Better Than Ever: The Faculty Club reopens after renovations, preserving what the Bruins loved

In 1959, the UCLA Faculty Center opened its doors to faculty who could enjoy meals and a second home on campus by paying their 50-cent monthly dues. But the center was and always has been much more than that. For decades it has offered a range of services including hosting conferences, banquets, receptions and meetings.

Over the past 63 years, the mid-century modern building, located west of Hilgard Avenue, has helped improve collegiality and good relations between faculty and staff across campus. Within its glass walls and amidst its open floor plan, colleagues have shared lunches, entertained prospective collaborators, rented spaces for meetings (even weddings), and celebrated holidays with family and friends.

While many have appreciated the Faculty Club for its time capsule-like atmosphere, the building needed work on structure and infrastructure until 2016. The roof was leaking, roots were getting into the pipes, electrical systems needed upgrading, and the air conditioning and heating systems were struggling to keep temperatures comfortable. Additionally, the building had been modified over the years with finishes and lighting fixtures that contrasted with the mid-century California ranch style.

The club also needed a coat of paint and new carpeting, and the outside trellises had to be replaced. But a renovation had to be done carefully to preserve the building’s integrity and its contributions to campus culture and history.

Therefore, in 2019, UCLA provided $10 million to the UCLA Faculty Center Association Board of Governors to cover a major infrastructure modernization and seismic reinforcement of some areas. Thanks to contributions from donors including Professors Donald and Sherie Morrison, more than $3 million has been raised to address a variety of improvements.

“This building is dearly loved by many across campus, but time has certainly taken its toll,” said Chancellor Gene Block, who enthusiastically supported the renovation project. “The renovations were necessary to ensure that many more generations of Bruins can enjoy the space and use it to form strong bonds.”

David Esquivel/UCLA

Carved redwood panels by artist and designer Evelyn Ackerman were restored as part of the Faculty Club’s renovation. The 2022 restoration was funded by Michael and Susan Rich in memory of Peter Loughrey.

The renovations, many of which have coincided with pandemic-related closures at the club, have been a success. From strengthening the bones of the beloved building to refreshing its overall look and function, the changes have prepared the club to continue its role as the hub for UCLA’s most important engine – its faculty and staff. Still, there’s more work to be done, including renovating the lobby and northern bathrooms. Fundraising for these improvements is ongoing.

It started with wanting a room of my own

A seed for a faculty clubhouse was planted as early as 1918 when female faculty at the Los Angeles State Normal School (a teacher training school and the forerunner of UCLA) formed the Faculty Women’s Club. Their organizing focused on pressuring the Legislature and UC Regents to create a second branch of the University of California.

By 1919, the UC Southern Branch was eventually formed, but the women’s faculty used a Normal School kindergarten bungalow as a temporary meeting space.

“Can’t you imagine these faculty women sitting in tiny chairs in front of tiny tables?” said Jo Knopoff, a past president of the Faculty Women’s Club who also served nine terms on the Faculty Club’s Council of Governors. She surmises that the bungalow’s inconvenience prompted immediate fundraising to build a clubhouse.

Black and white exterior photo of the UCLA Faculty Center

UCLA

The Faculty Center as it was called when this photo was taken decades ago.

They weren’t the only ones.

The Faculty Men’s Club and Association of Academic Women, both of which arose as the UC Southern Branch came into focus, had also raised funds to secure a clubhouse on the Westwood campus. It would eventually take four decades and the three organizations to work closely together to get funding for a building.

Knopoff said the men’s club had the greatest impact, in part because there were more male faculty, but more likely, she speculates, because their wives had an impact in urging their husbands to open their paperbacks.

By 1950, tentative plans for a faculty clubhouse at UCLA emerged. Previous plans included a pool and even an apartment for the UC President, but these were dropped from the final design. The UC Regents approved the final proposal in 1956.

A place to see other sides of people

In keeping with the times, when the club opened in 1959, the buffet was only 90 cents a meal and men, who made up most of the club’s members, were required to wear a jacket and tie. Women were not allowed to wear trousers.

But behind the closed doors of a small room adjacent to the California Room, men loosened their ties and rolled up their sleeves to play pool, sip cocktails and smoke after a long day at work, said Al Aubin, chair of the Faculty Club’s board of governors ‘Member Engagement Committee. Aubin said he still remembers his philosophy professor asking him to bartend at an event in the room sometime in the early ’60s.

Aubin also recalls the wonder of seeing the faculty in a different light, male members who called themselves “Collegium Bibendi” but whom Aubin remembers as an honorable group based on both the north and south campuses of the dedicated to the academic community.

“What I always emphasize about the faculty club is its sense of community,” said Aubin, a UCLA retiree and volunteer who has been involved with the campus for 56 years.

By the late 1960s, men who attended the club could lose jackets and ties, and more women became members – women like Jane Permaul, current board chair and assistant vice-chancellor emeritus for student affairs.

“As a working mom, I didn’t get a chance to make lunch at that time, so I would always run to the faculty club for a bite to eat,” she said.

Aubin has also enjoyed the club’s perks for family members, such as the popular Mother’s Day and Easter brunches that have delighted four generations of his family over the past 40 years. In 2019, Aubin said he loved taking his great-grandson’s picture with the event’s “Easter Bunny,” the same picture he’d taken of his granddaughter a generation earlier.

Faculty Club members and families enjoy an outdoor brunch.

UCLA

Faculty Club members and families enjoy an outdoor brunch.

The club was truly a special place that many universities don’t have, said Henry Kelly, distinguished research professor emeritus who joined the faculty club in 1967.

“The club was important to me throughout my years at UCLA, and I’m grateful to have been able to enjoy its amenities,” Kelly said.

restoration of glory

When the club’s current general manager and chief operating officer, Luciano Sautto, was hired in 2016, he was hit by buckets strewn around the building trying to fix the leaking roof.

While the space had undergone several additions and remodeling, few significant improvements were made to the building after the late 1980s. Apart from structural and sanitary problems, much of the flooring, window coverings and decorations were also in need of renovation.

Cypress Lounge at UCLA Faculty Club

David Esquivel/UCLA

Cypress Lounge

The original building, a ‘ranch style’ structure in keeping with its late 1950’s modern aesthetic, is enjoying renewed popularity in line with current design trends. One of the defining features of the Faculty Club is the integration of gardens and terraces. Each meeting or dining room has an adjacent garden room and access. This “plaid” of indoor and outdoor spaces within a residential building is unique on campus.

In contrast to the campus’ distinctive Romanesque Revival buildings, which were meant to be stately and impressive, the faculty club served as a quasi-living space, said Victoria Steele, curator emeritus of UCLA’s collections.

To maximize the building’s indoor-outdoor appeal, the club hired landscape architect Studio Mia Lehrer, using private funds, to redesign the building’s courtyards. The studio’s design credits include UCLA’s La Kretz Garden Pavilion and SoFi Stadium.

Other notable changes that Sautto is most proud of are the upgrades to the California Room (now the Morrison Room), the main dining room, the servery and new bathrooms to the south of the building, which are energy and water efficient and accessible to the disabled. The Cypress Bar and Lounge has also been redesigned with new floors, paint, wallpaper and an inset fireplace, as well as a water feature and fire pit on the patio.

On a recent tour, Permaul proudly shared that the club’s four fireplaces, which have not been in use “for years”, have been modernized to burn an eco-friendly alcohol gel instead of wood.

To date, UCLA funding has supported roof replacement, damaged rafter debris and rotting exterior grilles; plus the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems throughout the building.

Sautto suspects the first thing members might notice is the lack of buckets.

“This is our second chance to make a first impression,” he said.

Sautto is now focused on reaching untapped potential members. In dining areas like the Cypress Bar and Lounge, Sautto’s created a small bite menu and added more vegetarian and vegan offerings like Impossible burgers and an upgraded salad bar in the Servery. The upgraded menu will make al fresco dining at the club’s wait-staff restaurant, Coral Grill, even more special, he said.

Steele said she looks forward to guests enjoying the updated terraces as premium dining spaces. Those using the club as a venue can also benefit from the large outdoor spaces, as public health recommendations remain fluid. There, of course, people will be able to enjoy the new trellis.

“Soon, when the flowering vines have reestablished themselves and squirm against new overhead wires, it will be shady and green again.”

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