Written by on September 14, 2018

Move-In: 100 years of Cal Poly dorm living

It’s mid-September, that energetic time when thousands of students return to San Luis Obispo after the summer break. Here’s a look back at campus living since the first move-in in 1903.

Cal Poly’s first on-campus living

The first dormitory, known simply as the “Boys’ Dormitory,” contained thirty rooms for staff and men students and five bathrooms.  In 1909 room and board was $22.50 per month. Women students were expected to find off-campus housing. Aston Collection, ua-ast_00000067.

The second dormitory built at Cal Poly, later named Deuel Hall, is shown here under construction in 1908. It was intended to provide rooms for fifty boys. Although badly needed, it was still insufficient for providing on-campus housing and some students lived off campus. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001015.

Deuel Dorm after construction. The building was named after Captain J.C. Deuel, a faculty member and dormitory superintendent from the 1920s-1940s. It was demolished in the 1970s. Aston Collection, ua-ast_00000083.

Pages from Frank Pedley’s scrapbook, 1909-1910. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00000836.

Presidents also need housing! Here, President Benjamin Crandall and Matilda Crandall stand in front of the recently completed President’s House, 1928. This building still stands today on campus as President and Mrs. Armstrong’s home. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001043.

Dormitory Row

Three more dorms were added between 1928-1931, and these dorms plus Deuel Dorm were known as “Dormitory Row.” They were for men students only. In 1930, women were no longer allowed to enroll at Cal Poly (read more about that here), and from 1930-1956 Cal Poly provided housing for men students only.

An aerial view of campus in the 1930s with “Dormitory Row” visible in the center of the photo (the sports field is in the same relative position as today’s Spanos stadium). Up the road is the cafeteria, gym, and administration building and to the east is the President’s House. Jespersen, Heron, and Chase still stand on campus near the stadium and are used as offices. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00000498

Each dorm had a club, here is the Heron Hall Club (members referred to as “Heronites”) in 1932, from the 1932 El Rodeo Yearbook. Standing to the right is Mr. Walter Funk, who with his wife Mrs. Funk were the live-in staff managers.

One of the earliest known films of Cal Poly, circa 1929, is a promotional film that includes footage of a dormitory “club room” (left) and a “student’s room in the dormitory” (right). See the film here: https://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/islandora-748. University Archives Audio-Visual Collection, ua-sel_00000260.

Lounging in the dorms, 1940s style. Bring your smoking pipe and card games and musical instruments. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00000699.

Student in a dorm room in 1949. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001748.

After World War II campus experienced a rapid increase in enrollment. Older married students with families were provided on-campus housing, including trailers (located near the Performing Arts Center) and the small cottages visible in the center of this photo. Aerial view of the Poly Ninos (Vetville), circa 1955-61, the current site of the parking lot next to Kennedy Library. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001319.

Housing moves east – North Mountain Halls

The North Mountain Residence Halls, opened in 1952, shifted the primary on-campus housing areas from the west side of campus, near the stadium and California Street, to the east. The move started a shift of core campus administrative and housing services across campus to where they currently stand today.

North Mountain Residence Halls under construction, circa 1952. The five buildings are named Shasta, Diablo, Palomar, Whitney, Lassen. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001536.

Shasta dorm residents in 1959. More smoking and a lot of plaid. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001752.

South Mountain Residence Halls

The six South Mountain Residence Halls (commonly referred to as the “redbricks”), were opened in Fall 1960. They are named Trinity, Santa Lucia, Muir, Sequoia, Tenaya, and Fremont. They were originally separated by gender–two buildings housed women student and the remaining four housed men students.

A 1959 El Mustang article described the halls as following:

“Interior decoration will be limited. The walls will be the natural brick. Windows will have aluminum casings. The size of the rooms is 170 square feet. Two persons will be assigned to a room. Each dorm will have a capacity of two hundred students, and large lounge and recreation rooms in each dorm provide a place so study, entertain, or play.

South Mountain residence halls under construction in 1959. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001471.

Interior of a redbrick dorm, 1965. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-its_00000050.

Interior of a red brick dorm, 1965.University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-its_00000051.

In the 1950s and 1960s Cal Poly Housing published “Campus Cues,” booklets that instructed students on “coediquette.” Included are tips on what to wear when. 1963 Campus Cues. Read the full issue here: https://digital.lib.calpoly.edu/rekl-6848. University Archives, ua-sel_00000101

Student exiting Santa Lucia Hall, one of the red brick dorms, circa the 1960s. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00000133.

A typical room in one of the “red brick” residence halls, 1965.University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001151.

Playing Twister at a dorm party, circa 1966.University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001152.

Common room of a red brick dorm (possibly Muir Hall?), circa the 1980s. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00000130.

Trinity front desk, some time in the 1980s. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00000131.

Yosemite and Sierra Madre Residence Halls

Yosemite Residence Halls, opened in Fall 1968 and Sierra Madre Residence Halls, opened in 1973, are designed in a brutalist style. 

Students sitting in Yosemite dorm. All that concrete! University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00000137.

Aerial view of Yosemite Dorms in 1970. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00000138.

Student in a Sierra Madre room, 1974. Information Technology Services Collection, ua-sel_00000419.

Aerial view of Yosemite and Sierra Madre Residence Halls, circa 1975.The grass field and parking lot across the Grand Avenue is now the yakʔitʸutʸu residential community. University Archives Photograph Collection, ua-pho_00001345.

We’ll stop there and save Cerro Vista, Poly Canyon, and the brand new yakʔitʸutʸu residential community for a future post! 

Read more on Architecture Archives, back to school, cal poly history, special collections and archives, and university archives.

4 comments on “Move-In: 100 years of Cal Poly dorm living
  1. Andy Brack says:

    Fantastic collection of photos. I lived on the second floor of Fremont Hall (red brick dorms). Great to see the development from the early days of the campus.

  2. Dan Matthews says:

    Deuel Hall was my residence when I came to Cal Poly in the fall of 1967.
    I met some of my lifelong friends in that hall; we discussed the demise of Deuel Hall recently.
    Curious to know why it was demolished in the 1970s? Was there a fire?
    The other 3 dormitory halls on College Avenue near the football stadium are still standing 2019.
    Good memories!!

    Anyone know the answers?

  3. Laura Sorvetti says:

    Thanks for your comment Dan! That is awesome that you are still in touch with your Deuel Hall friends. Based on our research in the University Archives, it looks like Deuel Hall was transformed into College of Architecture work spaces in the 1970s and then demolished in the December 1975-January 1976 time period. The Cal Poly 1968 Master Plan proposed demolishing all of the old dorms to make way for other structures, but out of the four dorms, only Deuel was demolished. Your idea that it might have been a fire hazard was probably a likely reason it was torn down, but we haven’t found any further documentation either way. Thanks for your comment!
    Laura, Special Collections and Archives

  4. kenneth Koester says:

    I lived in Deuel Hall in 1966. It was a wonderful and historic building. Primitive, yes. But we had individual rooms, albeit small. It had a “flavor” to it. Being close to the football field was great. Having to climb that hill every day to get to everything was NOT great. It was a good thing we were young and I was an athlete. I don’t know what handicapped kids did. I wish I had taken more pics of the building. I have one great shot from out front with someone’s red 1966 Chevrolet Malibu SS 396 in the center.

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