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Alumni & Friends

SFSU Campus Turns 50

A floral arrangement from the fifties decade reunion
A floral arrangement and a group of guests at the fifties decade reunion
Forty-five records, a jukebox and other fifties memorabilia at the fifties decade reunion
Alumni and friends of SFSU gathered in October to celebrate the campus's 50th anniversary at the Alumni Association's '50s Decade Reunion.

Fifty years ago, San Francisco State College held its first official semester of classes at its new home at 19th and Holloway. Poet W.H. Auden read at the official dedication ceremony on Oct. 16, 1954, in Cox Stadium.

Some 6,500 students were enrolled that fall. "Everybody knew each other," recalls Professor Emeritus Frank Sheehan. Students dining in the Redwood Room snack bar could purchase a slice of pie for 20 cents and a cup of coffee for a dime. The school bulletin discouraged "leisure dress" in the classroom and reminded students that "jeans are for dirty jobs only." Kampus Kapers was a popular annual variety show.

A lot has changed during the past 50 years, says Norma Siani, SFSU director of special events. In 1954, she was a student working inside the tiny building that housed the school’s Student Health Service. "If anyone needed to come out on a gurney, we had to open a window," she says.

Siani remembers the excitement surrounding pep rallies and homecoming dances. And back then, she says, parking was a breeze. "Everybody just parked in the middle of campus. … It was just a big sand dune."

The move to 19th and Holloway was the third for San Francisco State. In 1899, the San Francisco State Normal School first opened its doors on Powell between Clay and Sacramento streets. In 1906, after the school was destroyed by earthquake and fire, a second campus was established at Waller and Buchanan streets.

Dorothy Kuhn-Tarkington, a member of the Class of 1944, remembers the official groundbreaking at Lake Merced: "The band of fog was so thick and dense. We were freezing cold, but it didn’t matter. We were all excited."

According to Sheehan, several other areas were considered before San Francisco State found its permanent home. The Marina district was rejected due to its proximity to the young men stationed at The Presidio, he says with a smile: "It was decided they were too close to the young women at State."

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