CSUB History

From Beet Fields to a University

It is not too hard to imagine what CSU Bakersfield looked like in its early days – much of the campus is still surrounded by undeveloped land covered in brush. But Ken Secor remembers when the entire space was an agricultural field. “Imagine 375 acres of sugar beets with one dying cottonwood tree out where FACT is. That was the campus when I first saw it in 1967,” he said. 

As Vice President for Administrative Services until his retirement in 1995, Secor helped design the first complex that included the Classroom Building, Lecture Building, Fine Arts, Performing Arts, Faculty Towers, Student Services and Library (now Administration) and Administration (now University Advancement). 

It was a race to build those first 94,000 square feet. When Secor and the first president, Paul Romberg, arrived in Bakersfield in August 1967, all they had was a document from the Chancellor’s Office saying they were authorized to start a university. They had to locate office space, equipment and staff. They operated out of an old grocery store on Kentucky Street in Old Town Kern, then relocated to state-leased offices on California Avenue before moving onto campus in 1970.

Kern County Land Company had donated the 375-acre parcel of land along Stockdale Highway to the state of California for the purpose of building a university campus. The Board of Trustees approved the physical plans in spring of 1969, leaving just a year and a half for the first phase to be built in time to open for instruction in fall 1970.

“Romberg wanted to get started as soon as possible,” Secor said. “When we came, the Chancellor’s Office thought we’d open in 1971 or ’72. But Romberg and I talked – could we possibly open in 1970? I was 34 years old and had never done anything like this before. So I told Romberg, ‘Sure, we can do that.’ It was a miracle. But we opened in 1970.”

The University Expands

Since that time, CSUB has filled half of the 375 acres, adding facilities to accommodate academic programs, student life, and the greater community. Residence halls and Science I opened in 1972, followed by the Romberg Nursing Center in 1973. The center was the first university building in California built without state funds, utilizing a grant from the U.S. Health, Education and Welfare Department, as well as local funding from Tenneco, the Ararkelian Foundation, and The Mrs. Charles Doré Fund.

Many other buildings have been funded by donations, including the Doré Theatre, Todd Madigan Gallery, and the Icardo Center. Originally named the CSUB Activities Center, the building was dedicated in honor of the longtime Roadrunner boosters Jimmie and Marjorie Icardo, who donated more than $2.5 million to support CSUB athletics.

Between 1994 and 1995, the Walter Stiern Library and the Student Union opened, offering students a state-of-the-art research and media center, as well as a social center for student life. The 2000s saw the addition of the Business Development Center and Science III, which greatly enhanced the student academic experience.

After offering classes for five years at Antelope Valley College (AVC) in Lancaster through CSUB’s Extended University Division, the university opened CSUB Antelope Valley, an off-campus center on the AVC campus in 2000. In 2004, the city of Lancaster opened the Lancaster University Center as an additional site for instruction for CSUB Antelope Valley, and an associate vice president was hired to oversee operations. In fall 2017, the campus enrolled more than 500 students. The main Bakersfield campus enrolled about 9,300 in Fall 2017.

Science III, the first science building to be constructed on campus in 30 years, was completed in September 2008. The three-story, 54,000 square foot building offers fifteen laboratories, seven classrooms, and seventy faculty offices, and was built to U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver equivalence

CSUB completed construction and opened its state-of-the-art, 75,000 square-foot Student Recreation Center in 2009. The university’s athletics programs entered NCAA Division I competition starting in the 2010-11 school year after beginning the transition in 2005-06.

In 2013, the engineering modular complex opened and includes laboratory and classroom space. The Dr. Jacquelyn A. Kegley Center for Student Success opened in Modular West.

The Visual Arts Center, opened October 24, 2014, replaced the outdated arts structure built in the late ‘60s. The new 9,000 square foot facility includes specialized studio/lab environments for work in ceramics, sculpture, painting, drawing, and digital art.

In January 2015, students moved into Student Housing East, a three-building housing complex on the northeast side of campus. The complex is a 151,000 square-foot, 113-suite, 500-bed facility provides a significant increase to the 340 spaces available in the original dorms. Student Housing East was built to LEED Gold equivalence.

Faculty and staff in School of Arts & Humanities moved into a new LEED Gold equivalent 13,865 gross square foot Humanities Office Building in fall 2017, a replacement for the seismically deficient Faculty Towers.

All the while, CSUB has shared its grounds with the local community for such activities as the Bakersfield Business Conference, AYSO soccer fields, Southwest Little League fields, and many outdoor concerts and festivals at the Amphitheater.

CSUB has entered into a public-private partnership with Gregory D. Bynum & Associates to build professional office space on the south side of campus. Tenants will be required to have affiliation with the campus, such as providing internships to students. 

The master plan builds out the entire campus to accommodate 18,000 students. There continues to be a great deal of growth potential for the campus.