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SURROUNDINGS / EL SERENO

'Golden Eagle' Is Airborne but Not Yet Soaring

Cal State L.A. students greet the multipurpose center that officials hope will become the campus' heart. Only the kitchen isn't quite ready.

June 05, 2003|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

It looks like a boat. Tastes like a burger. Reads like a book. And soars like a bird.

That's the way El Sereno's newest landmark is being described by those who have watched it take shape for two years at Cal State L.A.

It's the $30-million "Golden Eagle," a sculpture-like structure in the center of the campus that is part food court, part conference center and part campus bookstore.

The three-story, two-section building is made of imported India sandstone, polished aluminum, glass and stucco, and connected by a boomerang-shaped steel awning high overhead. It opened Tuesday to the cheers of students who for years have bought their lunches at temporary food stands and catering trucks parked on campus.

It partway opened, at least.

Turns out work isn't finished in the kitchen areas -- which means it may be another two months before food is actually served there.

So rather than disappoint graduating seniors who won't be around after next week to sample the new campus fare, officials went ahead and opened the bookstore and brought in extra catering trucks and food stands to offer free lunch Tuesday for all.

University administrators say the new center will go a long way to help stabilize what they acknowledge is largely a commuter campus at the junction of the Long Beach and San Bernardino freeways, east of downtown Los Angeles.

All but about 1,100 of the school's approximately 22,000 students drive or take public transportation to class.

"We're trying to create a space for students so they'll want to stay on campus," explained Cal State L.A.'s president, James M. Rosser. "This really is, now, the heart of the campus."

Campus leaders envision the 400-seat food court and its outdoor patio areas as creating a centralized meeting place for students and professors. Several indoor reception rooms and a more formal University Club restaurant run by a chef recruited from Disney World in Florida will also be available for dining and meetings.

A curving outdoor promenade shaded by the boomerang-like canopy separates the ship-shaped bookstore structure from the more boxy dining building. That walkway gives the structure "tremendous see-and-be-seen characteristics," said R. Dean Calvo, executive director of University Auxiliary Services -- the nonprofit group that built the "Golden Eagle."

University departments involved in continuing education, research-grant writing and research-equipment procurement will also have office space in the new structure.

"Public and commercial and academic spaces will interact. That means people will meet and run into one another," Calvo said. "It will be a place for students to hang out and really get together. We're not looking for a rapid turnover of tables.... This can really tie things together."

The best part, according to officials, is that the new center didn't cost taxpayers anything: Thirty-year tax-exempt bonds financed the construction. They will be repaid from bookstore, food court and dining room profits.

All of which added up to a good deal for students enjoying free Carl's Jr. hamburgers and other offerings from future food court tenants while they awaited the "Golden Eagle's" opening Tuesday afternoon.

After a short round of speech-making, students surged inside to view the two-level bookstore, which will be operated by Barnes & Noble. A video made by art professor Tony Longson, which used time-lapse photography to compress the two years of construction into about 20 minutes, was screened for visitors in one of the new reception rooms.

Students praised the design, which was done by the firm of Tate Snyder Kimsey of Las Vegas in conjunction with Los Angeles-based HGA Architects. The brick-like sandstone manages to blend the campus' existing modern-style brick motif with more contemporary-looking curving walls and soaring roofing elements.

"It's really unique -- it gives the campus an edgy look," said Monika Guzman, a junior and social work major.

Heriberto Salazar, a junior studying business management, said he will be happy to see the departure of the two catering trucks that have been parked on campus each day at lunchtime. A tent with dining space for 245 was erected next to one of the trucks. The makeshift eateries were set up after the old cafeteria building was demolished to make room for the "Golden Eagle."

"I'm not going to miss the flies and the birds that were always coming inside there," he said.

Karen Carroll, a senior art major who graduates in March, viewed the free food as a positive omen. "I've been waiting for this ever since I transferred here three quarters ago," she said. "I'm hoping it will be ready before I leave. The vendors contributing food today is a good sign."

But senior Waldir Guerrero, a liberal studies major, peered through the food court windows and was disappointed to see ladders and other equipment scattered through the dining room. Blueprints were still spread over new tables that were shoved to one side of the huge eating area.

"I've only got two more weeks, so I'm not going to get to enjoy this place," Guerrero said. But he said he understood why university officials went to the trouble to open at least part of the campus center before the current school term ends.

With fall quarter class cutbacks, faculty layoffs and student fee increases being threatened, he said, "it's an incentive to get students to come back."

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