Taking first steps
West Los Angeles College was off and running. By April 1970, there were 3,600 total students. Two and a half years later, by the Fall of 1972, there were 5,500 West students, 3,500 during the day, and another 2,000 attending evening classes. The faculty had increased by another 8 teachers. And the campus began to take shape. In the early 1970s, new lighting was installed in the lower parking lot, and major landscaping was introduced to beautify the campus. The initial phase of construction was completed, but was still a far cry from what the campus would one day become.
ATHLETICS: One program that was even more noticeable for its lack of facilities was the Athletic Department. The athletic teams, the Oilers, made do with borrowed or sparse practice and game fields, continuing the pioneering spirit of West.
The football team played its home games at Culver City and Westchester High Schools until 1981. Men’s Basketball and Women’s Volleyball played at Culver City Veteran’s Auditorium until 1994. And though the college had 4 tennis courts, that was not enough for regular practice and match schedule.
Despite this, West’s coaches still produced competitive teams, even winning conference championships. In 1973, Football captured the Western States Conference Championship and would produce a number of NFL players throughout the years including Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon who played for West in 1974 and 1975. Also in 1973, the track team broke 13 school records, leading to an invitation to the State meet where they placed second in the 100 meters. And, the tennis teams won both singles and doubles titles in the Western States Conference.
West’s baseball program began in 1976 and flourished through 1987. (Baseball would then go absent from the college for over 20 years due to budget issues.)
OUTREACH: West’s curriculum would also grow, adding new programs and courses as the population and need grew. This included the addition of the outreach program where West faculty taught courses at various area high schools and community centers. The AT-West program not only helped those taking classes, but helped strengthen relations with UCLA, as well as local Cal State universities. The positive results of that program helped generate the PACE program which gave working adults and other mature students an efficient, prescribed path to transfer to 4-year universities through accelerated classes with a cohort of peers.
TRAVEL & AVIATION: Also added in the 1970s was the Travel Program, preparing students for careers in the expanding travel business. In fact, eight alumni of the West Travel Program along with their professor founded a successful travel agency. Travel was a natural extension of the flourishing Aviation Program at the LAX satellite campus which had a solid relationship with the Los Angeles International Airport.
“THE OILER”: In an age where the rallying unity of student protest was meeting the enthusiasm fostered by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s, All the President’s Men, an important component of any college campus was the student newspaper. West had THE OILER, written and produced by students, and overseen by faculty. What they didn’t have was a dedicated office – at least at first. Soon, a solution was proposed: transform one of the men’s lavatories into an office that could serve as the journalism headquarters.
PERMANENT BUILDINGS: The temporary feel of WLAC would soon have a little more stability. The $12.4 million first phase of permanent buildings for the hillside campus was finally nearing fruition in 1978 after many delays and funding issues. These facilities included the four-story Heldman Learning Resources Center (HLRC), the Career Education Building (CE), the Science Classrooms Building (SC), and additional physical education facilities (PEC, PEC N, PEC S) as well as a Child Development Center (CDC).
Dr. Heldman, who by then was President Emeritus, remarked that “This (permanent construction) is even more important than setting up the college because it means the college exists essentially forever.”
The college might last forever, but holding the position of president never does. Dr. Heldman retired in May 1976. After a brief interim presidency by Dr. Stephen Kane, Dr. Herbert Zeitlin became the second college president.
CHANGE: By the spring semester of 1977, enrollment in day and evening classes had reached 7,400. The student population was increasingly diverse, with many of the students seeking vocational training rather than university transfer. Additionally, many students were entering college knowing little about it and very under-prepared. For many students, one professor recalled, the motivation to enroll was avoiding the Vietnam war. Mirroring the student body, the faculty and staff also became more diverse – more African-Americans, in particular, were hired.
By the mid 1970s, veterans were enrolling at West in large numbers. Despite this, in 1975 West had more women graduates than men, approximately a 60-40 split. Women would continue to be the majority for decades.
Meanwhile, discontent echoed a climate of protest throughout the country, and their voices resonated in the halls of the Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees. After a short time as leader, Dr. Heldman’s successor Dr. Zeitlin was replaced as President by Dr. Masakuzu Jack Fujimoto, effective July 1, 1979.
A UCLA Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate graduate, Dr. Fujimoto had been the first Asian American to become president of a college as president at Sacramento City College two years earlier. He had also held several positions within the District, including Dean of Instruction, Dean of College Development, and Assistant Dean of Instructional Services at Pierce College.
This is an edited excerpt from “West Los Angeles College 1960s through 2010s”