Saturday, September 23, 2017

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The school’s first “campus” was located in downtown San Diego on the southwest corner of Sixth and F streets. (Credit: SDSU Special Collections and University Archives) The school’s first “campus” was located in downtown San Diego on the southwest corner of Sixth and F streets. (Credit: SDSU Special Collections and University Archives)
 


SDSU Turns 120

March 13, 2017, marks the 120th anniversary of the institution that has become San Diego State University.
By Tobin Vaughn
 

In a year in which the university wraps up its highly successful inaugural comprehensive fundraising campaign called The Campaign for SDSU, there is another milestone to celebrate: the 120th anniversary of the institution that has become San Diego State University. On March 13, 1897, California Governor James Budd signed a bill authorizing the creation of the State Normal School of San Diego.

The school’s first “campus” was located in downtown San Diego on the southwest corner of Sixth and F streets. It consisted of rented rooms above a drug store.

Initially intended to train teachers, the San Diego Normal School started with seven faculty members, 91 students, and a curriculum consisting solely of English, history and math. The institution’s first president was Samuel T. Black. A statue of him stands at the southwest corner of the old administration building as a reminder of the university’s roots.

Within two years, what then became known as the San Diego State Normal School moved to a new location on Normal Street in University Heights where its first commencement was held in June 1900. Part of that structure, designed by notable San Diego architect Irving Gill, still stands, but much of it was demolished in the years after the school’s move to its current home on Montezuma Mesa.

“Little quad" becomes top research university

Having recently turned 104, Bill Vogt (’34) is believed to be the last surviving student to have attended classes at the University Heights location. In an interview from March 2016, he recalled the move in 1931 to the current campus during the Great Depression.  

"It was new, but it wasn't elaborate; it was very plain,” Vogt said of the campus which at that time contained only a few buildings. “I don't think we even had a paved parking lot. There was very little lawn space just in the little quad; it was kind of raw."

In 1935, the institution expanded its degree programs beyond teacher education, and San Diego State Teachers College became San Diego State College. The college continued to grow over time, and reached an enrollment of more than 25,000 students during the administration of President Malcolm A. Love. In 1960, the college became part of the newly created California State College system, now known as the California State University system.

Three years later, President John F. Kennedy gave the commencement address at SDSU and received the university's first honorary doctorate—also the first in the CSU system.

In the early 1970s, with legislative approval, San Diego State College became San Diego State University.

Now in its 120th year, SDSU takes pride in more than a century of achievement in education, research and service. The “little quad” has now expanded to more than 300 acres and includes a satellite campus in Calexico, California. SDSU currently boasts 35,000 students, 1,700 full and part-time faculty, and more than 291,000 living degree-holding alumni.

SDSU contributes billions of dollars annually to California’s economy. It is now ranked among the nation’s top 75 public universities and top 150 national universities in U.S. News & World Report’s annual ranking of America's Best Colleges. SDSU also ranks among university leaders in entrepreneurship, study abroad, sustainability, diversity and military veterans.

To learn more of what SDSU has become in its first 120 years, visit Explore SDSU: Open House 2017 on March 18. More information can be found at the Explore SDSU website.