Harvey B. Schechter, class of 1947, discusses his experiences attending Santa Barbara State College — the predecessor of UCSB — as the school took its place in the UC system at a time when Phelps, Ellison, Girvetz and Buchanan were the names of faculty members rather than campus lecture halls.
Where were the dorms?
When I was a student in the mid 1940s at what would become UCSB, there were no dorms. We students lived wherever we could find a tiny apartment or a house where we could rent a bedroom with or without kitchen privileges. We had to buy our meals wherever we could. After leaving the ranch school, I moved into town, so I didn’t have to travel to campus on a horse. I was lucky to find a very large, old, wooden boarding house on West Islay Street for male college students run by a middle-aged woman and her teenage son. There were 10 of us living two to a bedroom for which we paid $65 a month, which included breakfast and dinner every day except Sundays, when we got only breakfast.
Were we called the Gauchos at the time?
When I enrolled in September 1942 at what would later become UCSB, we were the Gauchos, and our school colors were green and white. After the University of California took us over in 1944, a very popular professor named Harrington (Pop) Wells and some students suggested since we were now part of the UC system, we should change our colors to blue and gold and change our name from Gauchos to Cubs. They thought as Santa Barbara Cubs, we would be in perfect alignment with the Berkeley Bears and the UCLA Bruins, kind of like little brother bears.
I was one of the campus “reactionaries” who argued, “We want to keep our green and white colors and the name Gauchos.” There were big confrontations at the Student Council meetings and lots of letters pro and con to El Gaucho, our weekly campus paper. We said, “Who wants to be like little Teddy Bears or the Chicago Cubs,” and they said, “Gauchos are cowboys in Argentina who never had any connection to Santa Barbara.”
Back and forth gushed a torrent of words until someone suggested a brilliant compromise: If we would accept blue and gold as our colors, they would accept Gauchos. The deal was agreed to and peace returned to the campus. Frankly, we thought green and white were awful colors, but we wouldn’t yield until we could keep the name Gauchos.
How many students were in your graduating class?
Only 204 Gauchos wearing graduation caps and gowns proudly filed into the quad on the Riviera Campus on that beautiful June day in 1947, being greeted by family and friends. My parents and my sister flew out from Brooklyn to watch me graduate. They were joined by two uncles and one aunt who lived in Los Angeles. These days, thousands of Gauchos graduate in numerous ceremonies. Poor Chancellor Henry T. Yang — so many processionals, so many speeches, so many graduates to greet and so many hands to shake. As a trustee of the UC Santa Barbara Foundation, I used to participate in the Social Sciences graduation ceremonies, but time finally caught up with me as it eventually does with all of us, so I graciously decline every invitation to attend the graduation ceremonies.
Have you ever attended a movie at the Riviera Theatre above the Mission? That building was the Administration Building of SB State College, and the movie theater was our auditorium where the students put on hilarious productions such as the annual “Galloping Gaucho Review” (more about this at another time). At present, the Riviera complex is owned by UCSB Trustee Michael Towbes, a very successful Santa Barbara businessman and very generous philanthropist.
What were your administrators like?
They were like friendly uncles and aunts. Provost Clarence L. Phelps was the number-one person on campus equivalent to what Chancellor Yang is today at UCSB. Provost Phelps was a kindly gentleman who often joined the students on the benches in the quad just to chat. To show you how small we were, the 1945 yearbook, La Cumbre, lists 10 “Administrative Office Assistants” including “Mamie S. Miller, Telephone Operator.”
When I had to make a telephone call, I went into a professor’s office, picked up the phone, chatted with Mamie for a moment or two, and then asked her to dial a number for me. At that time, all phone numbers in Santa Barbara had only four digits, no prefixes, no dialing 1 — simply four digits.
In the spring of 1947, I experienced a dramatic sea change on campus because UC was now running the Santa Barbara campus. I remember going into Dr. Willard McRary’s office to call the Hotel Carrillo where I was working as a bellhop. Instead of Mamie Miller’s friendly voice, I was greeted by a very officious female voice asking, “Who is this?” I said, “This is Harvey Schechter.” After all, I was a senior and a BMOC (Big Man On Campus) and everyone knew me. She asked, “Sir, are you faculty?” I said, “No, I am Harvey Schechter.” Then she plunged a sharp verbal knife into my heart, “Sir, these telephones are for faculty use only. You will have to use a public telephone,” and with that she hung up. It was then I knew things would never be the same and it was time to go to UCLA for graduate work. My idyllic Santa Barbara had changed forever.
What were your professors like?
They, too, were like friendly uncles and aunts. At least three of the UCSB buildings bear the names of my former professors: Girvetz Hall (Harry Girvetz), Ellison Hall (William H. Ellison) and Buchanan Hall (Russell Buchanan). Dr. Girvetz often invited students to his home for coffee, cake and conversation. Every exam was a blue book exam, none of the true-false, fill-in or multiple choice nonsense. Teaching Assistants? I had never heard that term until I started at UCLA, and during my second year there, I was honored to be the TA of Dr. Philip Selznick, the best sociology professor in the department.
I truly cannot imagine taking a course in a place like Campbell Hall with many hundreds of students. In fact, when I took Dr. Franklin Fearing’s course “The Psychology of Social Movements” at UCLA, I was shocked to see a room filled with about 120 students.
A word to you wise Gauchos…
First, I hope you find these trips back to yesteryear interesting. Second, I hope you will pose questions concerning things about which you want to know. My email is listed below.
Here are a few things this Ancient Gaucho learned during my 89-year trip through life.
(a) Time races so quickly, one day you are 19 and the next thing you know you are 89. So, please do not “kill” time, an expression we often use. Treasure every moment. The iconic entertainer George Burns, during a performance in Nashville, sang the poignant “I Wish I Was 18 Again.”
(b) The Dean of Oxford University’s Christ Church College told my wife and me the motto of his college consists of 10 two-letter words: “If It Is To Be, It Is Up To Me.” On every campus one can find libraries and places where beer can be had. The choice is yours to make.