By students, for students: Spotlighting the class gifts on campus

Nikhar Arora/Staff

From that one iron-oxide-green drinking fountain we see after stumbling out of the wrong end of Dwinelle Hall to the stairs we climb every day when hurrying to class in VLSB to our most recognizable campus(nile) installations, UC Berkeley’s alumni classes have contributed to many aspects that, be they in obscurity, notoriety or majesty, make their mark upon the campus.


A bench for an ax

According to legend and The Daily Californian archives, there used to exist a large, wooden, C-shaped bench beside the stairs leading up to the Campanile. Dubbed the “Senior C,” it was constructed by the Class of 1898 in its graduating year and designated as the new unofficial gathering place for senior men.

Despite the graduating class’s best intentions, the practice of congregating beside an uncomfortable piece of furniture with no shade and a high likelihood for splinters was not as appealing to the successive seniors, even if the furniture in question was shaped like a “C.”

After enduring a few months as a campus inside joke and being routinely called “the fence” in light of its uncomfortable, nonfunctional status as a bench, the Senior C disappeared forever on the night of April 25, 1899.

UC Berkeley students proceeded to express their ambivalence and gratitude toward the thieves, with one student commenting, “That fence was the worst false alarm in college. If anyone wanted to make kindling to warm cold feet, they were welcome to it,” while another claimed, “… the next class has been relieved of the embarrassment of demolishing it.” The then-president of the ASUC was particularly vocal: “… we shall certainly make no attempt to recover so worthless a possession.”

Stanford, from which UC Berkeley had just stolen both a string of athletic and academic victories as well as the famous Axe, was widely believed to be the perpetrator, and campus students took particular pleasure in ridiculing the idea that the “disgrace to the campus” was considered the Axe’s equivalent by uninformed Stanford students.

According to Harvey Helfand’s “The Campus Guide: University of California, Berkeley,” the Jubilee bench present today was installed by the Class of 1897 near the site of the original Senior C upon the graduates’ 25th anniversary. This time, the C-shaped bench, inscribed with, “in gratitude and loyalty to our Alma Mater,” is made of stone. It recalls the booming, exuberant spirit of the campus that still persists today.

In remembrance and recollection

2002benches_nikhararora_staffThe largest grassy knoll on campus, popular for a sunlit game of Frisbee or even a nap, used to house a collection of temporary wooden classrooms, known as T-Buildings, according to Helfand’s guide. These structures were amassed in front of Doe Library and completely blocked the library’s beautiful north entrance from view.

When plans for Main Stacks were rolled out in 1981, according to Helfand’s book, the architects decided to maintain a green space in the area above the underground bookshelves. The Landscape Heritage Plan published in 2004 described this space as meant to be “conducive to personal reflection and quietude as well as informal leisure activities … with the facade of Doe Library as an inspirational backdrop.”

As welcomed as this vision was, however, the actual creation of a glade was only made possible by the donations of the “War Classes” of 1945, 1946 and 1947 upon their reunions, Helfand wrote. Named and grouped together as such for their common experiences learning during and serving in wartime, these distinguished scholars gave more than 1 million dollars to dedicate the glade and an attached reflecting pool to those served in World War II.relfectingpool_nikhararora_staff

The end result — a beautiful reconfiguration of campus ringed by trees — was completed in 1998, according to UC Berkeley’s online map, with the large metal seals being placed into the walkways around it as acknowledgement.

Other memorial sites given in dedication during class campaigns include the World War I memorial bench outside the entrance to the Campanile, given by the Class of 1920; the Navy ROTC bench near Haas pavilion, given by the ROTC classes of the early 1940s; and the benches bearing messages of reflection in the wake of 9/11 around the Mitchell Monument, given by the Class of 2002. They, in more ways than one, offer students a gift of peace, a sit-down with the past that lasts a moment — or a century.

A gateway to education

The iconic columns safeguarding the campus exit to La Val’s, Chez Panisse and Safeway didn’t always stand tall and slightly wind-worn. For years, the area at the intersection between Euclid and Hearst avenues was an eyesore collection of miscellaneous parking spots and haphazard sidewalks, according to a document titled “The Class of 1954 Gate Competition: University of California, Berkeley.”

The shift came when, at then-chancellor Ira Michael Heyman’s suggestion, the Class of 1954 mobilized and funded the gate’s creation for its 35th reunion. The class campaign ultimately raised 350,000 dollars for the gate and 400,000 dollars for the sponsorship of an endowment chair, totalling the then-largest alumni class contribution to the university. The Class of 1925 also joined in supporting the cause, having previously been set on funding a northside gate as well, and contributed donations from a class member’s bequest of monies.northgate_nikhararora_staff

In order to settle on a design, the class campaign Gift Committee elected to hold an international model competition, but with one specific requirement: One of the members of the design team must be a UC Berkeley graduate. The final blueprint selected in 1988, that of the San Francisco-based architects Gary Demele (Class of 1974, according to Helfand’s guide) and Robert Olwell, was ultimately completed in 1990. As Helfand wrote, its neoclassical molding designs recall the campus’s more historical buildings, and its lantern-like top, which lights up at night, parallels a vision of the present — and perhaps the future.

Appropriately, the class placed a 1950-54 capsule of memorabilia and student recollections under the engraved seal between the two pillars, to be opened at a yet-indeterminate time.

Gifts of the present

As the graduating classes neared and entered the 21st century, the practice of sponsoring grand installations have been largely replaced by highly individualized class funds and gift campaigns. A graduating (or graduated) class may choose to give to whatever aspect of the university they choose, and the amount that students from the same class donate will be factored into a total “class gift” that will in fact benefit many different parts of the campus.

According to Director of Development, Class Giving Tammy Spath, for the past 20 or so years, gift giving has been less focused on physical structures.

“Each class gives what’s meaningful to them and benefits the school,” Spath said.

Spath explained that collective class gifts today largely involve sponsoring advancements in academics, such as naming endowments and chair positions, or contributions to the university libraries.

According to Mark Twain Project Online, the Class of 1958, on its 50th anniversary, donated a significant sum for the maintenance of the Mark Twain Papers along with several rare manuscripts, including an original edition of the author’s autobiography.memorialglade_nikhararora_staff

The Classes of 1962 and 1963 contributed to the renovation and construction of the Moffitt and Doe Libraries respectively, also as their 50th anniversary gifts. According to the UC Gifts and Endowment Office’s record of donation from 1868 to 1976, the Classes of 1927 to 1935 made their gifts in loan and scholarship funds about the time of the Great Depression. Likewise, alumni today prove their longstanding connection to the campus and its student body by upholding the dedication to education through their gifts when, in a time of budget cuts and enormous deficits, it seems even the school cannot.

The next time that we’re strolling past the glade, walking through North Gate or ambling down Campanile Way, we may take a moment to center ourselves in our space. Near-150 years of graduated classes form the foundations of a university, stone by stone, brick by brick, building from the ground up.

Contact Anna Ho at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anna_j_ho.

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