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Fall 2004 l Capital University Journal
Sac State Legend & Lore
By Frank Whitlatch


  • Photo: Sac State memorabiliaEfforts to get a four-year college in Sacramento date to the 1920s, but legislation repeatedly failed. Local supporters blamed “pork barrel politics” by Bay Area legislators trying to monopolize higher education.
  • Sac State was formally established in 1947 through legislation by State Senator Earl Desmond. He played hardball to get it done, convincing the Senate’s finance committee to withhold funding for the University of California until he had a commitment. Desmond eventually had 11 children and grandchildren graduate from Sac State.
  • When Sac State opened in 1947, it shared space at Sacramento Junior College. It didn’t get its own campus until 1953.
  • At Sac State’s first semester of classes, fall 1947, 235 students were enrolled in 44 classes. The next spring Sac State held its first graduation ceremony. A single student, history major John J. Collins who had transferred from Berkeley, graduated.

Ever hear about the gold buried at Sac State? How about the ghost? Did you know jackrabbits were once hunted here?

And you thought you knew the place.

There’s plenty of legend and lore surrounding this 300-acre campus. After all, at 57 years, Sac State is getting to be an old institution. That’s especially true for California–a state where new and different grabs attention and a Gold Rush of 150 years ago feels like ancient history.

Here then, to amaze your friends and family, are snippets of fact and fiction from Sac State’s storied past.

  • The hornet was chosen as the mascot by the student council and the athletics department in December 1947. It beat out the elk, which was considered not aggressive
    enough. They also chose green and gold—green for the foothills and trees, and gold for discovery.
  • The hornet mascot was named Herky, but now-retired Sac State archivist Georgiana White says his naming is a bit of a mystery. The name is likely short for “Hercules.”
  • By 1948, Sac State was fielding intercollegiate teams in basketball, baseball and tennis.
  • The Hornet student newspaper, now the State Hornet, and the Statesman yearbook were both first published in 1949.
  • The Sac State fight song was the winning entry of student Don McDonald in 1949. It goes:

    Fight on, Sacramento State,Fight on to victory.The Hornet is on the wing.The foe will know that we can show themWe’re meant for fame and glory.All the World will knowThe Hornet’s NEST is BEST in the WEST (Shout) BY TEST!Sa-cra-men-to State, (Shout) LET’S GO!!!
  • Crowding was a problem when Sac State was at the Junior College campus. Drama faculty held rehearsals at odd hours when the Junior College faculty weren’t using the theater. Many offices were in former apartments in the “11th Avenue Annex,” and Academic Vice President Stephen Walker for a time heard flushing noises from the exposed plumbing above his desk. Faculty records were stored everywhere—and reportedly got burned in ovens and soaked in sinks.
  • The CSUS Foundation, created to run a badly needed campus bookstore, was founded on the streets in 1951. Sac State Business Manager Stan Pretzer had been told the idea needed a public hearing. So on the corner of 9th Avenue and Freeport Boulevard, Pretzer announced to passing traffic that the foundation was being established. There were no objections.
  • “An old boys club” is how Maryjane Rees, a female professor hired in 1954 once matter-of-factly described the early campus staff. One example: Founding President Guy West’s secretary handled orientations for new female professors, while he personally gave orientations to the new male professors.


  • Several sites for a permanent home for Sac State were considered. A site at 5th Street and Broadway, a site near Fruitridge and Stockton Boulevard, and a site in the Pocket Area of South Sacramento were all rejected.
  • In 1949, the 244-acre J Street site was chosen for Sac State’s campus, despite concerns it was too close to the railroad. It was purchased for $1,650 to $1,800 an acre, and later expanded to almost 300 acres.
  • Sac State’s campus is within the traditional homeland of the Nisenan Indians, who had a village called Kadema in the vicinity.
  • There was once the Gold Rush town of Norristown and another called Hoboken where the campus now stands, and tales told of a miner who had buried his treasure here. He died in a barroom brawl, and as recently as three years before the state purchased the land in 1949, people were looking for the gold.
  • Much of Sac State’s future campus was pear orchards and hop fields when construction
    began in 1951.
  • Sac State moved from the Junior College to its new campus on Feb. 9, 1953 with a parade through town called “GO EAST WITH WEST,” in reference to President West.
  • Parking has always been a problem at Sac State. When the campus opened in 1953, drivers were confronted by a sea of mud. Many students simply drove as close to the buildings as they could and parked. And the mud became dust in the summer, piling up behind doors and getting on nearly everything.
  • In 1986, the campus very nearly flooded. Water reached the top of the bordering levee, and state officials were within hours of deliberately letting water flow onto campus
    to try to spare nearby residential areas.

    Today, Sac State has embarked on a massive building program as part of its Destination 2010 initiative. Highlights include a 236,000 square-foot recreation and wellness center and on-campus housing.


  • Jackrabbits were an early problem for campus landscapers. The solution? Provide the campus community with ammunition and let the rabbits beware. Still, some of the creatures remained here through the 1960s.
  • The Causeway Classic football game against UC Davis wasn’t called that until 30 years after the first match-up. The name was coined by former Sac State sports information director Mike Duncan. The traditional trophy is a Victorian carriage.
  • Greek life, dances, beauty contests and the like were very popular in the 1950s. But the civil unrest of later years ended most of these activities.
  • During the turbulent 1960s and early 1970s, protests were common on campus. During one angry week, Students for a Democratic Society threatened to dump the card catalog at the library, which would have shut down the building for weeks. The football team came to stand guard, but no confrontation took place.
  • There was also great internal strife during that time: Sac State had six presidents from Guy West’s retirement in 1965 until Lloyd Johns arrived in 1978.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at Sac State on Oct. 16, 1967. Another icon, Jimi Hendrix, performed on campus on Feb. 8, 1968.
  • But the campus appearance that became the talk of the town was by African American
    radical Eldridge Cleaver at Hornet Stadium in October 1968. Nearly 10,000 people heard an inflammatory, obscenity-packed speech.

    Today, there are more than 200 student clubs and organizations at Sac State. Fully 36 percent of students volunteer in the community, collectively giving some 2.3 million hours a year. Thousands of students gain practical work experience in our cooperative education program, the largest in the state.


  • Shasta Hall, many people say, is haunted. Students have talked for years about a ghost in the building’s theatre who disrupts play openings. Some think it is a state building inspector who fell to his death in the building before it was completed.
  • Now a popular coffee spot, the Roundhouse
    was controversial when it was built in 1969. Its design put off many people, and President Robert Johns apparently arranged for its construction without the usual approval of the CSU Board of Trustees.
  • Sequoia Hall was supposed to have an attractive white cement finish, but the funding ran out. The plain concrete remains today.
  • Sac State’s historical Julia Morgan House and Gardens, which was renovated in recent years and is now a popular site for community events, was given to the University
    by a controversial figure. Charles M. Goethe was a Sacramento businessman, naturalist and philanthropist who gave generously to Sac State. But he also was a proponent of eugenics, a discredited early 20th century movement to breed better humans.
  • The Guy West Bridge, a miniature replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, was dedicated in June 1966. It was built to connect the large Campus Commons development to campus.
  • Herky’s home? In 1998, campus crews found a huge, three-foot hornet’s nest in a long-hidden room in Kadema Hall. At one time, it may have housed as many as 2,000 hornets.

    Today, construction is nearly continuous at Sac State. The most recently completed projects include a 23,000 square-foot Capital Public Radio building and 85,000 square-foot research-oriented facility called Modoc Hall. The 100,000 square-footAcademic Information Resource Center will be completed early next year.


  • Many of Sac State’s early students had served in World War II or Korea. In 1954, for instance, 60 percent of the male students were using the GI Bill. They were older and often married. One early student recalls that while these older students often weren’t interested in typical college activities, they were quite upset when the administration tried to stop their cafeteria poker games.
  • Sac State has always had a high percentage of women compared to most universities. Women comprised more than 43 percent of students in 1953, and by 2003 they made up more than 59 percent of students.
  • Sac State students helped launch the national Shakey’s pizza chain. The first one opened in 1954 on 57th and J Streets near campus and, lacking actual pizza-making equipment, the owners sold only beer the first weekend.
  • An early fraternity activity was “Dink Week” in which freshmen wore green and gold beanies and took orders from older students. Later, sophomores built a stone monument that freshmen had to bow to, but in 1957 the freshmen revolted and a food fight ensued. The rather embarrassing event was covered in detail by the Sacramento Union newspaper.
  • In Sac State’s most exciting basketball season ever, coach Ev Shelton and his team made it to the Division II championship game in 1962. They lost in overtime to Mount St. Mary’s. Coach Shelton had a minor heart attack in the fourth quarter, but did pushups afterward to show he was okay. A crowd of some 2,000 met the team upon their return to Sacramento Airport.
  • Baby Boomers poured onto campus in the 1960s. From 1961 to 1971, enrollment grew from 6,111 to 17,477.
  • A small monument near the Guy West Bridge honors alumnus Mark “The Wing” Williams for throwing a rock 497 feet across the American River in 1985. The long-throw challenge began in a surveying class taught by John German, who says maybe three others have matched the throw since.

    Today, Sac State has more than 28,000 students. It also has 850 full-time faculty and 780 part-time faculty, as well as about 1,300 staff and administrators.

Much of campus lore has been passed down through two histories–one from 1965 that was compiled by speech professor D.E. Moore and one from 1987 by history professor
George Craft, Jr. A significant update to Craft’s history is expected next year.


We’re always looking for fun or insightful stories about Sac State’s past, as well as artifacts such as uniforms and photographs. These stories and items are collected within the Library’s Special Collections and University Archives office, and help us gain a better understanding of our shared history.If you’re interested in donating materials or sharing a story, please contact the Sac State public affairs office at (916) 278-6156 or

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