a distinctly American feature of higher education – the idea of the university as a community in and of itself. For CMC, this community would mimic 1940s restraints: “values of thrift, efficiency, and functionalism,” explains Starr.
He continues, “Like the odds and ends of military attire favored by the undergraduates in the first two years, surplus housing units of either wood or steel vividly evoked the transitions of the postwar era.”
The first permanent structure was the original Story House. The building, named after Russell M. Story, served as a dormitory, commons, and focal point for campus life. By 1947, however, work had already begun on dedicating the furnishings of a campus.
Out of a dire need for dormitories came the first pillar of North Quad. Architecture firm Allison and Rible, an omnipresent character throughout the campuses accelerating first fifteen years of growth, presented Benson and his trustee building committee with their work: a dorm turned inside out. Instead of a central corridor, rooms would be accessed from a first or second story gallery. The endeavor, now Appleby Hall, turned out to be a cost-effective success in the short run. And the College's first dorm came to personify CMC's aspirations and inclinations – functional and pragmatic, yet democratic, and distinctly Californian.
Benson, aware of the need to define and begin projecting a campus for recruitment and fundraising needs, had Allison and Rible quickly turn the project into a master plan – the initial rendering of a four dormitory quadrangle with an adjunct cafeteria. By 1950, the four-legged quad was enclosed by Appleby, Green, Boswell, and Wohlford.
The college rounded out the 1940s with Pitzer Hall at the Western end of the Quad. Before construction, however, there was a need to acquire the land. After World War Two, California experienced a significant housing crisis. “Even the most embattled shelter represented an asset,” explained Starr. In total, the trustees spent $100,000 to clear the land for Pitzer Hall. With limited funds and Russell Pitzer’s gift already tied up in loans associated with the construction of the dormitories, trustees pored over Allison and Rible’s drawings looking to cut costs. Hot water in the bathrooms was eliminated by Benson. Fortunately, through small gifts and loans from local banks at the hands of respected trustees, construction started in 1949, mirroring the construction on the Eastern end of the quad of Boswell Hall.
Upon the conclusion of the Korean War in 1953, the American economy accelerated – particularly in Southern California, where a building boom commenced. CMC trustees, many personally reaping the rewards of the 1950s, were eager to fund CMC’s own building boom. Pitzer Hall was expanded in 1955. In 1957, construction on Collins Hall, giving North Quad a permanent dining location, was completed. The dining hall sat just off the quad, overlooking the green with large glass windows that demanded a vibrant and public eating routine, a dramatic contrast with Mallott Commons’ intimate rooms or Frary’s monolithic dining room.
While amidst a boom, the overlapping projects pushed the College’s finances to its limits, mandating further austerity for the buildings. But within fifteen years, CMC’s academic village had arrived, after donations and loans were precariously strung together, leaving behind evidence of the financial restrictions imposed on the campus’ architectural needs. In 1959, the interest on the $750,000 in loans taken out from the bank and endowment was about the same as an associate professor’s salary.
Now with a campus, the trustees and administrators sought to further provide the furnishings the college’s environment. Sixteen projects, including Auen, Fawcett, Benson, Berger, and Marks Halls, were completed during the 1960s. Pitzer Hall, by the 1960s, could no longer support the administrative needs of the school. Bauer Hall, with its groundbreaking in 1967 after Modestus Bauer’s $2.2 million gift, provided the solution. Bauer Hall provided the eastern end of north quad, and, remarkably, was accepted as an impressive architectural terminus for the quad. The building mimicked the themes of North Quad: exterior corridors, simple hints of Mediterranean style, and an emphasis function over form. Bauer Center, while certainly no rival to the Kravis Center across the quad, still provides CMC with its own academic rotunda, and has played a key role in defining North Quad as a dynamic and multipurpose place that contained residential, academic, administrative, and social spaces.
The following years, while not without construction, were years focused on academic and administrative planning and development. Little physical change occurred when the College went coed. It was not until the 1980s that North Quad received an intellectual mantlepiece with construction of the Atheneaum. Donald McKenna pushed the project to establish a permanent building for speakers and discourse. As early as 1968, McKenna had formulated the concept of the Atheneaum, a space that could simultaneously serve as an intellectual hub to exchange and learn but also mesh with the school’s ambitions to maintain a residential college. A $2 million building, construction began in 1982 and was finished within a year. Now the campus had an explicit space where intellectual pursuits flirted and mingled with the CMC community in a social setting.
With the completion of the Ath and now further aware of how its identity had adapted to changing times, CMC announced a Master Plan in the mid 1980s. Of most importance, Starr notes, was the realization that the older buildings were “disconcertingly Spartan in appearance,” due to lack of funding, and the aesthetic minimalism of the founders. Still, the campus had overcome architectural austerity to develop a profound space that respected the academic ambitions of the College. And while the founders saw little intrinsic value in designing a campus beyond its basic needs, these very tenets had, in a twist of fate, created a unique California campus that would become cherished by its inhabitants.