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The founding of Occidental College was a landmark in the growth of the city of Los Angeles and of a population interested in supporting cultural and educational institutions. On March 17, 1887 the Los Angeles Times carried the first public mention of Occidental in the headline: "Los Angeles, Fastest Growing City in the West to Have a New University." The initial location of the College was in Boyle Heights, followed by a Highland Park location beginning in 1898. As the college continued to grow, it dissolved its association with the Presbyterian Church in 1910, and a site for a larger campus was sought. Eagle Rock, a newly incorporated and growing city a few miles from downtown Los Angeles and served by the Los Angeles Railway streetcar system, was chosen as the ideal site for the establishment of a larger residential campus. The design for the campus and its buildings began as early as 1909, and between 1912 and 1940 Myron Hunt designed 21 campus buildings and a number of unrealized plans for additional buildings. While the campus core follows Hunt's original plan, the plan was modified and did evolve, even while under his direction.
The Hunt designed plan demonstrates that the founders of the college, the early administration and trustees, and the architect shared a vision of creating a university and a campus on par with the prestigious universities in more established parts of the country. Myron Hunt's campus plan represented an attempt to bring the traditions of private colleges to Los Angeles and to meld those traditions with the culture of a dynamic and growing urban environment.
Myron Hunt was born in Sunderland, Massachusetts, was raised in Chicago, and attended Northwestern University before graduating from M.I.T's architectural school in 1893. His early career was spent in Evanston, Illinois, where he worked for the Chicago office of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge. In 1903 the Hunt family moved to Pasadena, California and in 1904 Hunt joined Elmer Gray in an architectural practice in Los Angeles. The firm designed the initial Beaux Art campus plans of both the California Institute of Technology (then known as Throop College) and Pomona College, and was responsible for the designs of the buildings on both campuses, including Throop Hall (1910) at Cal Tech and Bridges Hall of Music (1915) at Pomona College. While with the firm of Hunt and Gray, Hunt was also responsible for the design of a number of notable buildings in the Pasadena and Los Angeles environs, including the home of Henry E. Huntington (1903), the Wattles Mansion (1907), and the Huntington Art Gallery (1910). These designs relied on the classicism of traditional Beaux Art design with references to the more regional influence of the Mission or Spanish Colonial Revival style, producing what is often best described as a Mediterranean style. In 1910, the Hunt and Gray partnership dissolved and Hunt continued with the contract for the design of Occidental College. After 1920, Hunt formed a partnership with Harold C. Chambers and was responsible for the design of the Rose Bowl stadium (1920), the Hollywood Bowl (1926), the Ambassador Hotel (1921) and the Pasadena Public Library (1927). While the firm's name appears on the majority of the architectural drawings from 1920-1940 pertaining to the design of Occidental College, it was Hunt who was responsible for the buildings' design and the evolution of the campus plan.
Clearly, the design of the campus and its buildings was meant to evoke a sense of the college campuses with which Hunt and the public would be familiar. While very similar to his campus plans for Cal Tech and Pomona College, the plan is clearly derived from his the Beaux Art training at M.I.T., his knowledge and experience with the designs for the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition, and the Daniel Burham 1909 plan for Chicago. Through his work with Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge, Hunt would have had intimate knowledge of the campus plan for Stanford University and other similarly Beaux Arts designed campuses from the 1890s, including Columbia University, the University of Chicago, and in California, Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.
Today the campus remains much as the founders envisioned it. Firmly rooted in what is now the city of Los Angeles, Occidental is a premier small liberal arts college on par with those institutions that provided the model for it. The campus plan, architecture, and landscape provide a cohesive campus environment characteristic of the idealized academic institutions of the period.
The buildings of Occidental College sit firmly in the middle of Hunt's career and among its structures, one can see elements of both his early training and designs and the evolution of his style as seen throughout his body of work in the Los Angeles area. Beginning with the initial design of the campus in 1909, Hunt's sketches illustrate a clearly articulated vision and great uniformity among the buildings. All conform to a fully developed Beaux-Art Classicism situated on a cross-axial plan. Only red tile roofs reference a regional interest in Hispanic architectural styles and an eventual leaning towards a more Spanish-Colonial revival style for the campus.
As his work for the college continued, the architectural design evolved into a more loosely organized style, with less symmetry, more picturesque details, and period revival elements such as colonnades, towers, staircases, and decorative ironwork. Residential buildings, especially those built earliest, incorporated sleeping porches, large public rooms with windows and doors opening to the outdoors, and wide hallways to facilitate air circulation. Hunt was well known as an advocate and authority on the benefits of the Southern California fresh air to cure and prevent an assortment of respiratory illnesses, and the ways in which architecture could capitalize on these benefits.
Principle buildings designed by Myron Hunt include:
Johnson Hall (1912-1914)
Fowler Hall (1912-1914)
The first two campus buildings constructed, and the location of classrooms, lecture halls, the original administrative offices, and the first campus chapel. Along with Swan Hall, Johnson and Fowler have the most clearly traditional Beaux-Art styling. Built upon a heavy base with grand two-story ionic pilasters articulating the walls, a third story is separated from those below by a lintel. Each building features a red tile roof that invokes the Mediterranean style. The buildings form the core of the campus and articulate the central campus quadrangle. The original plan called for a colonnade to connect the buildings to the central administration building.
Swan Hall (1912-1914)
The first residence hall completed and the only one in the location near the front of campus as sited in Myron Hunt's original campus plan of 1909.
President's House (1922)
A deviation from the character of the majority of campus buildings, its Federal style is a stylistic nod to the popularity of the assorted period revival styles of the 1920s and to many of Hunt's own residential designs. The design was probably influenced by the then president's personal stylistic preferences.
Girl's Gym (1922)
The only campus building in the Arts and Crafts style, it harkens to earlier work by Hunt and his designs for the open-air Polytechnic School in Pasadena.
Orr Hall (1925)
The first women's dormitory, the building is much less classically Beaux-Arts with a more asymmetrical organization and design. The more picturesque elements such as colonnades, towers, and staircases were likely assumed more fitting of a woman's dormitory and also became more characteristic of his later campus buildings, which were of smaller scale or more residential in character than the earlier buildings.
Bird Hillside Theater (1925)
A large reinforced concrete amphitheater. As pictured in his original plan, colonnades give the theater a decidedly classical styling, but the later design produced a much more utilitarian and austere effect.
Freeman Union (1928)
While located in the central quad directly opposite the library, the building reflects the more Spanish Colonial Revival style of Hunt's later campus designs. Extremely picturesque when viewed from the quad, it featured a clock tower, flowing staircases, a large interior courtyard, and a grand dining room with a high beamed ceiling, tall arched windows, and batchelder tile drinking fountains.
Booth Music and Speech Center (1929)
Taylor Pool (1930)
Both buildings continue with the use of the smaller scale, more Spanish-revival and less Beaux-Arts style seen in Hunt's later and less prominent campus buildings. Both feature courtyards and colonnades, with the pool actually surrounded as if it were a courtyard itself.
Comptroller's House (1932)
Dean's House (1932)
The Monterey-Revival style of both buildings set them apart from the Mediterranean style of the other buildings but clearly relates to the more Spanish-Colonial revival styles of the residence halls. The design of the buildings with their large verandas also works well within Hunt's design affinity for access to fresh air and open circulation.
Together with the college plan, the design of the buildings provides a unified and cohesive campus that reflects the traditions of college architecture, the personal training of the architect, contemporary ideas of the nature of civic design, and the influence of regional design constraints and stylistic preferences. The design served to express the vision of the founders of the college and of the architect.
Cleland, Robert Glass. The History of Occidental College, 1887-1937. Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1937.
Historic Photographs of the Occidental College Campus. Special Collections, Mary Norton Clapp Library, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA.
Myron Hunt. "Occidental College, Architectural Drawings and Plans." Original correspondence with architect, contracts, architectural plans and drawings. Special Collections, Mary Norton Clapp Library, Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA.
"The Myron Hunt, Occidental College, Image Collection: Architectural Drawings, Plans, and Historic Photographs of the Myron Hunt Designed Campus of Occidental College." Online. Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA. http://winterandhuntcollection.oxy.edu .
Rolle, Andrew F. Occidental College: a Centennial History, 1887-1987. Los Angeles: Occidental College, 1986.
Winter, Robert. Myron Hunt at Occidental College. Los Angeles: Occidental College, 1986.