Campus LifeCulture

City College’s history unfolds in “The Campus History Series”

By Diana Chuong


City College is more than just a community college as authors Julia Bergman, Valerie Sherer Mathes and Austin White revealed in the Arcadia local history book, “The Campus History Series.”


City College was formerly a school for juvenile delinquents which later became a jail. However the school’s founder Archibald Jeter Cloud was successful in his vision in transforming it into a junior college. In 1946 City College was placed among the first 10 of the best educational institutions in America by “Look Magazine.” The school was also ranked first in the state as well as eleventh in the nation in 1950.


The book takes the reader through a montage of black and white photographs as it tells City College’s rich history. Since it opened its doors in 1935 the campus and their faculty has given their heart and soul into the students as well as the college. The school has been fortunate to have dedicated members since the very beginning to help transform it into the wonderful institution it is today.


What Inspired Everyone To Write The Book?

“It was CCSF’s 75th birthday. I thought we needed to do something and the college had no money so I suggested to Julia that we put together an arcadia of the history of the college because they pay for everything. All we had to do was put in our time”


How long did it take to compile everything?

“Overall it took less than a year because I paced myself, but I do wish we had more photographs available. The archive wasn’t that detailed. We had people bring in photos. I didn’t want to concentrate on teachers of departments because I wanted the main focus to be something that would last indefinitely; something that wouldn’t go out of style.”


“We wanted to have as broad as possible to show the departments, the buildings, the time period, to show the student activities. We wanted to show something that didn’t have to be re-done and would stand the test of times”


How were the photos collected?

“I went up to the archives in the library. I looked through magazines for photographs. Once we had the photos we knew how to tell a story because you can’t tell a story unless you have photographs. Once we’ve selected, we can decide which story we want to tell.”


“We select the photographs first and see what we have the most of and then you organize a chapter around that. It’s the photos that limit you to the topics.”


“We chose not to do it by departments, but rather time periods. We did all the buildings on campus because. Julia had a lot to do with gathering information on the Diego Rivera so we made it into an entire chapter. She’s the one who selected all the photographs for that section. Some of the photographs already had captions, but we had to make up the ones that didn’t.”


What were some issues you faced writing along the way?

“The problem though was there were some wonderful photographs that we couldn’t use or were in pamphlets so we didn’t have copies of them. At one time, the college was part of the SFUSD so Julia went down to the public library and chose photographs — however, we did have to pay for those”


“There were a lot of photographs we would not use because we didn’t have a copy of it and they couldn’t make a copy of it since it was a pamphlet. We just didn’t have a large enough collection”


After reading the book, it seems City College was always ahead of its time in terms of being the first in the coast/ country to start certain departments and studies. How does that come to be?

“It probably has to do with the faculty we drew here. A lot of people, even with PhDs, come to City College because they wanted to live in the City. I’m going to assume the reason we’re ahead of everything is the because of the faculty and the passion they brought here.”


“I think San Francisco draws people who want to live here and if you teach at a Community College and you’re teaching one class or two classes…subject matter and you have to repeat yourself, you’re going to want to have something different to do so you come up with these clever classes and new departments”


Where do you plan on going from here? Are there possible new books in the future?

“Yes, I already have a co-authored book on the California Mission Indian Agents that’s going to be published in October by the University of Oklahoma press. I’m also working on a biography of Charles C. Painter who was the Washington D.C. lobbyist for the Indian Rights Association”


Illustration by Elena Stuart
Illustration by Elena Stuart
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