Tastes of UCLA
Published Jan 1, 2017 8:00 AM
An exploration of campus cuisine, past and present.
UCLA is brimming with eateries. In fact, considering the abundance of cuisines available on campus today, it’s hard to believe that before the 1950s, UCLA was mostly a food desert. Alumni who were here around that time remember eating in Kerckhoff Hall, but that’s about it.
Actually, the SEAS Café opened in the late 1940s to serve hungry engineering students in Boelter Hall, but not many other students knew about it. Cash-only and student-run, the café now offers “low-tech” and “high-tech” coffee, and a pastry and cup of joe for under $2.
By 1960, the growing student population wanted a student union, so fees were raised for the construction of Ackerman Union. There were cafeteria lines on the first floor and a grill called “The Coop” on A-level.
ASUCLA’s board of directors began a restaurant building boom in the early 1970s when they adopted a food service master plan. Temporary (and now legendary) locations such as Campus Corner, the Bombshelter and the Gypsy Wagon were upgraded or replaced.
Campus Corner stood at the southeast corner of what is now the Student Activities Center. Students ordered their food at windows and ate at picnic tables. The menu changed repeatedly, from burgers to pita pockets and, eventually, to the first Taco Bell on campus. Campus Corner closed in July 2005.
The Bombshelter, on South Campus, acquired its nickname because its thick concrete walls reminded students of the backyard bomb shelters built during the Cold War. Upgraded to the “Bombshelter Deli and Burger Bar” in 1974-75, it was the main South Campus eatery for decades.
On North Campus was the Gypsy Wagon, a trailer permanently parked near Bunche Hall to serve grill-style fast food. It disappeared when the North Campus Student Center opened in 1976.
Kerckhoff Coffee House also opened in 1976. Forty years later, it still fuels the caffeine needs of drowsy students. The Cooperage, completed in 1981, was a would-be pub, but the request for a liquor license was denied, so the pub section was converted to other uses.
On the first level of Ackerman was the Treehouse, now known as the Terrace Food Court. In its day, the Treehouse featured eateries such as the Truck Farm, La Quicherie and the Sandwich Room. It now offers branded fare such as Panda Express, Rubio’s and Wolfgang Puck.
In the 1970s, students at what was then the Graduate School of Management opened a snack bar called Potlatch. The new Anderson School of Management complex, which opened in 1995, included a restaurant operated by an outside franchise. Today, it’s il Tramezzino.
Next door to what’s now the Luskin School of Public Affairs, LuValle Commons opened in 1985, replacing a parking lot and primarily serving graduate students. It was named for scientist James LuValle ’36, M.A. ’37, an Olympic medalist and the first president of the Associated Graduate Students. LuValle Commons’ coffee shop is named Jimmy’s (for LuValle’s oft-repeated words “Just call me Jimmy”).
Café Synapse in the Gonda Neuroscience building opened in 1999, providing an upscale atmosphere for the researchers, doctors and students of the Gonda Center and MacDonald Laboratories. It also established a precedent for building-specific restaurants: In 2005, it was joined by the Broad Art Center’s Untitled Café, and in 2014 by the Music Café in the Evelyn and Mo Ostin Music Center.
The Bombshelter was demolished in 2010; two years later, the Court of Sciences Student Center opened in the same spot. The old nickname lives on in the Bombshelter Bistro, one of the center’s restaurants.
Most recent of all is Plateia, which opened in the Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference Center last August. Plateia offers a full-service dining experience with Mediterranean-inspired cuisine.