Bird's Eye View of Occidental College, Eagle Rock, CA

A drawing of Occidental's Eagle Rock campus by the architect Myron Hunt

Building Occidental: The Road to Eagle Rock

Today's view of Occidental as a liberal arts college in urban Los Angeles closely connects it with its current Eagle Rock location. It was always so. One hundred and twenty-five years ago, Los Angeles was a rough and ready place with a population of barely 50,000. In 1887, the city was expanding and real estate was selling at premium prices. 

Education was largely thought of as primary schooling. Opportunities for higher education were limited. The California State Normal School was a teaching college founded in 1862. Two private schools, University of Southern California and St. Vincent's College, were the only institutions of higher learning in the city. Occidental College, originally named Occidental University, was to be the third.

Occidental was founded in Boyle Heights a few blocks outside the city limits in 1887 by Presbyterian community leaders with the support of the Church. They opened with confidence and a secure endowment of land to sustain its operations. The real estate values crashed. The College struggled through the severe recession of the 1890s. In 1896, it lost its only building to a devastating fire. Despite these circumstances, the trustees resisted many enticements to move out of Los Angeles or merge with larger institutions.

Occidental College remained committed to Los Angeles. It moved north to Highland Park and then to Eagle Rock. On our 125th anniversary, we look back to the formative years of campus life in its three homes.


Curators: Dale Ann Stieber, Eric Warren, class of 1969, Anne Mar, Alana Lemon, Class of 2011

Exhbition Design by Eric Warren, Graphic Design by Noah Kennedy, Class of 2011, Printing by Davis Blueprint Company, Lincoln Heights, Website design by Sofia Swanson, Class of 2020

Special Thanks to Eagle Rock Valley Historical Society, Thelma Covarrubias, Ray Jr, Covarrubias, Helena de Lemos, Kate Dundon, Robert Kieft, Jean Paule, Dr. Andrew Rolle, James Tranquada, Richard Anderson

The curators wish to acknowledge their debt to Robert Glass Cleland. Dr. Cleland, Class of 1907, was Professor of History (1912-1943), Dean of the Faculty (1930-1943), Trustee (1946-1947) and a prominent historian of Califonia and Latin American History. He wrote The History of Occidental College 1887-1937. Much of our historical account is drawn from his text.

Research Assistance: Glen Creason; Los Angeles Public Library; Kenn D. Bicknell, Dorothy Peyton; Grey Transportation Library and Archive; Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority; Charles Fisher; Highland Park Heritage Trust; Paul R. Spitzzeri; Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum

Unless otherwise credited, images are from the Occidental College Library Special Collections & College Archives

Building Occidental: The Road to Eagle Rock is made possible by gifts to the Occidental College Library