When Bovard Administration Building was completed in 1921, the area students now know as University Park Campus looked entirely different. USC’s campus itself spanned only a few blocks.
Stores and houses were side by side with school buildings. Tommy Trojan did not yet exist, and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum had not yet been built.
Though many students and professors think of USC as a modern university known for its diversity and cutting-edge research, this school also has a rich history.
Last month, the Los Angeles City Council named 12 campus buildings Historic Cultural Monuments. These buildings not only hold architectural significance, but also give historians a peek into the past.
Simply walking past some of these buildings hints at what attending USC would have been like for the first class of Trojans almost 134 years ago.
USC puts down roots
Construction began on the first building on campus, the Widney Alumni House, in 1880. Though the Alumni House has been moved from its original position near Founders Park, it is still used for university functions.
Soon after the first 53 students enrolled that fall, the university added a dormitory, Hodge Hall, and a building for classes, College Building. Even as the university began to grow in the early 1900s, this first iteration of campus was a fraction of the size of USC today.
USC archivist Claude Zachary explained that part of the reason USC was initially so small was that the university only used a small portion of its land grant.
“The original grant of land to the university in 1880 was for a whole big plot of land,” Zachary said. “The actual campus was a few lots right in the center of that piece and the rest of the land was basically donated with the intent that the university sell it off to fund its endowment.”
In the late 19th century, University Avenue ran through the center of campus. An electric trolley called the University Line served Exposition Park, which was then called Agriculture Park. University buildings were sprinkled among neighborhood homes and stores, blurring the lines between USC and the surrounding community.
A social center develops
Soon after the iconic façade of Bovard was erected in 1921, the modern university began to take shape.
Construction of the Coliseum was completed in 1923, and the university unveiled Tommy Trojan for its 50th anniversary in 1930.
The Gwynn Wilson Student Union, Mudd Hall of Philosophy and Physical Education Building were built in 1927, 1929 and 1930, respectively.
The Student Union created the first space that students could use for clubs, organizations and activities. The Daily Trojan and El Rodeo have had their offices in the building since it opened in 1928, and the Student Union originally housed the printing presses.
Students also used to hold dances in the Physical Education Building. The Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps took over office space there in 1940, and the building still houses ROTC programs today.
Perhaps one of the most iconic buildings on campus, Doheny Memorial Library, opened in 1932. Doheny has held a significant portion of USC’s collections since then.
‘The walls of Troy’
Even after the developments of the 1920s and ’30s, the center of campus still looked little like Hahn Plaza does today.
Until the Hancock Foundation Building was constructed in 1940, “hamburger row” occupied one side of Trousdale. Students could buy hamburgers for a nickel at pop-up restaurants such as Tommy’s Place and Sunny Jim’s Feed Bag.
USC alumnus Capt. G. Allan Hancock donated the funds for the Hancock Foundation, now called the Hancock Institute for Marine Studies. In addition to marine biology classrooms and a library for Hancock’s book collection, the building included the first KUSC radio studio and the first on-campus television studio.
Zachary said that this eclectic mix of uses mirrored Hancock’s personality.
“[Hancock] was really a musician, as well as a scientist, as well as an aviator. He was an oil magnate,” Zachary said. “He was the chair of the board of trustees for many years and the friend of Rufus Von KleinSmid.”
Familiar buildings such as the Olin Hall of Engineering, Von KleinSmid Center and the University Religious Center sprung up in the 1960s. Slowly but surely, the USC of the past was morphing into a sprawling urban campus.
Zachary said former university president Norman Topping played a large role in forming the campus students recognize today.
“When Norman Topping became the university president in around 1958, he started to develop the master plan … envisioning the move out to Vermont and taking over this whole space,” Zachary said. “They started to build the walls of Troy and, for the first time, distinguish USC from the neighborhood.”
By the time construction finished on the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism building in 1979, the University Park campus had established itself as another neighborhood in South Los Angeles.