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Capital University News, California State University, Sacramento

November 5, 2003

Early days on campus were tough on inhabitants

This article is one in an occasional series about CSUS buildings.

Mud, dust, war and hundreds of shrub-eating jack rabbits were among the challenges faced by builders, staff and students during the first phase of campus construction at CSUS.

Construction on the first master plan, which included seven permanent buildings and a number of temporary buildings, began with a groundbreaking ceremony in May 1951. Construction of the administration building, now Sacramento Hall, and the library building, now Lassen Hall, began in the summer but bad weather and material shortages caused by the Korean War plagued the project from the outset, causing delays that continued over the next two years.

In addition to the administration and library buildings, the original master plan also included a food service building, one main classroom building and three smaller science buildings that housed both classrooms and labs. All of the buildings were designed in the Spartan, unadorned style characteristic of state architecture in the 1950s.

Classes at the new campus began in February 1953, five months behind schedule and with construction still not completed. The official move to the new campus was marked by a parade on Feb. 9, 1953 that went from the University’s temporary location at the Sacramento Junior College campus on Freeport Boulevard, down J Street, to the new American River campus.

Because the site had been completely cleared of all trees and brush by construction crews, the campus was a “sea of mud” in winter that “turned into a dust bowl” in summer, according to George Craft, CSUS history professor and author of California State University, Sacramento, The First Forty Years: 1947-1987. During the rainy season it was common for cars to become stuck in mud and in the summer for dust to coat even the interiors of buildings, making some lab experiments impossible.

The installation of a sprinkler system finally allowed for the planting of trees, shrubs and grass to begin in November 1953. More than 3,000 trees were planted in fall 1953 and spring 1954, including the dawn redwoods that now stand east of the University Union and the eucalyptus grove that now stretches along the west side of State University Drive West.

Unfortunately for grounds workers, the first shrubs planted served as food for the area’s thriving jack rabbit population. In response, campus authorities concocted a solution that may seem extreme by today’s standards: Faculty and staff were invited to participate in rabbit hunts. The University provided the ammunition but participants were asked to bring their own guns. The hunts bagged between 100 and 200 hares a week before ending in late fall 1953.

By spring 1954 landscaping was taking and with the first phase of construction nearly complete, the American River site began to resemble an actual campus. However, busy construction work would continue to define the campus into the early 1960s.

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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu
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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 • infodesk@csus.edu