Written by Tyler Deitz on August 6, 2013

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.

First page of the Student Roads Committee's report, submitted to President McPhee, March 1942. Many street names the students recommended are still used throughout campus today. Julian A. McPhee Papers, University Archives, Cal Poly.

First page of the Student Roads Committee’s report, submitted to President McPhee, March 1942. Many street names the students recommended are still used throughout campus today. Julian A. McPhee Papers, University Archives, Cal Poly.

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.

Plant Express

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.

Political Silence

Earl Warren, the Governor of California, speaking at Cal Poly, May 1950. Julian A. McPhee Papers, University Archives, Cal Poly.

Earl Warren, the Governor of California, speaking at Cal Poly, May 1950. Julian A. McPhee Papers, University Archives, Cal Poly.

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.

One comment on “28 boxes later: Surprises in the McPhee Collection
  1. Jan says:

    Interesting stuff! I wouldn’t have thought J. Edgar Hoover or Hubert Humphrey would have been rejected as speakers. Different times, I guess.

    And the beneficial plants project is fascinating — hope you can find out what happened!

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