Editor’s note: First in a series of visits to historically significant locations in Orange County.
By Jim Tortolano
Orange County’s most senior institution of higher learning is a “junior” college.
Technically, Fullerton College, established in 1913, is a community college. Mathematically, it is the granddaddy of post-secondary education locally, beating out Santa Ana College (1915) for that title.
FC is also California’s “senior” two-year school, as it is the oldest community college in continuous operation in the Golden State. The school’s roots stretch back over 100 years now, and a stroll through the campus demonstrates how important history and heritage are to the campus on East Chapman Street.
Fullerton College (enrollment over 20,000) sits at the northern edge of Fullerton’s booming downtown, directly adjacent to Fullerton High School, from which it sprung. For 23 years the nascent “Fullerton Junior College” held its classes on the high school campus before moving to the then-14 acre campus next door in 1936.
The architecture of the college reflects its origins in the pre-World War II era. The older structures are classic academic, with colonnades and cupolas. The central area of the campus includes a grassy rectangle on a plan said to be an homage to Thomas Jefferson’s layout for the University of Virginia.
Not all of the college has that classic, ivy halls look. Some of the buildings suffer from the ugly dull-red brick boxy look popular in school construction in the Fifties. But when a major facelift of the campus was launched in the recent decade, kind attention was paid the keeping the unique style of the college.
Gleaming new (but college-traditional) library, science and dining halls buildings make FC look more like an up-and-coming university than a cookie-cutter jaycee.
Over the years, the campus expanded to its present 83 acres (still relatively compact for a community college; Golden West College, with roughly half the enrollment, sits on 144 acres in Huntington Beach), including a large parcel across Chapman, which is traversed by a pedestrian bridge.
Fans of FC claim that its long heritage, architectural uniqueness and close proximity to downtown Fullerton (just a few blocks east of busy Harbor Boulevard) make it a unique kind of college, less of a commuter school than its peers. Tradition is important; the student newspaper (originally The Weekly Torch, now called the The Hornet) can trace its history back to 1923. Alums include former First Lady Pat Nixon and Oscar-winning filmmaker James Cameron.
If you think a college should look like a peaceful place of learning rather than an industrial park or big box store, you might like FC. Like the four-year Chapman University in Orange, it combines heritage and high-tech with a lively nearby downtown.
Nearly all of the 10 community colleges in Orange County offer a wide variety of courses both for vocational and university-transfer purposes; FC is one of few that offers a strong dose of living history as well.
Categories: History of Orange County