In many ways, Cal State Northridge began like many other Valley institutions: Trees were cleared and foundations poured, while hand-lettered signs gave directions to temporary buildings connected by plank pathways. But before that humble start there was plenty of politicking.
The multi-faceted Assemblyman Julian Beck (1905-92), whose interest in education dated back to his years as a business and social studies teacher at San Fernando High School, put together the legislation which created a four-year college in the Valley. In addition to his four terms in the Legislature, Beck served as legislative secretary to Gov. Edmund G. Brown Sr. and was a Superior Court judge. He spent 16 years on the CSUN advisory board.
LOBBYING IN STYLE
In 1952 state officials identified Baldwin Hills as the site of a satellite campus for Los Angeles State College (eventually became known as Cal State L.A.). Beck's legislation, overturned Baldwin Hills as the preferred satellite location. That's when Valley lobbyists went to work--at the Brown Derby on Wilshire Boulevard. Armed with demographic projections, advocates for a Valley university met Dec. 21, 1954, with 23 legislators for dinner. Their purpose: to pitch the Valley as the only logical place for the next L.A.-area state university. The pitch worked.
"Do you want some more shoveling?" asked an accommodating California Gov. Goodwin Knight of photographers at the Jan. 4, 1956, groundbreaking for the satellite campus. He was standing in a newly harvested banana squash patch and wielding a ceremonial spade.
Classes initially had to meet in rooms leased from San Fernando High. Delmar Oviatt, dean of the branch campus, sold textbooks from his car.
"Everything was mud." -- Norma Wischhusen, a Northridge resident since 1954, describing early campus
In the early days, students generally paid tuition in cash, prompting college officials to provide security. "We used to hire Los Angeles Police Department off-duty officers in plain clothes," said Warner Masters, business manager at the time. There weren't many robbers to chase down so Masters had the officers help with registration.
"GIVE ME A 'W'!"
One of the first mascot suggestions was the "Woodchoppers," inspired by students and staff who spent months with chain saws cutting firewood from piles of cleared trees. They settled on Matadors instead.
"We have no past . . . it is to the future we look." The Sunburst, college's first yearbook
In 1908, the old Hawk Ranch wheat farm in the northwest Valley was sold for subdivision. The new town was christened Zelzah (a Biblical word for oasis by the deeply religious wife of one of its sellers. In 1929, with the spiritual giving way to geographic correctness, the sign on the local train station was changed to North Los Angeles. Nine years later, the name Northridge was adopted.
Sources: Cal State Northridge University Archives; CSUN faculty, staff and students; "Suddenly a Giant, a History of California State University Northridge" by John Broesamle
COMPILED BY JAKE FINCH, MEGAN GARVEY, ROB O'NEIL AND ERIC RIMBERT / SPECIAL TO THE TIMES