28 boxes later: Surprises in the McPhee Collection
Ben Simon is a student assistant in Special Collections & University Archives. This summer he is working on a project to organize the papers of Cal Poly President Julian McPhee (1933-1966). This is the second in a series of posts in which he shares his experiences processing McPhee’s papers and learning more about the university’s history.
When the Streets Had No Names
One of Julian McPhee’s most overlooked contributions is the naming of streets on Cal Poly’s campus. Pepper and Mt. Bishop Streets and California Boulevard were all named as the result of a collaboration between McPhee and the Student Roads Committee together with Alfred L. Ferrini, a prolific Central Coast land developer during the mid-20th century. As with McPhee, several local landmarks bear Ferrini’s name, including Ferrini Square, Ferrini Apartments, Ferrini Enterprises, and Ferrini Road, all of which can be found around Foothill Boulevard.
But out of the many forgotten details of McPhee’s tenure at Cal Poly, perhaps the most intriguing happened during World War II when Cal Poly hosted a series of conferences regarding the cultivation of 514 species of herbal and beneficial plants from the United States and foreign nations. The intention was to stimulate America’s wartime economy by independently producing crops and providing healthcare to soldiers and veterans.
While these conferences continued until the end of the 1940s, I have not yet uncovered the ultimate fate of this highly ambitious project. It demonstrates both McPhee’s relentless agricultural innovation and his concept of Learn by Doing, which remains a staple of Cal Poly education to this day.
McPhee’s notes reveal that Cal Poly was quite conservative regarding invited guest speakers in the early 1960s. Regulations prohibited members of the Communist Party from visiting the campus (except as students), and many potential speakers such as FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Hubert Humphrey were rejected due to their politics.
McPhee did maintain correspondence with several politicians, including Governor Pat Brown (father of current California Governor Jerry Brown), and Attorney General Earl Warren, who would go on to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.