The Origins of the University Park Campus

The information on this microsite (upcmasterplan.usc.edu) reflects archival data last updated in 2008. For the most accurate current information on the University Village Specific Plan, please visit village.usc.edu.

When USC opened its doors to 53 students on October 6, 1880, the University Park campus consisted of a single building on a seven-and-a-half-acre parcel of land. It was located in an area known as West Los Angeles, near the intersection of today’s Exposition Boulevard and Vermont Avenue.

The previous year, three civic leaders – Ozro W. Childs, a Protestant horticulturist; former California governor John G. Downey, an Irish-Catholic businessman; and Isaias W. Hellman, a German-Jewish banker and philanthropist – had donated 308 lots to the trustees of the university. Some of these lots had been reserved for the actual campus, while others were sold to create an endowment for the fledgling institution.

As enrollment grew, the trustees considered moving USC to a more rural area with room for a larger campus as early as 1905. This debate continued until 1917, when George Finley Bovard (USC president from 1903 to 1921), declared that the university was committed to solving the problems of the city, and that USC would remain “a city institution.”

Early map of University Park campus
This early map of “West Los Angeles” shows the location of the original lots donated to provide the University Park campus as well those that were intended to be sold to create an endowment for the nascent university.

Photo of Widney Alumni House
USC’s first building, now known as Widney Alumni House, opened its doors on October 6, 1880. It stood on a seven-and-a-half-acre parcel of land that would serve as USC’s campus for some 40 years.

Photo of USC's College of Liberal Arts building
USC’s College of Liberal Arts building (later known as Old College) was dedicated in 1887 and heralded as the university’s first “permanent” structure. Ironically, it later was deemed seismically unsound and was razed in 1948.