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Santa Monica College Shows Some Cheek in Looking Back on 60 Years

November 12, 1989|ELLEN YAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a sign of the times when Santa Monica College showed off a nude male centerfold in its official 1973 magazine and voted Goldie Glitters, a man, its homecoming queen in 1975.

"People were saying 'Tsk, tsk,' but it was all part of that time," recalled Dick Dodge, who as the college magazine's adviser got a surprise when he discovered the male centerfold had replaced the poetry, photos and short stories he had proofed.

Those stories and others are being retold a lot these days, as Santa Monica College marks its 60th anniversary.

On Friday, college alumni, students and staff kicked off its year-long celebration of the 60th anniversary at a homecoming ball held at MGM's Filmland Corporate Center. The college will share its birthday with the public in a Holiday Open House in its library Dec. 20.

The community college had humble origins, having opened in September, 1929, on the second floor of Santa Monica High School with 153 students. Then known as Santa Monica Junior College, it was part of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District. The average student was a teen-ager, taking classes before attending a four-year university.

Three years later, it moved to a brick building on the Garfield School site at 7th Street and Michigan Avenue. When that building was declared unsafe for earthquakes in 1933, classes were taught in tents and bungalows--affectionately called Splinterville by the students. There, students were hot in summer, cold in winter and wet when it rained.

The favorite hangout was the Cave, an eatery in the basement of a nearby home. It was a "smoke den of iniquity," the place to see and be seen, the best spot to watch girls go by, according to Herb Roney, vice president of community relations who was a student at the time.

Then, in 1940, the Santa Monica Board of Education bought 16 acres on Pearl Street for the college. Three small name changes later, the college separated from the school district in 1971.

"We started to think more as a college," said Jim D'Angelo, dean of evening and special programs. "We started to branch out. It went from a sleepy little thing to a vibrant institution. Our population also grew. Everybody started going to college for some reason."

Today, Santa Monica College sits on 38 acres along Pico Boulevard and has an enrollment of about 20,000. Its typical student is a woman, age 27, taking classes part time and working part time. Those who have passed through its halls include some big names: Sean Penn, muscle man Arnold Schwarzenegger, Dustin Hoffman and Ali McGraw.

Former students and administrators say the small college has always reflected society and world events and may have been a little ahead of the times.

The centerfold and the queen gained the attention of national newspapers and Walter Cronkite. Cosmopolitan magazine featured actor Burt Reynolds as its nude centerfold about three months before the college nude, but Santa Monica students believe they had the idea first. Also, colleges have veered from voting only for women as their homecoming royalty.

"I think that was a time when people became very open in their thoughts and dress," said Roney. "I think that was magnified in colleges. For the first time, there was strong dissent toward rule." Roney recalled a more humorous side to those days of dissent, telling of a streaker running past him and his coffee-break companion, Gordon Newman, the current dean of admissions.

"Gordon took off like mad, running after him," recalled Roney, laughing. "He kept saying: 'Where's your identification? I want your identification.' "

More than a decade later, Roney laughs at the thought of asking a naked man to pull out identification.

But all in all, says D'Angelo, "It's been a family atmosphere."

"I know people who graduated from here, moved on, wind up with a (doctoral) degree and came back to take a class to be associated with the college."

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