Boyle Heights 1887-1896

The founders took great care in selecting a site for Occidental from the various locations offered by large individual land holders and syndicated. The choice was narrowed to two, each about 50 acres in size. One was considerably west of Los Angeles, the other a short distance east of the city limits in Boyle Heights, where the pastorate of Reverend William Stewart Young was located. About $50,000 worth of land was donated by several benefactors, with the largest parcel of 20 acres donated by Mrs. J.E. Hollenbeck, sister-in-law of co-founder James G. Bell. The site was situated on a broad plateau in a tract known as "E.S. Field's Occidental Heights." The campus was borderred by Occidental Aenue to the north and Princeton Avenue to the south, named in honor of the oldest Presbyterian university in the United States. The cornerstone was laid on September 21, 1887. Although established as "Occidental University," the spirit of the institution was distinctly that of a liberal arts college and so renamed Occidental College in 1892.

In October 1888, the first class of 27 men and 13 women entered the new college building. It was, at once, Hall of Letters, administrative office, women's dormitory, president's office, library, laundry, refectory and chapel. The annual charge per student for tuition, board, laundry, light, heat and expenses was $300.

The College's Trustees had also incorporated a preparatory boarding and day school for boys that had opened a few years before. The McPherron Academy was located in the center of Los Angeles on Grand Avenue, between 6th and 7th streets. Later renamed Occidental Academy, that first year's enrollment was 86 students.

The 1888 launch of the College coincided with the disastrous collapse of the land boom in Southern California. Occidental University and other institutions with financial resources dependent on real estate watched their endowments evaporate and dreams burst. For years Occidental struggled to pay its bills; the presidents and many faculty went unpaid, and hard hit parents could not pay expenses. Even the furniture was repossessed then leases back to the school. College enrollment sank as low as siz in 1891, rising to 22 in 1894. If these difficulties were not enough, in 1896 the school's only building was completely destroyed by a fire. The College perservered, but with the building insured for far less than its value, a lack of funds delayed a plan for rebuilding.

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