In the Beginning...
In the 1880s, the population in the City of Los
Angeles was a mere 20,000. Higher education consisted of one high
school downtown as well as the Normal School (at the site of today’s
LA Library). The Normal School provided graduates with credentials
to teach grades K through 12. Today’s LACC site was still farm land
owned by Dennis Sullivan. The Administration Building sits about
where his farmhouse used to be. Hollywood was one of many small
suburbs and Melrose Avenue, lined with eucalyptus trees, served
horse and buggy traffic.
Then came the construction of the Pacific Electric Interurban
Railroad in 1909 connecting downtown LA with Hollywood. Mr. Sullivan’s 26.9 acre farm was now the perfect spot to locate an
institution of higher learning --what later became Los Angeles City
Since Hollywood was now more accessible, the LA Board of
Education decided to relocate the Normal School from crowded
downtown to Hollywood. The relocated Normal School opened in 1914
and consisted of nine brick buildings in a northern Lombard Italian
style, an architectural style popular at the time. One of the first
buildings was the administration building with a distinctive cupola.
The school also sported a picturesque commons lined with eucalyptus
The Birth of UCLA
In 1919, in response to Los Angeles’ demand for its own local
university, the Normal School became the southern branch of the
University of California at Berkeley. But students couldn’t get
their degrees from the southern branch, they could only take classes
here. Finally in 1925, pressured by population growth, UC Berkeley
permitted the southern branch (now UCLA) to grant degrees. Among
UCLA’s famous graduates at that time was Ralph Bunche, who went on
to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
The area surrounding UCLA on Vermont and Melrose became a little
version of modern Westwood, with shops, theatres and restaurants to
cater to the student population.
Meanwhile, cheap land and abundant sunshine made Southern
California, and especially Hollywood, the new center of moviemaking.
Disney’s first production office was located just a half-mile north
of the campus, just off of Vermont Avenue. Columbia Studios was on
nearby Sunset Blvd. and Paramount was about a mile west on Melrose
Ave. The campus became a popular place to shoot movies. The
buildings by this time were covered with fig vines and served as a
perfect stand-in for eastern ivy-league schools. Actors like
Buster Keaton could be seen shooting films here, such as "College"
In 1929, the university realized that its existing campus wasn’t
big enough. It thus purchased open land in what would become
Westwood. The first new UCLA buildings, including Royce Hall, which
still stands today, resemble the architecture of LACC’s old
buildings. This is undoubtedly due to the influence of Ernest
Carroll Moore, the UCLA provost at the new Westwood site, who had
also been the provost when the university was here in Hollywood.
1929: LACC Opens its Doors
The campus left behind by UCLA was purchased by the LA Board of
Education for $700,000 and turned into Los Angeles Junior College,
or as it is called today, Los Angeles City College. On Sept. 4, 1929, LACC opened its doors for the first time and
welcomed 1,350 students (75% of whom were vocational majors).
By its first semester, the
college was already the fourth largest such institution in the
president was the charismatic Dr. William Henry Snyder, former
principal of Hollywood High School. He handpicked the college’s
first 54 pioneering faculty members.
Dr. Snyder saw the mission of the new college as twofold: (1)
"providing career training coupled with general education in fields
that did not require a four year university degree" and (2) "offering the
first two years of transfer education, allowing students to take
their first two years of college while still living at home." He
said that "the skill classes had to provide saleable skills, be
intensive, and be practical and that the academic courses should be
general, inspirational and give a bird’s eye view of the fields they
attempted to cover." Dr. Snyder set up the new curricula to meet
local labor market needs. The first catalog listed the following
vocational programs: civic health, aeronautical engineering, civil
engineering, mechanical and electrical engineering, general
business, secretarial science, and the social arts.
The college had a ready market for its classes. For one, the
college had an open door policy and did not charge tuition (until
1984). The 1920s in LA had seen a period of strong population growth
which was fueled by a real estate boom, the discovery of vast oil
fields, the start of tourism as a major industry, and the emergence
of the film industry. City’s campus was also very accessible as the
red line street cars and buses stopped at the college and fare was
an affordable 7 cents.
1930s: Hope in the Depression
In 1931 LA voters chose to create a separate LA Junior College
District which had its own taxing power and allowed the college to
draw upon State funds based on college enrollment.
We became the first west coast
college to provide full-scale opera production training.
During this same period, the LA
Times carried an article referring to the school as a "hotbed of
communism" during the famed Hollywood film strike. College debating champion True
Boardman went on to form the Armed Forces Radio Services.
Throughout the years, whenever the economy had a downturn, people
flocked to LA City College. The Depression of the 30s was no
different. People didn’t have money to go to the university, jobs
were scarce, so they came to LACC. Enrollment grew from 4,500
students in 1933 to 6,200 in 1939, to 6,600 in 1940. The college
instituted a number of unique programs including a mortuary
curriculum and a nursery tending program.
1940s: World War II and the G.I. Bill
Enrollment dropped dramatically during World War II. From a high
of 6,600 students in 1940, to 2,300 in 1944. Many faculty had to
leave City to look for jobs elsewhere. The demands of the war did,
however, prompt the beginning of evening school classes. LACC helped
the war effort by conducting courses for the Army Specialized
Training Program, the Naval Reserve, the Aviation Ground School, and
the Civilian Pilot Training Program. Classes in map reading, radio
orientation, weather forecasting, and flight instruction were taken
by students in uniform, who gave a strikingly different appearance
to the traditional campus. Some LACC instructors traveled 200 miles
to Owen Valley where they conducted classes in pilot training.
After the war was over, the school had to serve the deluge of
students who came to the college under the G.I. Bill. From 1945 to
1947, LACC enrollment shot up from 3,000 to 8,000. Half the student
body were veterans. They were older, serious, academic, and more
worldly. Nearly 75% of all students came to LACC to prepare for
transfer to a university -- a direct reversal from the college’s
early days when career training was the predominate goal.
In 1947, with thousands of students ready to transfer, the
college embarked on a unique experiment and formed a four year
school on its campus—Los Angeles State College of Applied Arts and
Sciences. The idea to do this came from LACC’s faculty who
envisioned a flexible vocational curriculum lasting from one to four
years. It was a commendable idea, but in practice it proved unwieldy
with two presidents, two administrations, two student bodies, and
one set of facilities on one campus.
The experiment ended in 1955
when the four-year school moved east to become California State
University at Los Angeles.
1950s: Joining the Boom
California’s population swelled to over 50 million in the 1950s.
LACC grew from 12,000 students in 1950 to 17,300 by 1960. The
college received its first accreditation as a junior college in 1954
and began an ambitious eight-year construction program to replace
its original, unreinforced masonry structures with the buildings we
see surrounding the campus quad today.
In 1955, Dr. John Lombardi became president. He led the college
for 12 years during a period of consolidation. One college historian
noted that Dr. Lombardi was the most influential leader since Dr.
Snyder. He set new standards for educational excellence and, while
still a dean, integrated the predominately white faculty by hiring
four African American instructors. A firm believer of free speech,
Dr. Lombardi saw the first stirrings of student activism in the late
50s and had his administrative team out and about on campus to
defuse any potentially violent situations.
1960s: The Times They Were a-Changin’
During the 1960s, LACC began to offer classes covering remedial
instruction. Also introduced were such innovations as peer
counseling, the Mobile Advisement Center, and tutoring. Responding
to student requests, the college established an American Cultures
Department with new courses in Afro-American, Asian-American, and
Chicano Studies. New occupational programs included dental
assisting, occupational therapy, nuclear medicine technology, human
services, computer technology, electronics technology, and
biomedical electronics technology, among others.
By 1965, LACC’s library held
115,872 volumes, the largest community college collection on any
campus in the country.
Community service programs also came of age, with new not-for-credit
classes in recreational areas.
The campus had its share of student unrest as did many campuses
throughout the U.S. During four days in March, 1969, students
conducted campus protests. They set up barricades of tables and
chairs at several campus entrances, broke windows, and moved across
campus as a roving mob. Large numbers of police stood by ready to
By the end of the 60s the ethnic composition of LACC’s student
body was no longer predominantly Caucasian. One of every three
students was African American, one in seven was Asian, and one in
ten had a Spanish surname.
LACC was administered by the LA Unified School District until
1969 when it broke away with its sister schools to form the LA
Community College District.
1970s & 80s:
During the late 70s, college enrollment peaked at 22,000
students. The student demographics continued to increasingly reflect
the growing multiculturalism of the city. LACC began hosting
celebrations for "Black History Month," "Cinco de Mayo" and the
"Asian American Cultural Week."
As waves of new immigrants settled in Los Angeles, the college
added more English-as-a second-language (ESL) classes. In fact, in
1986, more than half the students enrolled took the ESL form of the
college placement test. In 1990, that number rose to 70%. The number
of basic skills classes also greatly increased. To assist students
with enrolling, a new student assistance center was opened in the
late 80s, employing a multilingual staff.
The new immigrants were motivated to succeed in their new home.
Success stories of students who knew little or no English when they
started at LACC, but who moved on to successfully complete college
studies, were often heard at the dean’s honor tea ceremonies.
Dr. Stelle Feuers was the college’s first woman president in
1978, and she and those who followed had to contend with diminishing
resources. Voters passed Proposition 13 in 1977 which took away all
colleges’ right to raise money through local taxation leaving the
college reliant on Sacramento for funding. The result was inadequate
funding through the 80s and early 90s. In 1985, it was necessary to
cut back five allied health programs including nursing (which was
reinstated in 2002). And, as a result of a statewide mandate, LACC
began to charge enrollment fees.
But all was not bleak. Students continued to excel in a variety
of disciplines. Theatre, speech, photography, and cinema students
took major awards in their fields. The business curriculum was
popular, and unique programs like Dental Technology and Radiologic Technology flourished. 1980 saw the construction of a new
Communications Building to hold the growing Cinema -TV Department.
Its radio curriculum dropped by the wayside as live radio
programming greatly diminished.
1990s - Today: New Initiatives
In the mid 90s the new subway system was built with a stop at the
Vermont and Santa Monica Blvd. corner. LACC’s men’s basketball team
under coach Mike Miller took two state championships. Computers were
introduced into most curriculums. And, classes in digital technology
began taking on increasing importance in the cinema, art, and
During Dr. Mary Spangler’s presidency from 1997 to 2003, voters
passed two major construction bonds giving the college $300 million
to re-envision itself for the new millennium. Construction is now
underway for a new admissions center, parking facilities, physical
education building, and science and health careers building.
Dr. Spangler fostered increased college-business partnerships and
the college purchased the historic Van De Kamp bakery site in 2001
for a proposed northeast campus. Under her tenure the college’s
foundation increased its endowment tenfold. The college continued to
receive impressive federal grants and in 2003 it received a sterling
accreditation by the college’s accrediting agency.
Dr. Doris Givens was named interim president in 2003.
(Special thanks to Fred Piegonski for compiling this history from
the book "Visions and Revisions," among others, and from notes on the
early history of the college by former LACC faculty member and
Dr. Louis Hilleary.)
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