In an email sent to the faculty, staff, and students on May 26, 2017, UC Riverside Chancellor Kim Wilcox shared a 100-year-old photograph of The Barn. Today, The Barn is a campus lunch spot where we sometimes treat campus visitors to lunch. But 100 years ago, it was—well—a barn, a working barn on the grounds of the then-ten-year-old Citrus Experiment Station. Nearly 40 years would pass before The Barn and the land around it became the University of California, Riverside. Then The Barn became a noteworthy venue for live music with performers like No Doubt, Sublime, and Doc Watson appearing there. Today it’s mostly a lunch spot, but in his email, Chancellor Wilcox announced plans for renovating the barn next year and returning live entertainment to this historic venue.
Rolling around campus on scooters with my sons this Sunday, I decided to stop at The Barn and take a photograph from roughly the same spot as the 1917 photo was taken. After some trial-and-error in Photoshop, I made a little animation that compares the 1917 barn with the 2017 barn:
Quite a lot has changed over the last century. Perhaps most noticeably, the barren field beside The Barn has been replaced by Campus Drive. Trees have grown, and other buildings have disappeared. But The Barn endures, recognizable with its distinctive roofline and oddly ornamented stacked doors—passage to a long-gone hayloft, maybe?—now sealed shut and painted brown.
I was struck by the importance of The Barn in substantiating the history of UC Riverside and defining its role in the ten-campus UC system. When The Barn was built, UC Berkeley was already almost 50 years old, and no one will argue that the campus that deserves to be called “Cal” is Berkeley. And the University Farm School (the forerunner of UC Davis) was founded two years before the Citrus Experiment Station in Riverside, and the Anna Blake School (the forerunner of UC Santa Barbara) dates back to 1891. But The Barn is older than practically anything else in the ten-campus University of California system. The Barn is easily older than UCLA, which was founded two years after The Barn was built and became part of the UC System in 1927. By 1954, when The Barn became part of the newly-formed University of California, Riverside, there was no UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, UC Irvine, or UC Merced. The Barn witnessed the ascension of the University of California to become the world’s preeminent public university system. And it did so with humility. After all, it is a barn.
I’m glad to hear that The Barn will be renovated, that it will again become a focal point of this great campus. And I hope that when students eat lunch there or listen to the next No Doubt or Sublime there, that they’ll have an inkling of the history of the place—maybe even a little reverence—for this humble wooden connection to our origins, a place to celebrate how far we’ve come and look forward to the next 100 years.