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A centennial education

A rare color photo of Royce quad in the mid-1940s. Find it in chapter 6 of the new UCLA history book.
A rare color photo of Royce quad in the mid-1940s. Find it in chapter 6 of the new UCLA history book. Click to enlarge photo.
“The normal school that thought it could be a university,” as UCLA was once mocked, is approaching its 100th birthday, and a new history book, “UCLA: The First Century,” is a loving early birthday gift.

The just-released book immerses readers in the school’s emotional struggle to become a full-fledged university, unveils little-known stories like UCLA’s secret role in the atomic Manhattan Project and dabbles in lighter histories, too, including a retrospective on mascots through the years.

The 360-page volume, published by Third Millennium Publishing Limited, was culled from 400 binders of research and includes more than 900 stunning photographs, historic and modern. The massive project took author and alumna Marina Dundjerski eight years, during which she and research assistants completed more than 200 interviews, scoured microfiche copies of old Regents meeting minutes and Daily Bruins, reviewed oral histories and more.

“Coming across these stories was fascinating,” said Dundjerski, a former Daily Bruin news editor and Los Angeles Times correspondent who has also written for many UCLA publications. “As a student, I really knew so little about UCLA’s impact on the world.”

A gleam in Dickson’s eye

The book begins in 1913 when a young UC Berkeley grad, Edward Dickson, managed to become one of the only UC regents from Southern California. Dickson struggled against the opposition of other regents to form a second UC in the growing Los Angeles region. Despite several failed votes, a UC Extension sprouted in 1917 at Los Angeles High School. In 1919, the year of UCLA’s founding, the regents approved the establishment of the “Southern Branch of the University of California,” a two-year college located at the Los Angeles State Normal School in downtown Los Angeles.

Listen in on Kevin Roderick's interview with Dundjerski in UCLA's Broadcast Studio.
The campus’s mascot was always a bear: first the Cubs, then the Grizzlies, and finally in 1926 the Bruins. But in 1919, a sweet stray mutt named Rags became the campus’ unofficial mascot, Dundjerski wrote. “Rags wandered freely about the Vermont Avenue campus, occasionally attending chemistry and other classes.”

In 1924 the school became a four-year university, but it took until 1927 for the Southern Branch to officially become the University of California at Los Angeles – although students and faculty had used the UCLA moniker for years, to the regents’ chagrin. Legend has it that College Dean Charles Rieber “printed some stationery with the ‘UCLA’ letters. Being soundly scolded for this by Berkeley officials, he rendered his opinion by printing more of it,” Dundjerski wrote.

When the regents approved UCLA as a four-year institution after much lobbying by the Southern Branch, the campus erupted in celebration and students declared a “Fourth Year Jubilee,” Dundjerski described in a touching passage. One professor captured the effusive spirit of the, ahem, intoxicating occasion: “I’m drunk [despite Prohibition] and don’t care who knows it,” Dundjerski quoted him saying.

Westwood ho!

An aerial view of the campus from 1929, when only the first four buildings and the bridge had been built.
An aerial view of the campus from 1929, when only the first four buildings and a bridge had been built. Click to enlarge photo.
The campus moved to Westwood in 1929 with enormous help from the students: They fundraised and rallied Los Angeles voters to approve bond measures to pay for the land and buildings. Photos in the book show students gathering on the undeveloped hills: grassy places inhabited by burrowing animals, quail and even rattlesnakes, Dundjerski said.

As part of the fundraisers, the student rally committee began building “bond-fires” in the early ’20s, the precursor to today’s annual homecoming bonfire, although freshmen are no longer required to gather the wood. In the 1940s, Spring Sing, which became one of UCLA’s most popular student events, began as a way for UCLA fraternities to compete to be the “champion serenaders of Sorority Row.” A 1920 handbook decreed that freshmen were banned from smoking, a rule later amended to ban all but ridiculous corncob pipes.

But the school that celebrated the Jazz Age and flaunted Prohibition with dances and hip flasks was in for a shock. Just five weeks after classes started in Westwood, the stock market crashed. UCLA salaries were cut 10 percent, and ASUCLA nearly went bankrupt, Dundjerski said.  But the school continued to grow, thanks to private donors and state support.

“Because UCLA was so new, the legislature had set aside money for its expansion. No one was laid off. In fact, they kept hiring,” she said. “I was writing that part during furlough time [in 2009 at UCLA], so that really resonated with me.”

World War II

The College of Engineering was founded in 1943, and in 1958, still a decade before the moon landing, became the first university with an astronautics program. This prototype was designed in 1961.
Research boomed during WWII, and the College of Engineering was founded in 1943. In 1958, still a decade before the moon landing,  Engineering made UCLA the first university with an astronautics program. This prototype of a space suit was designed in 1961. Click to enlarge photo.
World War II transformed UCLA. After Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, “Bruins who played in the [Dec. 6 football] game on Saturday enlisted in the military on Monday,” Dundjerski wrote. Soon, there were so many military personnel on campus that terms like “Kerckhoff Mess” became common. Faculty were called in for six-day work weeks and year-round classes so that men could graduate before being drafted. A new air-raid siren installed atop the Physics-Biology building in ’42 could be heard 10 miles away in the San Fernando Valley. Windows were painted or covered for nighttime blackouts.

The campus also witnessed the tragic loss of its Japanese and Japanese-American students, approximately 200 of whom were swept with their families into internment camps. Administrators tried to help interned students transfer into colleges away from the West Coast internment zones. They succeeded with a few, but not many, Dundjerski wrote. Whether students were drafted or interned, Bruins who left before midterms received a refund, and those who completed midterms earned full credit for that semester. “All students who leave the University under government order, whether to join the armed forces or to comply with the enemy alien proclamation, will be treated alike,” the book quotes Provost Earle Raymond Hedrick as saying.

UCLA amped up its research capabilities during the war, and, along with UC Berkeley, became part of the effort to build an atomic bomb at Los Alamos National Laboratory. In an effort codenamed Project 36, a downtown UCLA office transformed into the Manhattan Project’s purchasing office to avoid drawing attention to work already underway at Berkeley’s radiation lab at Lawrence Livermore Lab.

“Everything was funneled through UCLA,” Dundjerski said. Because UCLA purchasing officers could not reveal their connection to the army, suppliers would sometimes question their unusual purchases. “Sometimes, when there was a rush for materials, they took typewriters or microscopes right out of the UCLA labs,” Dundjerski said.

Boom time and state support

Two vets getting fit for limbs as part of a special Engineering training program that led to new prosthetic technology. Click to enlarge photo.
Two vets are fitted with artificial  limbs as part of a special Engineering training program that led to new prosthetic technology. Click to enlarge photo.
The influx of federally funded veterans after WWII sent UCLA’s enrollment to an all-time high. By 1947, the G.I Bill funded 43 percent of UCLA students. Wartime housing units on Gayley across from Fraternity Row sheltered vets’ families and soon earned the nicknames “Maternity Row” and “Gayleyville.” UCLA transformed itself with wheelchair ramps and rehab programs for vets, and the engineering department developed a special training program in limb-fitting that led to advances in prosthetics.

It was also a time of unparalleled state support: Unspent war taxes from the legislature provided the largest earmark for a single campus in the nation’s history. That funding not only built buildings, but also helped fill in the arroyo that once divided UCLA’s campus, creating 24 acres of new campus space.

As the Cold War reared its head and fears of Communism gripped the country, UC developed an infamous and divisive loyalty oath that faculty swiftly protested against as unconstitutional. In 1950, four UCLA professors were fired for refusing to sign, then reinstated with backpay in ’52 when the California Supreme Court upheld their case. Two decades later, one of those faculty members, David Saxon, became UC president.

The Cold War also kick-started construction of the campus’ first hospital, heralded when it opened 1955 as “the first hospital of the Atomic Age.” Instead of building operating theaters on the top floor as was customary to take advantage of natural light, they were built underground, along with a radiology unit, to protect the facilities against aerial attack. UCLA also had a bomb shelter – not the Bombshelter eatery demolished in 2009, but a Civil Defense fallout shelter tucked underground in the storied utility tunnels beneath campus.

New ground

Anti-apartheid protestors barricaded Murphy Hall in the '80s. The issue was the subject of protests as early as the mid-'60s. Click to enlarge photo.
Anti-apartheid protesters barricaded Murphy Hall in the '80s. The issue aroused protests as early as the mid-'60s. Click to enlarge photo.
The book covers fresh territory in many chapters, particularly from the ’60s to the present, touching on subjects and events that were either too fresh or had yet to happen when UCLA’s last history book came out in 1969.

“The ’70s were UCLA’s decade of protest,” Dundjerski said. “When students protested, it would be in the thousands, closing down Wilshire Boulevard.”

When four protesting Kent State University students were shot dead by the Ohio National Guard in 1970, UCLA administrators took the unprecedented move of shutting down the campus. A month later, amidst growing opposition to the ROTC program on campus, a bomb exploded in the ROTC offices in the Men’s Gymnasium, though no one was hurt.

It was also an era of extraordinary progress and achievement. In ’69, the university helped create the Internet and became the first university in the nation to establish four ethnic-studies research centers. Two of UCLA’s alumni had won Nobel Prizes in the ’50s (now there are six), and in 1960 the first UCLA faculty member won a Nobel (the first of five won by faculty) followed by a second laureate in 1965. In ’79, the Los Angeles Times declared Bearwear an international craze. In ’81, a UCLA doctor identified and alerted the medical community to the first AIDS patients.

The book runs all the way to 2011, illuminating issues such as the controversy over Proposition 209’s ban on affirmative action and its detrimental effect on diversity at UCLA. The book also explores UCLA’s research development into nano-technology and genetics under Chancellor Albert Carnesale, and UCLA’s ever-growing role in the community through projects like the massive Volunteer Day under the current chancellor, Gene Block.

In 1932, many morning classes were canceled in favor of snowball fights when two inches of snow dusted the sunny-So-Cal campus. It melted by 11 a.m. Click to enlarge photo.
In 1932, many morning classes were canceled in favor of snowball fights when two inches of snow dusted the sunny So-Cal campus. It melted by 11 a.m. Click to enlarge photo.
“When you realize that UCLA has accomplished all these things and hasn’t even reached its 100th birthday, it’s astounding,” Dundjerski said. “But when you read the stories of all the people who made that happen, it all makes sense. That’s what I hope people take away from this book.”

Readers are sure to get even more. The book features 12 chapters devoted to a chronological history, covering campus life, administrative politics and more. Each chapter is liberally sprinkled with multi-page spreads highlighting the Japanese internment, central figures like Coach John Wooden and everything in between, from snowball fights to parking. Three bonus chapters go into photographic depth showcasing UCLA’s construction, the campus’s sports legacy and “Bruin Rites of Passage.”

UCLA: The First Century,” with a cover price of $75, is on sale for a limited time in the UCLA Store at Ackerman discounted to $59.95 and available at independent bookstores in the Los Angeles area. The book was sponsored by the UCLA Alumni Association, with additional support from the Ahmanson Foundation and Gold Shield Alumnae of UCLA.
Bruin history buffs: try this UCLA History Quiz on student traditions or this UCLA History Quiz on sports. You won't get all the answers from this article, but you'll find them in the book!
Also, view this video about the book:
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