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A Home on "The Hill"

By Claudia Luther

Published Apr 1, 2016 8:00 AM

More than 50 years ago, a visionary provost wanted UCLA students to live on campus in order to enjoy its “cultural and intellectual riches.” Thus began the university’s transformation from a commuter campus to a thriving residential community.

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Dykstra Hall when it was new. Photos courtesy of Welton Becket and Associates, from the archives of Bruce D. Becket.

The nearly 12,000 Bruins who now live on “the Hill” weren’t born — indeed, even their parents weren’t born — when a forward-thinking leader proposed that UCLA transition from a commuter campus to one where undergrads could live.

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A letter from a disgruntled student asking for housing.

That leader was Provost Clarence A. Dykstra, who lamented that students got to campus by public transportation or “private jalopy,” ate their lunch from paper sacks and left right after class. This, he said, provided little time to enjoy the “cultural and intellectual riches with which every university abounds.”

But Dykstra, for whom the Hill’s first residence hall was named, couldn’t have imagined that today Dykstra Hall would be one of 15 residential facilities in a community that is home to 40 percent of UCLA undergrads. Nor that the residents would have not just superior places to eat, live and study, but also a new fitness center and space to screen films.

Ten-story Dykstra Hall, which opened in 1959, houses 900 students. Hershey Hall, a 1930s-era dormitory across campus, was eventually converted to academic uses. Now all undergrad housing is on the northwest quadrant, named for its rolling terrain.

Dykstra, who became provost (now called chancellor) in 1945, had previously presided over the University of Wisconsin, where he championed student housing. So UC President Robert Gordon Sproul appointed him to an all-university Dormitory Committee, which advocated for on-campus housing to the regents. According to correspondence held by UCLA Library Special Collections, Dykstra complained to Sproul about the slow progress made after the regents had approved and allotted funds. He wrote, “We have had state money for three and one-half years and as yet have not laid a brick.” Meanwhile, UCLA students were petitioning Dykstra to provide on-campus housing.

Dykstra didn’t live to see his dream become a reality; he died in 1950. But a press release from architectural firm Welton Becket and Associates declared Dykstra Hall to be “a self-contained community” and a “center of student life.” The release declared the hall’s opening to be the beginning of the end of UCLA’s 30-year era as a “streetcar campus.”

Dykstra Hall was soon followed by three more high-rises: Sproul (1960), Rieber (1963) and Hedrick (1964) — all built to accommodate baby boomers who would soon be flooding the campus.

Today, Dykstra would surely be proud to see his name on the building he inspired — though he might need to be briefed on the necessity for Internet and cable TV in each of its 381 rooms.