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The Hills Have Ayes


By Sandy Siegel '72

Published Apr 1, 2013 8:00 PM


Founder’s Rock, a 75-ton granite boulder from Perris Valley, was installed in time for the campus site dedication in October 1926.

"Hail to the cliffs of Palos Verdes …" That could have been the first line of UCLA's alma mater, had University of California Regent Edward A. Dickson not happened upon the pristine rolling hills of Westwood in the spring of 1923. The Los Angeles newspaperman decided that the area, with its temperate climate, accessibility and location within the Los Angeles city limits, was ideal for the new home of the rapidly growing Southern Branch of the University of California.

Two years later, the 383-acre Westwood expanse was selected over property in Palos Verdes (as well as land in Burbank and Fullerton) to replace the existing Vermont Avenue campus (now Los Angeles City College). But the land had to be cost-free to the university. To meet the purchase price — about $1.1 million — Proposition 2, a $700,000 bond measure, was placed on the May 5, 1925, Los Angeles municipal election ballot.

The Southern Branch students — few of whom would ever attend the new campus — kicked off a spirited campaign to get Prop. 2 passed. Student body leaders spoke on local radio shows and made their pitch at high school assemblies, organization functions and legitimate theaters. Rally Committee members canvassed downtown and suburban areas, leaving stickers on cars and posters at businesses. Others distributed leaflets touting the proposition's importance and assuring taxpayers the average cost would be "only 12 cents a year." At night, a large electric sign on the Women's Gymnasium flashed the message, "Vote Yes U.C. Bonds."

Even Hollywood got into the act: Fox Film Corporation released a 10-minute promotional film that ran in local movie theaters. Business and labor groups, parent-teacher associations and civic leaders got on board. Even the Trojans, possibly more than happy to see their downtown neighbor disappear into the wooded hills to the west, offered support. A letter from the USC student body president, published in the California Grizzly (forerunner of the Daily Bruin), expressed "the hope that the campaign for the bond issue might be successful and to that end we urge the members of our Student Body of the University of Southern California to vote for the bonds on May 5, 1925." The campaign was capped off with a big "bond fire" at the Westwood site on the night of May 4. Early the next day, 2,000-plus students stationed themselves near polling places throughout the city.

Proposition 2 passed handily. The victory was a testament not only to the students' hard work, but also to their pride in the Southern Branch and its growing place in the community. And it helped propel the approval of subsequent bond issues in Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Venice. A $100,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors provided the remaining funds.

Perhaps the person most gratified by the outcome was Dickson, whose newspaper, the Los Angeles Evening Express, had made a bold preelection prediction, reprinted in the May 4, 1925, California Grizzly: "[The bonds'] success means that there will be established permanently in Los Angeles what without doubt is destined to become one of the world's greatest universities."