At the end of the fall semester in 2016, the P-Building at Long Beach City College was closed in order to undergo a long-delayed interior renovation, budgeted to cost about $8.5 million. Originally called “The English Building,” it was the first permanent structure completed when the Carson Avenue campus opened for the 1935-36 school year. Designed in a Spanish colonial revival style with tile roof, an interior courtyard, and its own tower, it was the face of Long Beach Junior College until the construction of the A-building tower in 1951. In its eighty years of service, the building has had only minimal work done. The roof and windows were replaced in 2005. The carpet and interior paint have more seniority than any faculty member in the building–the most senior faulty was hired in 1989. Now that the city has passed three bond measures to update LBCC facilities, it seems quite appropriate that the oldest building on campus is finally getting an interior makeover.
The move out of the building in December was bittersweet. The building desperately needs new rest rooms. The classrooms comfortably hold about 20 students, and all of our classes have at least 28. The VCRs aren’t really useful anymore. And in many places, especially after it rains, there is a rather funky aroma. But the old building had character and charm that are unlikely to survive the remodel.
I was one of the representatives from the English Department at meetings with the various architectural teams working on this project over the last ten years. In our meeting with the first architects, they told us that their priority was to preserve the distinct character of the building, especially the unique woodwork and cabinetry. In the final meetings with the current team, when we tried to argue for preserving transom windows, a skylight, exterior doors, or historical ironwork, we were told that these features had to be removed because they did not conform to uniform college design and safety standards.
As soon as an institution disrupts the historic fabric of a building, it must submit to a battery of state and local review that has little sympathy for historical significance. The architects and engineers on this project, currently headed by Steinberg Architects, have done an admirable job adapting the historical building to the current standards and regulations that govern a public educational facility. The new design will be far more accessible to disabled students. The new courtyard will include a stage area for outdoor events. The classrooms will be fitted with current technology (motorized screens and projectors that link easily with whatever devices we bring to class). We will finally get our new paint and our new carpet.
But we are going to lose a number of beautiful trees. A truckload of vintage furniture has already been hauled away, and there are a host of quirky details that won’t be there when we get back. My project with this blog is to preserve a few of those details.
I found many historic photographs in the SAGA yearbooks that the college published through the late 1950s. These yearbooks are currently preserved, along with other college memorabilia, in a huge safe in the college library. I have supplemented these images with more recent pictures of the building, most taken in the final months of 2016, especially those that Jerome Thomas took at the open house we held in December. I have also included drawings from the 1934 plans for the building.