UCI honors Irvine Co. original architect


University names a pedestrian bridge after Raymond L. Watson, a key player in the school’s early years.UC Irvine held a ceremony Thursday to name a pedestrian bridge on campus after Raymond L. Watson, the original architect for the Irvine Co. and a key player in the university’s formative years.

At the private ceremony, held in the Irvine Barclay Theatre with about 200 guests in attendance, officials announced the renaming of the long concrete bridge that connects the University Center to UCI’s main campus. The University Center is the hub of cultural life at UCI, with an Edwards movie theater and a number of shops and restaurants.

As of Thursday, the bridge, built in 1985, became officially known as the Raymond L. Watson Bridge. The dedication capped a 45-year journey for Watson, who has devoted more than half of his life to developing the city of Irvine.

“I had no idea I’d be here 45 years,” Watson, 79, said after the ceremony. “I came down here from northern California to 93,000 acres [the area of the Irvine Ranch]. I never imagined I’d be here 40 years working on the same project.”

Watson helped to found the city of Irvine in the early 1960s as the university was developing inside it. Having moved with his family from San Francisco, where he worked as an architect, Watson oversaw the planning of Irvine’s first villages, shopping centers, schools and parks. The city was incorporated in 1971, six years after UCI first opened.

As a member of the Irvine Co., Watson subsequently worked on Fashion Island and Newport Center. He has lived in the Eastbluff section of Newport Beach for more than 40 years.

Thursday afternoon, the university unveiled a plaque by the Watson Bridge that credits Watson as a “modern Renaissance man” and adds, “Over time, Watson championed educational excellence, city self-governance and a distinctive sense of place as critical components of this lively new city.”

Speaking at the hour-long ceremony were Watson, Irvine Co. chairman Donald Bren, chancellor Michael Drake and Irvine mayor Beth Krom. Inside the Irvine Barclay Theatre, poster boards around the room traced the history of the city and campus since its inception in the 1960s.

“I’d like to welcome you all to a special ceremony for a gifted man’s work,” Bren said in his opening remarks. “When this university and the city around it were nothing more than a dream, Ray Watson stepped forward and offered tireless work.”

Bill Rams, media relations director for the Irvine Co., said the naming of the bridge was a symbol of the history of Irvine -- and a tribute to its founders. The city owns the bridge, which extends from the university grounds to the University Center, which is owned by the Irvine Co.

“We wanted to bring together the leaders of the three institutions -- the city, the Irvine Co. and the university -- for the campus’ 40th anniversary,” he explained.

* MICHAEL MILLER covers education and may be reached at (714) 966-4617 or by e-mail at