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  Campus Beat LogoFormer University archivist Helene Whitson stands among reels of footage in the J.Paul Leonard Library

Ask Helene

I have heard that Frank Lloyd Wright once offered to design a campus for us. Is that true?
-- Richard Hoffman, chair of history

I don't believe there was such an offer, but I have it on good authority that the architect visited campus while he was working on the Marin County Civic Center. Professor Emeritus Ralph Putzker told me Wright's only suggestion: "Plant ivy." 

What was the original "floor plan" for the campus? Often the architects and planners have a vision for how they want the place to look and function -- perhaps envisioning the large central quad as a community space, like the Greek polis.
-- Toni Mirosevich, professor, creative writing

Interesting you mentioned Greek architecture. The May 15, 1941, edition of the San Francisco News shows a sketch of the ground plan for the new campus at 19th and Holloway. The News commented: "The campus will be the finest in the city when the job's done. The heart of it will be the Greek Theater … planned to seat 3,500 persons on log seats." The theater, of course, never happened. The planners must have gotten wise to the many windy and foggy days we have on campus.

I have been asked by many prospective students why SFSU's mascot is an alligator. What's the story?
-- Patrice Mulholland, coordinator, international outreach services

Ah yes, the Gator/Gater issue. Students at San Francisco State began the search for a mascot as far back as 1922 when the student newspaper, The Vigilante, suggested a cat. Students did not choose a mascot at that time, and the issue of a mascot appeared again in 1931 in the student newspaper, The Bay Leaf, which announced: "It is time for [San Francisco State Teacher's College] to adopt a symbolic animal. Let us choose one that is worthy of our great institution."

One reader suggested the Gater, as in alligator, because "it is strong and we hope our teams have strength. It is well-built and is steadfast, steadily moving toward its goal." The reader proposed the Golden Gater with an "e" to emphasize our San Franciscan location. The Gater beat out its challengers which included a seal, panther, owl, lion, seagull and puma.

Henceforth, The Bay Leaf sometimes spelled the name of the mascot with an "e" -- Gater, and sometimes with an "o" -- Gator. In 1931 the college was engaged mainly in the training of teachers, yet no one brought up the issue of spelling.

Who are Mary Ward and Mary Park, and why are the dorms named after them?
-- Jeremy Atkinson, B.A., '03

Both Marys made significant contributions to San Francisco State.

In 1927, Mary A. Ward (1886–1957) served as acting president of San Francisco State after the death of Archibald Anderson and prior to the appointment of Alexander Roberts. One of the first students to graduate from San Francisco State Normal School, she was instrumental in developing student clubs and the campus newspaper and convinced administrators that the college needed residence halls. Ward was dean of women at the college from 1915 until her retirement in 1951.

Mary Park (1914–2002) was a custodian in the residence halls. Known as "Mother Mary" to many, she was beloved by students in the dorms and by those she trained to be student custodians. Park worked at the University for 30 years. Merced Hall, one of the residence halls, was renamed to honor her in 1981 upon her retirement. It was the first building to be named for a living person and remains the only building named after a staff member.

Can Helene provide tuition figures for the mid-1940s? I suspect it would provide a shocking contrast to the tuition of today.
-- Irv Thomas, attended '46–47

In 1945, San Francisco State students paid a tuition fee of $6.50 per semester.

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