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SURROUNDINGS LOS ANGELES CITY COLLEGE

New Gateway Will Close the Door on Stadium, Gym

A science and math building, the backbone of a planned entry linked to a subway station, will replace the historic facilities.

October 09, 2003|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

The old gal has faced more makeovers than a plastic surgeon.

Now there's a new wrinkle for Los Angeles City College, the venerable East Hollywood campus that keeps trying to blend the old with the new.

The school started out in 1914 as a teachers college mimicking the Eastern-school look with ivy-covered Italian-style buildings arranged around a formal plaza.

In 1919 it morphed into a four-year, full-service university that was the forerunner of UCLA. It was converted into Los Angeles' first two-year junior college in 1929. During the next decade, it was dotted with boxy concrete classroom buildings constructed by Depression-era WPA work crews.

During the 1950s and '60s, it took on a modern look as buildings were constructed in a sleek, international style. For a time, the junior college shared classrooms with a four-year college being organized there as the predecessor to what today is Cal State L.A.

And now LACC is being reshaped again -- this time to take advantage of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's subway system.

College administrators plan to close the original athletic field and football stadium next month, turning that space into a temporary parking lot. Eventually, historic Snyder Field will be the site of a high-tech science and math building and will serve as the backbone of a new park-like gateway to the college itself.

The landscaped entryway will directly link the center of the 48-acre campus to the subway station at Vermont Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard.

As part of the $147-million redesign, a new track, athletic field and gymnasium will be built on the opposite side of campus. The new gym will replace a circa-1933 fieldhouse next to Snyder Field that is also targeted for demolition.

School officials welcome the changes. They say the new entryway will improve public accessibility and make the campus more inviting. The gym and four other new buildings that are part of the redesign will also enhance the instructional program, according to administrators.

But some LACC alumni who were involved in school sports during the college's heyday as a state and national powerhouse in football, baseball and basketball oppose the demolition.

They contend that Snyder Field and the old gym should be preserved and used for community recreation in a crowded part of town that is in dire need of public sports space.

"Using that field for parking is ridiculous. It's such a beautiful facility," said baseball great Don Buford, who played football at LACC before attending USC and beginning a big league career that led him to the World Series with the Baltimore Orioles in 1969, '70 and '71. Buford, of Sherman Oaks, is now involved with player development for the Orioles.

Duke Russell, who signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers after playing baseball at LACC in 1946, blames the pending demise of Snyder Field and the gym on a controversial lease of the last vacant land on the campus for a private golf driving range.

The nearly completed range, surrounded by a 160-foot-tall fence that towers over the rest of the campus, was approved by the Los Angeles Community College District before voters passed a $1.24-billion bond issue that is paying for the new classroom construction. At the time, officials said they needed the $120,000 a year in rent that the range owner is paying.

"The land being used for the driving range is where the college should put new parking and new classrooms," said Russell, of Hollywood. He said the college should preserve its "historic athletic facilities" for use by the public.

Former sports agent Dennis Gilbert agrees. He was an LACC student in the mid-1960s before becoming famous for negotiating Barry Bonds' $43.2-million contract with the San Francisco Giants.

Gilbert, of Hidden Hills, said college officials didn't look for alternative funding sources before signing the golf range deal or before reducing LACC's athletics program as part of a budget cutback. Eight sports -- half of last year's program -- were eliminated this year. The football program was dropped earlier.

"If they really cared, they'd try to put together a fund-raiser and try to find a way to keep sports," said Gilbert -- a Chicago White Sox executive and member of a group exploring the purchase of the Los Angeles Dodgers. "The income they'll receive from this private developer could probably have been raised if they reached out to alumni like myself."

Some college officials have said that, in retrospect, they wish the driving range deal had not been signed. But the 10-year lease, renewable for up to 35 years, was approved in 1999, before 2001's Proposition A bond issue was passed.

Campus administrators said Snyder Field -- named after William H. Snyder, the founding director of Los Angeles Junior College in 1929 -- must be closed and used for parking now even though new replacement athletic facilities won't be built for several years.

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