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CAL POLY SAN DIMAS?

by Allen Ferreira

(Originally published in OPUS, Volume 48 Spring 1985 p. 6-9)

Imagine driving to school one morning, but instead of getting off the freeway at the Temple or Kellogg offramps, you continue to San Dimas and exit at Arrow Highway. While winding up a shady road to a college called Cal Poly San Dimas, you begin to wonder if you are in the Twilight Zone. No, you have not entered another dimension. You are just visiting the past. This university has not always been located at the Kellogg Ranch. From 1938 to 1956 the university home was at the Voorhis Ranch in San Dimas.

In 1938, Julian A, McPhee. the president of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, was given control of the Voorhis School for Boys to establish a southern campus for Cal Poly. In March of the following year, 83 students and three instructors moved to the new campus. Then, World War II began and in 1943, the school was closed due to lack of enrollment. It did not open again until 1946.

 

 
 
 

The southern Cal Poly campus consisted of only two buildings when it was established in 1938. [Webmaster's correction: The buildings pictured are actually from the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus]

 

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Robert J. Winterbourne, currently a counselor in the University Counseling Center, came to the school as a student in 1946. Winterbourne and his former wife Marilyn Winterbourne, who is an ornamental horticulture professor here, have been here for all but five years since. When they first arrived, they lived in a small 14 foot trailer with their daughter and a dog. This was one of 12 trailers that was on campus to accommodate married students.

R. Winterbourne arrived in San Dimas during the summer of 1946 to help get the school in shape for the fall. After three years of being closed, the campus was a mess. There was a family of skunks that lived by the reservoir, the field was overgrown, and coyotes, deer, and snakes were frequently found on campus. There is "no comparison" to the campus today, according to R. Winterbourne. He said it was a "small, personal" school.

The first year back at the Voorhis campus, enrollment was at 243 boys, with a staff of 12. The school offered three majors, which were all agriculturally related. They were agriculture inspection, fruit production, and ornamental horticulture.

Since the nature of the majors were related, the students and faculty were closer to one another. The Winterbourne's both agreed that everyone was involved in those early days. In an interview with Sharon S. Grant, J.F. Laminan of the Biological Sciences Department reported that there was a "homogenous" feeling among everyone. Oliver (Jolly) Batcheller who headed the Ornamental Horticulture Department added, "Cal Poly in those early days had a lot of heart. There was a tremendous spirit of doing things together and accomplishing our goals."

During one blood drive there was a 95 percent turnout by the students. The year that the athletic program was established, there was not any money to fund it. As a fundraiser, a banquet was held with tickets priced at five dollars per person. Everyone on campus bought a ticket.

One reason for this feeling among the students was the example set by the staff. R. Winterbourne said, "There was no discrimination between the faculty and staff."

"They (the students) were all involved in all that needed to be done, " M. Winterbourne added. "Everyone was a teacher, even if you were the plumber. Everyone was aware of the entire growth of the student."

University President Hugh La Bounty said, "The Voorhis campus was a different kind of environment. Unlike today the school was a family. The whole school now, it is more at the department level."

M. Winterbourne headed the Student Wives Club, who were very active on campus. "I miss the camaraderie," she said. "It was like a big family. The whole school would participate in everything. Everyone would show up for the games to support their team. R. Winterbourne, who was the ASI president, said that during the student meetings the entire student body would be there. "There was a different flavor to the campus," he said.

The students were so involved then that they could often be found in the middle of the night "smudging" in the citrus fields. This is a process that would keep the air around the citrus trees warm, so they would not freeze. This was an example of McPhee's "learning by doing" motto that is still prominent on the campus today.

According to La Bounty, they were not interested in theory as much as they were interested in practice. "They had a strong desire to get out in the working world," he said.

The atmosphere around the school was quite different then. In Grant's interview, Keith Weeks, who taught English and music said that the students would walk around in their uniforms from the war. It was very casual since there were no female students on the campus. The 199 veterans gave the campus a distinctive personality. They had just been through a war and were used to a stricter environment . There was a different kind of competition among the students. The vets were older than the regular incoming freshman. They had more experience and a better grasp at what they wanted from their schooling. They had a "rebellious attitude" Winterbourne said. "They were here to get an education. They were not tolerant of Mickey Mouse rules or games."

 

 
 
 

The first university President Julian A. McPhee pays a visit to the students and their families swimming in the San Dimas campus pool.

 

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Because enrollment increased and there was a shortage of housing, surplus army barracks were used which added to the military appearance of the school. The barracks housed 126 men and were located at the western most end of the campus. It was appropriately named "West Point."

The university has always been a commuter campus. Students came from as far as Anaheim, Monterey Park and Ontario. With this, came the parking problem. The Voorhis campus did not have a real parking area. There was a lot of dirt and students parked where they could.

Another thing that has not changed with either of the university sites is its natural environment. M. Winterbourne said, "They (the current owners, Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College) have kept it up as far as its beauty goes. Even the new buildings look like they belong. The style of the campus gives it the old feeling of the early days."

The university acquired the Kellogg site in 1949. There were nothing there but the existing Kellogg buildings. Plans were made to build the first structure which was the Science Building while still utilizing the Voorhis campus. The school population grew to about 450 that year. Since the students needed more room than they had, even the chapel was used to accommodate lectures.

 
 
 

A view of the chapel at the Voorhis campus

 

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It was not until the mid-50's that the Science Building at the Kellogg campus was complete. When the move came in the Fall of 1957, it did not mean the end of the Voorhis campus. The site was used until 1960 to house students. Those who went to school at Kellogg would be transported by bus each day. Later, it became a conference facility for the university. In 1970 the Voorhis campus was leased to the Pacific Coast Baptist Bible College, and in 1978, the Bible college purchased the land.

After all these years, the campus is strikingly similar to the old days. The road leading up to the site and many of the buildings are the same. The barracks are gone now, but there is the small school appeal. Most of the building names from the Voorhis School for Boys are the same. The stone monument presenting the school to Cal Poly still remains today.

A first-hand look at the university's roots are only a short drive away.

Allen Ferreira is a communication arts junior with an option in newspaper/magazine journalism. He recently transferred from the Behavioral Science Department to pursue a writing career.

 
     
     
 

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