100 years of UCLA on your coffee table
Of the many photographs in a new history of UCLA, one is especially arresting. The photo, from April 1929, shows the school’s first four buildings on its soon-to-open Westwood campus with little else around for miles but rolling hills and a few houses. “The campus is so far out in the country that it’s obvious only farmers will ever be the students’ neighbors,” the caption reads, quoting a not-particularly-far-sighted journalist at the time.
Clearly, the growth of UCLA and surrounding Westside neighborhoods was never a given. The school’s unusual journey to academic prominence -- with political intrigue and student unrest along the way -- is the basic narrative of “UCLA: The First Century,” a lavish 360-page coffee table book by Marina Dundjerski. (Truth in advertising, the actual centennial doesn't really come around until 2019.)
Pushing against the Berkeley-centric education establishment, Southern Californians undertook much politicking for the state to finally authorize in 1919 “the Southern Branch” of UC on the site now occupied by Los Angeles City College in East Hollywood. The move 10 miles west a decade later was followed by the Depression’s austerities, the Red Scare’s challenge to academic freedom, the Baby Boom’s construction frenzy, the Vietnam War protests, affirmative action debates and the current budget crises.
Dundjerski, a 1994 graduate of UCLA and a former campus correspondent for The Times, researched that history for eight years, conducting more than 200 interviews and searching through archives for documents and historical photographs. She came away impressed, she said, about “how much risk everybody took in building UCLA to become the institution it is today.”
The book was commissioned by alumni leaders in advance of the centennial and the research was funded with grants from two alumni organizations and the Ahmanson Foundation. It is being published by Third Millennium Publishing Limited of Britain in conjunction with UCLA History Project/UCLA Alumni Association, and officially hits shelves in March; the UCLA bookstore already has it in stock, and Amazon is taking pre-orders.
Dundjerski said alumni leaders told her they wanted “a real history” and never tried to censor any material. Her book does not shy away from painful UCLA episodes, such the 1969 shooting in Campbell Hall that left two students dead amid a feud between black power groups. But clearly the book’s overall tone is affectionate.
Among the most intriguing sections is a chronicle of UCLA’s secret role in the Manhattan Project, which developed America’s first atomic bomb. Under round-the-clock-security, UCLA’s Extension office in downtown Los Angeles handled the purchasing, payroll and delivery of equipment for the scientists working on the bomb at the UC-run lab in Los Alamos, N.M. Sometimes, the operatives shipped microscopes and typewriters from campus to aid the cause, according to the book.
Forty years later, UCLA again played an important role in world-changing research: this time in helping to identify HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Dundjerski revisits the international shock over the news that Rock Hudson suffered from AIDS and his treatment at UCLA Medical Center before his 1985 death.
“UCLA: The First Century” tackles a lot of lighter topics too. Do many current Bruins sports fans know that real live bears were the mascots in the 1950s? That Elizabeth Taylor and Bob Hope hosted 1949s Junior Prom? That early drawings of Joe Bruin looked a lot like Mickey Mouse?
One giggle-inducing shot shows voluptuous movie star Jayne Mansfield smooching legendary basketball coach John Wooden at the 1962 Mardi Gras. Ever the stickler for propriety, Wooden is pointing to the distance where, reportedly, his wife Nell watched on.
-- Larry Gordon