UCLA has always dreamed big. Back in 1920, Ernest Carroll Moore, UCLA’s first chief executive, opined of the fledgling institution, “We shall look with much amazement upon its development, for it is certain to be far greater than the imagination of any of us can foresee.”

Would that Moore could be around to see just how prophetic his words have become. Almost a century after he helped lead the effort to transform some undeveloped barley fields into the UCLA campus, that pioneering Bruin spirit remains in full blossom. And it has ramped up at a dizzying pace.

Over a span of just 15 mind-boggling months that culminated in January, UCLA announced three historic acquisitions: UCLA South Bay, the university’s largest land addition since it planted stakes in Westwood; UCLA Downtown, a historic building in the city’s vibrant core; and the UCLA Research Park, a defunct Westside mall that will be resurrected as a dynamo of scientific discovery. It's all part of moving the needle to address the pillars of the university's new, exciting, forward-looking five-year Strategic Plan. 

Even given UCLA’s relatively short history, which has seen it move from a backwater cousin of UC Berkeley to a global force and the No. 1–ranked public university in the nation, this period of rapid expansion certainly rates among the most transformative. 

It’s worth taking a quick look at how we got here. 


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On the Map

Since the beginning, UCLA has never stood still. The university has continuously looked toward growth to better serve the needs of the people of Southern California, the state and the world. 

Before it was UCLA, the Southern Branch of the University of California — established in 1919 with a student body of about 1,500 — was located on Vermont Avenue in Hollywood. As the city’s population exploded, doubling in size to 1.2 million between 1920 and 1929, and the demand for higher education mushroomed, the branch quickly outgrew its digs. In 1927, the university broke ground on a plot of several hundred acres in far-off Westwood. Within a couple of years, the first four Romanesque-style buildings had been erected around what is today Dickson Plaza. The university never looked back. 

Classrooms, new schools, residence halls, laboratories, athletic facilities and a teaching hospital sprang up in the years following World War II as the university continued to keep pace with the growing city. Throughout the remainder of the 20th century and the dawn of the 21st, additional structures, including a medical center and a crop of new residence halls, were completed. By 2022, UCLA, with approximately 47,000 students, became the first — and only — campus among the UCs to guarantee housing to all undergraduate students. 

Yet today, with nearly 230 buildings and the smallest physical footprint among UC campuses, at 419 acres, serving the needs of our city and state requires looking beyond Westwood. 

It’s not simply a matter of square footage. Los Angeles has become a truly global megalopolis, and with nearly 4 million city residents and almost 10 million countywide, reaching and welcoming the region’s incredibly diverse populations means meeting them where they are. That is precisely what makes the recent acquisitions, spread across the neighborhoods and communities of Southern California, such a crucial step in advancing the university’s mission.

Brett Affrunti

Iconic DTLA

UCLA, in many ways, has become synonymous with Los Angeles. The university has evolved with the city and today is continuing to build its connective tissue throughout the region. 

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in UCLA’s acquisition last June of the historic Trust Building in downtown L.A.. The newly christened UCLA Downtown, an 11-story property on South Spring Street that was built in 1928 — one year before UCLA’s Westwood campus opened — sends a clear signal that the university is deeply committed to both the future of the city’s diverse communities and to creating positive change in the lives of both Bruins and Angelenos.

The university’s presence downtown isn’t new. For years, it has supported research and arts initiatives, service projects, internships, and experiential learning programs for students and faculty. UCLA Extension has offered continuing and professional education to all. And the university’s downtown health clinics have cared for scores of local residents. UCLA Health’s street medicine program has served more than 10,000 unhoused individuals, and the university’s James Lawson Jr. Worker Justice Center, in nearby MacArthur Park, provides services to the area’s lower-income and immigrant working populations.

Now, with UCLA Downtown, that commitment becomes permanent. The university will breathe new life into the 334,000-square-foot Art Deco/Moderne landmark, creating a hub where Bruins can partner with local community members and organizations on a range of academic, research, arts-related and outreach initiatives focused primarily on social justice and advocacy on behalf of underserved and vulnerable populations.

Last month, UCLA selected 31 community-focused programs to move into the space, with more to follow. 

Brett Affrunti

Due South

In 1925, Rancho Palos Verdes was in the running as a potential new site for UCLA. A hundred years later, the university has finally arrived. 

Thirty miles south of Westwood, amid the rolling bluffs of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, the UCLA South Bay campus sits on one of the most quintessentially Californian swaths of coastline. The idyllic spot boasts stunning views of the blue waters of the Pacific, with Catalina Island in the distance. This property and a residential site in neighboring San Pedro were purchased in September 2022 from Marymount California University, which had recently shuttered its doors. The land acquisition — some 36 acres in total — was the largest in UCLA’s history.

At the new campus, academic programs will focus on sustainability, climate change and environmental justice, with the site’s ocean setting and its proximity to the largest port in North America providing ample opportunities for research and partnerships around those themes. As the university develops these instructional programs, UCLA South Bay will continue to host conferences, retreats and other events for the Bruin community, and UCLA Extension will begin offering courses there this summer.

UCLA was already the nation’s most-applied-to university before the new beachfront property came on board. Imagine what an ocean view will do!

Brett Affrunti

The Marketplace of Ideas

It’s a long way from Claire’s and Orange Julius: The empty former Westside Pavilion shopping mall, once a vibrant retail center and gathering spot, will be reborn as the UCLA Research Park, an engine of innovation, discovery and economic growth for Southern California and beyond. 

The university acquired the sprawling 700,000-square-foot property, two miles south of campus at the intersection of Pico and Westwood boulevards, in January 2024. The site will house the California Institute for Immunology and Immunotherapy at UCLA and the UCLA Center for Quantum Science and Engineering.

At the state-of-the-art facility, scientists, industry partners, government agencies, startups and students will pool their expertise to expand the boundaries of science, medicine and technology. Quantum computing, for example, will be a top priority for the quantum center, with interdisciplinary teams seeking to harness the strange behavior of subatomic particles to construct machines far more powerful than anything imaginable today. And researchers at the immunology and immunotherapy institute will pursue treatment and vaccine breakthroughs in a variety of areas, from cancer and immune disorders to infectious diseases, allergies, heart conditions and organ transplantation. 

In addition to flexible work spaces, the former mall also features a 12-screen multiplex movie theater that could serve multiple uses for the center, the institute and programs across campus. The ambitious effort to turn a former bustling hive of commerce into a bustling hive of transformative research is one that will most certainly pay dividends for UCLA, the people of Los Angeles and the world. So grab your popcorn. 

“Leveraging the next waves of technology and science,” said California Gov. Gavin Newsom, “the UCLA Research Park will cement California’s global economic, scientific and technological dominance into the 22nd century, and beyond.”

Learn about the UCLA Strategic Plan — and what it means for the future — in an enlightening Q&A with Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt.


Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Spring 2024 issue.