Isn’t it strange? When one tries to remember past events, one’s memory seems so much sharper in recalling events of childhood and early adulthood than in remembering events of 10 years ago.
I have not yet come to the year, in this autobiography, of my mother’s death. She lived to the ripe and happy old age of 95½. But in her last years she was becoming noticeably more forgetful. She would ask a question, hear and plainly understand the answer—and then a little later ask the same question. Her mind simply did not retain the knowledge as well as formerly. She had a good mind. That is just the way of all flesh!
Consequently, I am having to question many people—younger people of sharper memory—to help me remember events of sufficient interest to record from 1957 to the present.
Actually, as I write, I am now trying to remember the happenings that were taking place while I was writing the earlier chapters of this serial. The first installment of the Autobiography appeared in September 1957!
Perhaps I should have been writing about what was then happening while it was happening. That, of course, never occurred to me. I had no idea, when I started this story of my life, I would still be writing it many years later. Actually, I think I vaguely envisioned it lasting for perhaps 10 or 12 installments. But the response showed readership interest, and I began filling in more details.
The Campus Expands
Through 1956 and 1957 the Ambassador College campus in Pasadena began expanding with increasing momentum.
During the lifetime of multimillionaire Hulett C. Merritt, we had envisioned our campus as occupying the area beginning on the north with Mayfair, and the half-block dead-end street of Mentoria Court, and south to Del Mar Boulevard. As I mentioned earlier, the idea of Mr. Merritt’s fabulous mansion ever becoming a part of the college simply had never occurred to me.
But with the acquisition of his property in 1956, our whole concept of the future campus was altered. Immediately on acquiring this superb property, we conferred with city officials for a use permit for a change of occupancy. Changing the mansion from a private dwelling into a college classroom building brought it under a different code.
We were required to install a fire sprinkler system throughout. Mr. Merritt had built a penthouse on the flat-roofed central portion of the building, with an elevator running from the basement to the penthouse. We were required to remove the penthouse, or come under a different code applying to three-story buildings that would have necessitated excessively expensive alterations. We were required also to seal off the elevator so it could not be used.
A Real Scare
Next, the city inspectors threw us a real scare. There is a code which requires all public buildings to be reinforced against earthquakes. Pasadena is almost directly over the famous San Andreas Fault. It is “earthquake country.” Since Mr. Merritt had built his mansion long before this code was introduced it was naturally assumed the building had not been constructed to conform to this strict code. It was going to cost a fortune to add this reinforcement—if indeed it could be done. We faced the possibility of having to demolish the building and build another, or give up using the property altogether.
City inspectors made a series of tests. They bored through the outside walls at certain points, and looked into the interior walls. We had good news. They found the building had been constructed far beyond code requirements.
Our relief was only temporary. Next, inspectors said the mortar used 50 years ago would not conform to present standards. Once again we had good news. Tests showed the mortar equal to or superior to present standards. Next, they insisted on testing the bricks—but they, too, met all required standards.
Finally, in December 1956, city engineers approved classroom usage of the building. But that did not mean we could start holding classes then. The sprinkler system had to be installed—a major plumbing operation requiring several months. There was serious question about the ornate dual winding staircases. They did not conform to code for our new use. On this point we argued strenuously. To remove those staircases would destroy the beauty of the building. Finally, city officials agreed to let them remain, provided we build a new outside stairway on the west portico. The pillars on that half-circle portico had to come down—more earthquake regulations. A rear staircase had to be taken out.
For several months work was proceeding to put the newly named Ambassador Hall into condition for classroom usage. My elder son, Dick, set up his office in one of the future second-floor classrooms. One or two other men set up temporary offices in other rooms. This usage, of course, was permissible while the work on the building was in progress.
Certain other remodeling had to be done—like providing adequate restrooms, refinishing much of the fabulous wood paneling, certain painting, a complete remodeling of the rear first floor wing into home economics labs. It was finally more than two years after acquiring the property that it became our finest classroom building. It was first opened to classes with the opening of the 1958–59 school year, early September 1958.
It had been a lot of work, accompanied by anxiety and suspense—but it was worth it. Few institutions have a building so elegant and with such magnificent grounds. Actually we had a multimillion-dollar property acquired for less money than the ornate iron fence around the South Orange Grove Boulevard front would cost today. It had come to us for a very small fraction of its actual value.
Our entire concept of the future campus was now greatly altered. We knew the campus eventually would have to include the four-block area from Green Street on the north to Del Mar Boulevard on the south—and from “millionaire row” South Orange Grove Boulevard on the west down to the Union Pacific railroad tracks on the east—a 12-square-block area.
Earlier we made mention of the acquirement of Manor Del Mar, our finest men’s student residence. This had been the mansion of Lewis J. Merritt, father of Hulett C. Merritt. It also was built with rare and beautiful wood paneling. It also had spacious grounds and a sunken garden. Here also we were required to install a fire sprinkler system throughout. This fine property, also, had come to us at an exceedingly low price—actually a fraction of its present value.
New Office Building
From this time, we were in the process of gradual acquisition of additional properties within our ultimate campus area.
Next, by donation, the college acquired a two-story building on the northwest corner of Vernon and Camden Streets, one block east of Ambassador Hall. This building had housed Jensen’s Furniture Store.
Meanwhile we had completely outgrown our circulation and mailing department quarters, and our little printing shop. These departments had occupied the ground floor of our administration building. I have explained before that this building, part of the original initial property purchase, had been built as horse stables, with servants’ living quarters on the second floor. Later the large center room on the ground floor had been converted into a four-car garage, with servants’ living rooms on each side of it. We converted the larger center room into our main workroom, for mailing list files, and mailing room; and the rear rooms into one room for our printing department.
We then operated two small Davidson duplicating machines as presses. We printed all of our booklets on these. Type was set by an outside firm. We had the small hand-lever paper cutter, and the small folding machine we had brought from Eugene, Oregon, also in this small printing shop.
After remodeling the Jensen’s Furniture building to our needs, we moved the printing shop into the rear part of it, and the circulation and mailing department into the front portion of the ground floor. This more than doubled our floor space for these operations. But the Work was growing—at the average rate of 30 percent increase each year. It wasn’t long until we had to partition off the second floor into rooms and offices, and expand these departments into that.
In January 1958, when we moved into this building, we installed two small-size Miehle presses. But to us, then, after some years with the little Davidson duplicating machines, these seemed like great giant presses! Yes, they made us realize the Work was growing!
1957, 1958 and 1959 were years of gradual expansion and growth on the Pasadena campus.
As the campus little by little expanded, with occasional additional property purchases, we found ourselves in a situation of trying to operate a liberal arts college with neighbors living next door, across the street, and sprinkled here and there in between us.
Ambassador students always have been exceedingly well behaved. We were making every effort to keep noises down and to avoid disturbing neighbors. I’m sure we did a more than creditable job at this. Nevertheless, our student body was growing every year.
As careful, courteous and considerate as our students tried to be, a few neighbors became irritated at times.
Once the students were putting on a short play in the Tempietto, which forms the stage, or platform, for our “garden theater,” in what we have called the Lower Gardens. Two elderly ladies living across the street called the police. Soon a police car drove up. The officers only grinned when they saw what was going on, asked us to do our best to keep noises at a minimum, and asked if they could stay for a while and see part of the show. They explained that even though they disliked to interfere, when a complaint came in they had to investigate.
A short time after that we were having an afternoon wedding in the garden theater. There have been many of these, since. I looked across the street, and sure enough the two elderly ladies were sitting on their front porches. Ah-ha! Were we going to have the police called out to stop the wedding?
Just before time for the wedding ceremony, while guests were beginning to arrive, I walked across the street, smiling, and asked the two ladies if they would honor the young couple by attending the wedding. I have always noticed that women never outgrow their interest in romances of young people and weddings. The ladies graciously accepted, and I escorted them across the street and ushered them into seats. They could not have seen any of it, otherwise, because our garden theater is secluded by high trees and thick shrubbery along the street side.
These ladies became very friendly and never again raised any objection to any student activities.