Monthly Archives: 10/2014

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Groundbreaking for the University of California, Santa Cruz

Posted on by Emily Vigor

“It must be magnificent in conception, daring and forthright in its architecture – but gentle be the hand it lays upon the land.” – Thomas Church, 1966 memo

Santa Cruz is known for many things: its counterculture, boardwalk, surfers, and banana slugs; the fog, mountains, and ocean; and, of course, the academic institution nestled in a picturesque environment. 2014 will mark the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking for the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) campus. The story of how the campus was created is one of collaboration and admiration for the natural landscape.

The need for a new campus was realized in the late 1950s, and by the next decade the Regents of the University of California set out to designate a central coast site for a new campus to meet the growing needs of the university system. After reviewing several locations, the 2,000-acre Cowell Ranch site was chosen in March of 1961. This idyllic landscape with its towering redwoods overlooking the curve of Monterey Bay was chosen as a sort of “Western Walden Pond.”[1] In February 1962, the newly appointed Chancellor, Dean E. McHenry, pulled together a team of architects to plan the design for the new campus. Headed by the architect John Carl Warnecke, it included the firm Anshen & Allen, architects Theodore C. Bernardi (partner in the firm of Wurster, Bernardi & Emmons) and Ernest J. Kump, as well as Thomas Church, who would oversee the landscaping needs for the campus. McHenry decided that each college should be designed by a different architect “in order to reflect its character as a unique collection of students and scholars with its own particular emphasis.”[2]


Bernardi, Anshen, Kump, Warnecke, McHenry and Church at the Cowell Ranch site, c. 1961.

Their long-range development plan was presented to the Regents in September 1963, and construction began on Cowell College, the humanities college on campus, in October of 1965. The campus was designed to grow slowly with a series of small liberal arts colleges on the UCSC site, adding one almost every year from 1965 until 20 colleges had been built.[3] McHenry and Clark Kerr, president of the University of California, wanted the campus to be constructed in a manner similar to Oxford or Cambridge, with each college being a self-contained unit with its own dormitories, classrooms, and dining hall, a student center, library, and faculty offices. This design was favored, as a way of trying to meet individual students’ needs for identity and belonging within a group.


What was unique for the planning of the campus was the strict adherence to creating an architecture that fit into the landscape and not vice-versa. Church recommended building first at the ecotone, where the forest and meadow intersected, as a way of preserving the “ranch character” of the site and also providing a view of the university from the town of Santa Cruz below.[4] It was Church who posited that the design needed to fit the location, with buildings, roads, and color palettes chosen to work with the natural landscape and not alter it. In a letter to McHenry in the 1963 Long Range Development Plan, Warnecke wrote:


“The Plan conforms both to the unique philosophy set forth in the Academic Program and to the total and unusual demands of the beautiful site – the combination of which made possible the development of a scheme for a campus of great richness and diversity.”[5]


The original vision for UCSC continues to be maintained at the campus fifty years later. The foresight of the original design team continues to ensure the lasting beauty of the campus as it continues to expand.

UCSC 50th Anniversary website:

[1] Gregory, Daniel. “U.C. Santa Cruz: Site and Planning.” AIA Journal. August 1979. Print. p. 34.

[2] p. 37.

[3] Stadtman, Verne A., “Santa Cruz,” The Centennial Record of the University of California. University of California Printing Department, Berkeley, CA. 1967, pp. 503

[4] Gregory, p. 37.

[5] Long Range Development Plan, University of California, Santa Cruz, September 1963.