Highland Park 1898-1914
The Trustees selected an eight acre site in Highland Park, midway between Pasadena and the Los Angeles business center. Highland Park was then a sparsely settled community of farmland and ranches.
The first building in Highland Park was erected in 1898 and included classrooms, labratories, administrative offices, library, and an auditorium. The single building served a student body composed of seven men and eight women in the college, and 25 boys of the academy. During the six years until the Hall of Letters was built, the academy was an integral part of the college.
In 1904 the Hall of Letters was erected and the college moved into the new building on Pasadena Avenue. The acaademy remained in the first building, across the Santa Fe railroad tracks. Classes came to a standstill whenever a locomotive pounded through the campus on its regular daily schedule.
For many years the college had neither dormitories nor a dining hall. Many students communted from Pasadena or Los Angeles, but street car service was slow. Other students found accomodations with local families or joined forces to rent houses. Some parents, like those of Robinson Jeffers and Robert Cleland, relocated to support their matriculating offspring. The Cleland home on East Avenue 49 came to be known as "The House," providing a gathering spot for students at all hours.
In 1906, the charistmatic John Willis Baer was selected to head the college. Although a prominent member of the Persbyterian Church, Baer advocated to revise the college charter to separate Occidental from church control, urging the Board to incorporate the school as a nonsectarian institution in 1910. Baer transformed the curriculum and enlarged the faculty by engaging instructors with university rather than ministerial background.
The fortunes of the college steadily improved due to support from alumni and the northeast Los Angeles communities. College enrollment rose from firfteen in 1898 to 221 in 1910. The academy was closed when Franklin High School opened in 1911.
Bisected by a transcontinental railroad and hemmed in by street car lines and four city streets, the campus was eventually compressed by the growing community of Highland Park. As historian Robert G. Cleland described the situation, Occidental faced the choice of finding a new home or dying of slow strangulation. In 1909, the Trustees determined to move.