by Jaclyn Roco
photography by Liz Lucsko
Each building, wall, tree and green space at the University of La Verne holds a story waiting to be told. They have survived the passage of time and the inevitable campus changes. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, these pieces need only to be assembled to see the history that has transformed a turn of the century hotel academy into today’s accredited comprehensive university.
Piece 1: The Original Grounds: Lordsburg Hotel
The Lordsburg Hotel was a grand palatial, 96-foot high structure that boasted an electric bell in every room. Constructed of wood in 1887, the hotel followed the architecture of its time with cupolas, balconies and domed rooftops connected to towers that cascaded to the sky. Although the hotel was situated adjacent to the Santa Fe railroads for incoming travelers, the hotel never had a single paying guest step onto its porch.
Dr. Alfred Clark, ULV associate vice president of academic affairs, who has assembled a historic “walk” of the campus, explains that the Lordsburg Hotel was a part of the “Americanization” process of California. The hotel, built to attract travelers to the town I.W. Lord named after himself, was tied to the railroad transportation link that nurtured cities like Lordsburg (La Verne), Mud Springs (San Dimas) and most of Southern California, Clark says.
“The hotel sat in this block [where the Wilson Library is now] facing south toward the railroad station, which was where the dorms, The Oaks, are now,” says Dr. Marlin Heckman, University Librarian and author of “The Gem of Lordsburg.” “It could be seen all over the Pomona Valley. There were 10 transcontinental railroads that stopped in Lordsburg, and mail trains came six times a day.”
Nevertheless, the hotel’s failure to generate any money pushed I.W. Lord to put his grand hotel up for sale. A group of Ger-man Baptist Brethren took the option of buying the building in 1889 with the mandate of opening an academy. The humble academy they envisioned was on its way to becoming today’s acclaimed University.
Regrettably, not much of the original hotel/college is evident on today’s campus. The footprints of time have echoed and replaced the hotel into today’s Wilson Library and Landis Academic Center. However, remnants of the structure can be seen if one knows where to look. A broken porch pillar and a window piece from one of the 112 rooms of the hotel were retrieved from an old “garbage dump” that occupied the space where the Sneaky Park amphitheater is now located. Additionally, wood from the original structure was recycled in campus buildings and houses in La Verne’s historic old town that were then under construction. According to Clark, there were not enough funds to repair all that was necessary on the old hotel as the original building started to deteriorate during its occupancy. “These pieces tie us back to this building, which Marlin Heckman called the “Gem of Lordsburg” in his book,” Clark says. “Architecturally, this is where we start; this ties with our past, because this is all we have left.”
Pieces 2 and 3: The College Expands: Miller Hall & Founders Hall
From 1891 to 1917, the old Lordsburg Hotel served its students and faculty, fulfilling requirements for office, residential and classroom space. Then, in 1917, during the start of America’s involvement in World War I, the pressing need for a women’s dorm facility prompted ground breaking for the Samuel J. Miller Hall, dedicated in October 1919 and named after one of the University’s presidents. Another auspicious event occurred in 1917: The town’s name, a contentious issue for townsfolk, who rankled under area teasing and name calling of “Jesusville” and “Godsville,” changed, following the March death of town founder I.W. Lord. Lordsburg citizens cheerfully submitted names for consideration on the 30th anniversary of the town’s founding. Sept. 20, 1917, a celebratory mock wedding, held in the old college hotel building auditorium, allowed “Mr. La Verne” and “Miss Lordsburg” to join, and the happy union with two male stand-ins officially changed the city’s name to “La Verne.” Serving as a bridesmaid at the ceremony was Lois (Miller) Thomas, ULV President Steve Morgan’s aunt (ULV class of 1927).
The new three-storied Miller Hall consisted of a basement dining area and sleeping porches on the ends of the second and third stories where the female students slept. “The sleeping porches were screened in where there’s faculty offices now,” Heckman says. “The women slept all out there even in the winter. They woke up with smudge in their blankets.” Although a trifle uncomfortable, prior residents of Miller Hall claim the experience was well worth it. “That was my home,” proudly admits Vera Hoover, ULV academic records analyst and 1947-’51 Miller Hall resident. “We used all the floors; there was a maid hall, a laundry facility. We ate in the basement, and the food was served family style. There were three of us in a room, and we slept out in a sleeping porch. We all knew each other; we all survived, and we had a good time.”
Although Miller Hall looks much the same as it did when it was first built, the building was in danger of being razed in 1983 until local activists intervened at City Hall and blocked demolition plans. The “stately building with four sets of double columns, strong horizontal lines, finely detailed cornices and crisply drawn moldings” was saved, writes Dr. Herbert Hogan in his book, “The University of La Verne, A Centennial History: 1891-1991.” The preservationists won, but before Miller Hall was put to its current use for office and classroom space, the building stood vacant for 13 years. In 1990, Miller Hall was finally renovated up to earthquake standards and even had an elevator and outside stairwell installed.
Unlike Miller Hall, Ivy-League looking Founders Hall, built in 1926, has always served for administrative and classroom purposes. It replaced what was essentially needed from the original hotel academy, which was torn down the year Founders was erected. At the time, Founders Hall was one of the more imposing buildings in the city. A number of prestigious events took place in its auditorium, including the Women’s Symphony Orchestra that played in 1929 for the benefit of the school’s newly acquired grand piano. “We probably just got rid of that 70 year old piano,” Heckman laughs. “But Founders Hall was a major cultural venue for the valley because they say 600 people could fit in the auditorium. I don’t know where else you’d have an auditorium that could sit 600 people in this end of the San Gabriel Valley.” Founders Hall, besides having an essential auditorium, is also significant because of the hidden information it can relay. “Founders Hall is not a terribly exciting building, but it has things that we use,” Clark says. “There are lots of things around where you can get interesting insights into the architecture just by reading what they say. They’re time capsules of statements.” One of his favorite time capsules is the plaque etched into the Founders Hall entrance wall that reads, “Dedicated to the cause of Christian education.” In Founders Hall, “you see an emphasis on Christianity, an emphasis on the Church of the Brethren, emphasis on those individuals who personally conquered the West to build these things,” Clark explains. “If you read into what it says, you can see a whole bunch of information. The nice things about these buildings, especially the older ones in particular, is that if you look at them carefully, they have signs that answer and give you insight to what the people were thinking.” Another interesting fact about Founders, Clark adds, are the names that Founders Hall was dedicated to: Neher, Blickenstaff, Studebaker, Hanawalt – names familiar today and indicative that there is a continuing relationship with families still supportive of this institution from the first 50 to 75 years of its existence.
Piece 4: The Odd Building: Woody Hall
Standing across Third Street in the shadow of Founders Hall is a building with a bright red tiled roof and doors evident around every corner. Isaac J. Woody Hall opened in 1948 as the first men’s dormitory. It can be said that Woody Hall is the odd ball of the University in many aspects. Besides the fact that it has more entranceways than any other building on campus, it is also the only building to be named after someone other than a former president or contributor. Built over two presidential periods belonging to C. Ernest Davis, who financed Woody Hall, and Harold D. Fasnacht, Woody Hall is unusual because “they didn’t name the building after the president; they named it after a classified employee,” says Clark. Isaac J. Woody Hall was named as tribute to the director of buildings and grounds who worked for the college from 1927 to 1957. As a classified employee who served for more than 25 years, Woody was also known for donating financial aid to students during the period of depression, writes Hogan in his centennial history book. Robert Hoover, Woody Hall dorm resident and 1953 ULV alumnus, remembers that Woody was “a custodian at the college forever. He almost dedicated his life to the college.” “He was everything there was,” Heckman recalls.
Woody Hall differs in many ways from its sister dormitory Miller Hall, which was erected nearly 20 years before. The five entranceways indicate that the men had more freedom than the women, whose dorm did not have doors leading to many of the rooms, Clark says. “Everybody in Miller Hall had to check in at certain times at night,” he explains. “Of course no men were allowed. Compare that to the men’s dorm. It’s so strange that all of the rooms had their own entranceways. The men could come in and out whenever they wanted, while the women were locked in,” Clark jokes. “Men in the earlier days never had specific hours,” explains Heckman, who stayed in Woody Hall in the late 1950s, “but when parents sent their kids away to school, the school substituted as parents, and that’s just the way life was then. I don’t remember Woody Hall ever being locked. We maybe had a key to our own rooms. The Roland Ortmayers were our dorm parents in Woody, and he was the coach. You could go talk to them about any problem that would come up.” With twinkling eyes, Vera Hoover counters that female students had to sign in with their “dorm parents” every time they went out. Each day, a different curfew time was established. The latest a female could stay out was 2 a.m., a day that was considered rather special, she says. “We didn’t have any keys,” Vera says. “We had a dorm mother. From Sunday through Friday, we had to be in by 10 p.m., while on Saturday we came in by midnight. If we came in late, we would get in trouble. It was a neat experience. Now students have it easy.” Heckman agrees that much has changed for students who now live in the dorms. “Your generation is used to having your own room at home,” he says.
“I grew up in a time when that wasn’t so. You shared with brothers or sisters, and so it wasn’t different to come to college. There were three people in a room. They were small rooms which had a bunk bed and a single bed and not much space in between. Nowadays, students don’t want a roommate or want to share their room with anyone, but, hey, it’s time to wake up,” he admonishes. In addition to that, Heckman claims students nowadays rely too much on cars, cell phones and television. He says that during his resident stay on campus, students tended to be involved more with the University, especially because hardly any were able to afford cars or any of today’s “necessary” gadgets. “There was a telegraph and telephone two blocks from campus,” he says. “I think about that when I see all the cell phones going off all the time in the library. In those days, if you wanted to telegraph or phone you had to go to the train station. If you got a long distance call, it was an emergency. I remember the television was a 12-inch screen. It had to be in the dark to see it. We didn’t grow up with television so you did things here. Most of us couldn’t go home weekends. It was a residential college, and I think students who don’t participate are losing a lot.”
Woody Hall also differs from most other buildings on campus because of its architectural style. The red tiled roof, derived from Roman to early modern Spain, is indicative in most parts of California that originally belonged to Spain, Clark says.
Pieces 5 & 6: Evidence of the Past: the 1905 Hanawalt House and Trees
The University of La Verne fits prestigious looking buildings together with historically significant houses. Take Hanawalt House, for example. Built in 1905, the house belonged to President W.C. Hanawalt and his family until Mrs. Hanawalt, known as Pearl, sold it in 1973 to the school. With towers, shingles and balconies, the Hanawalt House is truly representative of the bungalow style found in most of the city’s homes. It was constructed of hand-made cement blocks, Heckman says. To preserve the historical integrity of the former home, it now is listed on the California Registry of Historical Sites, Clark says. The home went through several stages after being bought by the college; it served as a Child Care Center from 1973 to 1992 before the Center moved to the Pomona fairgrounds. Following, it served as a Counseling Center. Since 2001, the Hanawalt House has been the home of Human Resources, and it is the first building prospective ULV employers visit. It truly is a building that has seen the changes of time and enjoys a direct link to the past that few campus buildings share.
Sharing a link to La Verne’s rich citrus background, a lonely fruit picker leans against the walls in the former home’s backyard. Three orange trees and three grapefruit trees grow fruit there in memory of La Verne’s citrus legacy. Clark says the backyard of Hanawalt House is typical of a 1900s La Verne family. A cellar door indicates that fruit canning was practiced. Proudly waving to the sky in front of the Hanawalt House on Second Street are 12 queen date palms, imported from the Middle East, which Clark claims are historically significant to both the University and the city. “These palm trees are the oldest things on campus, some more than 100 years old. These palm trees were probably babies in pictures of the Lordsburg Hotel.”
Unlike the palm trees and most other plant life on the campus grounds, the campus Live Oak trees are native to California. There are two issues important to this tree species. Nestled near the roots of four are bronze plaques dedicated to male students who died in World War I. The trees were planted in 1918 and now stand tall in Sneaky Park. Among the names etched onto the ground are Cecil Cox, who died in France while in military service and Elwood Miller. Two other trees located on the corners of B and Third Street, and C and Third Street commemorate the memories of Donald F. Gaston and Forrest O. Chappell. Also important is that the Live Oak trees sustained the native Americans, Clark reveals. He demonstrates this fact by picking up an acorn, and explaining that, when properly processed, it was the staple diet of the California Indians. Interestingly enough, two old oak trees spurred the movement to name the first two new dormitory complexes, built in 1990, after them. The Oaks complex now boasts six units and was carefully “wrapped” around two historic trees.
Piece 7: The Future: the 1970s Era Supertents
Representative of a new time when the University veered from the focus of the Church of the Brethren denomination came the advent of something unprecedented: the construction of the teflon covered Supertents. “President Leland Newcomer decided that the institution would not survive unless it did other things, and so the institution as we know it today began with Newcomer,” Clark explains. “He wanted to do all of the things to make the college known throughout the world, or at least the United States.” Besides implementing new programs like freshmen camp, the law school and off campus programs, Newcomer wanted to bring new technology to the college. The Supertents’ innovative style, made from concrete blocks, steel and Dupont Teflon tent covering was completed in 1974 and received all sorts of national attention for its innovative design, one of the first in the nation of its kind to be built, Clark says. “No one knew the life expectancy of the building,” he claims. “It was a futuristic path, a way both to add new technology and to become a symbol of the new.”
“It was a creative use of space,” Heckman adds. “The original design could have covered nine acres. It would have covered all of the current space, plus all of the Miller Hall quad plus across into Sneaky Park to the front door of the library, and it was to have a swimming pool and skating rink.” One critical factor forced the elaborate preliminary designs for the Supertents to be put off, however. “There was no way we could have afforded that,” Heckman says. “So the tent was a smaller version of what they had intended, but it was very unique for its time and still is, even almost 30 years after.”
Joining the Pieces Together
Now that the puzzle is laid out, the ties that join the major pieces together can now be identified. While some of the buildings on campus have been recycled for other uses, they still hold stories of the past waiting to be told. As the pages of time are leafed through, at least one thing can be made certain; history will continue to echo throughout each building, wall and green space at the University of La Verne.