Jesuit Mission USF history

History of the Sciences: A New Home

The seven-year-old girl and her father were walking east on Fulton Street toward St. Ignatius Church when they heard a band playing. As they approached the church, they saw the band along with hundreds of people gathered for what appeared to be a ceremony on the east side of the church. In the middle of the crowd stood a smiling and well-dressed man with a boutonniere in the lapel of his suit jacket. The man was shoveling dirt. The date was December 10, 1926, and 79 years later during a Fromm Institute class on the history of USF, the little girl, who grew up to become a nun, described the groundbreaking ceremony she had witnessed on that day for the new Liberal Arts Building on the campus of St. Ignatius College. The man wielding the shovel was James Rolph, Jr., the mayor of San Francisco, and the following year, the entire college and its science programs moved into the new Liberal Arts Building.

Groundbreaking ceremony for the new Liberal Arts Building, 1926

On December 10, 1926, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new Liberal Arts Building, later known as Campion Hall, and now Kalmanovitz Hall. In this photo, James Rolph, Jr., mayor of San Francisco, wields the ceremonial shovel. Edward Whelan, S.J., the president of St. Ignatius College, is behind and to the right of Mayor Rolph. Monsignor Michael Connolly, standing to the left of Mayor Rolph, represented the Archdiocese of San Francisco at the ceremony. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

Many prominent individuals spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony: Edward Whelan, S.J., the president of St. Ignatius College; Monsignor Michael Connolly of St. Paul’s Parish, representing the Archbishop of San Francisco; Benjamin McKinley, alumnus of St. Ignatius College, professor in the St. Ignatius School of Law, and former U.S. district attorney; and Frank Hughes, class of 1883 and president of the Alumni Association. A writer for the Ignatian, the school’s literary magazine, described in his coverage of the event how Mr. Hughes “fittingly expressed the true joy of all the Alumni upon the achievement of this goal and the brilliant future which appeared in store for their Alma Mater,” calling this the “most memorable day in the history of Saint Ignatius.” Mr. McKinley, according to the Ignatian, “stirred his audience deeply by an eloquent address in which he eulogized the Fathers of St. Ignatius of past years and the present.” Fr. Whelan, who had assumed the presidency of the college in 1925, spoke of how the day “marked the realization of a twenty years’ dream” and stated that the “new college, complete in every detail, was to crown Ignatian Heights, a fitting complement to the magnificent temple erected and dedicated to the worship of God.” Finally, Mayor Rolph congratulated the faculty and administration of the college on their new building and turned the first shovel of soil, bringing the ceremony to a close.

Hundreds of people turned out for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Liberal Arts Bldg

In 1926, hundreds of people turned out for the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Liberal Arts Building, described by the Foster and Kleiser sign in the foreground as the “College of Liberal Arts First Unit.” Looking north from Fulton Street, the building to the left of the speaker’s stage is the Faculty Residence (Welch Hall), which was demolished in 1970. The fence in the background separates St. Ignatius College property from a Masonic Cemetery. In 1934, the Jesuits purchased fourteen acres of that cemetery. PETER MASTEN DUNNE, S.J. FILE, CALIFORNIA PROVINCE ARCHIVES, SANTA CLARA UNIVERSITY

For 21 years, the leadership of St. Ignatius College had planned to move to a permanent home following the disastrous 1906 earthquake and fire that destroyed their magnificent institution on Van Ness Avenue and forced them to conduct their educational enterprises, including their superb science programs, in a temporary wooden structure known as the “shirt factory.” In September 1926, the Jesuits announced that work was to begin on a new building on Fulton Street. The structure, initially named the Liberal Arts Building, would be next door to the faculty residence that had been built in 1921, which in turn stood less than 100 yards from St. Ignatius Church, completed in 1914, on the corner of Fulton Street and Parker Avenue. The official announcement about the new Liberal Arts Building thanked all who had contributed funds to its construction, estimated to cost $300,000. The announcement stated that the Jesuits were happy that “they are about to start work on the long-desired and much-needed new college building. After years of hard struggle, the debt has been sufficiently reduced to permit them to realize their cherished hope; . . . gratefully, they hasten to give the good news first to those who have made this beginning possible.”

The new Liberal Arts Building as it appeared in 1928

The new Liberal Arts Building as it appeared in 1928, the year after it was completed. The view is of the west side of the building. On the left of the photo is a corner of the faculty residence (Welch Hall). UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

When the Liberal Arts Building opened in the fall of 1927, it housed the entire college: the offices of all the administrators and faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Commerce and Finance, and the School of Law, classrooms and lecture halls, science laboratories, a small theater, a students’ lounge and chapel, a cafeteria, a bookstore, an athletic equipment store, libraries, student lockers, and offices for student government. By 1928, 1,090 college students occupied the building for daytime and evening classes, including 135 women, who were permitted to take classes only in the evening. Remaining at the “shirt factory” campus were 710 high school students. Space quickly became such a premium in the new building that many of the library books had to be stored in St. Ignatius Church. The church, the faculty residence (Welch Hall), and the Liberal Arts Building comprised the entire campus until military barracks were constructed on campus during World War II and the Gleeson Library was built in 1950.

The science programs were well represented in the new Liberal Arts Building and in the St. Ignatius College curriculum of the late 1920s. One of the chemistry laboratories could accommodate 120 students in one period, and it was outfitted with large furnaces and scientific apparatus mounted on heavy carts. The tables in the chemistry lab “were in keeping with the designs favored in commercial laboratories,” having deep drawers containing large flasks filled with chemical solutions. The laboratory had lockers crammed with “iron ware and bulky appliances,” and it was equipped with water and gas lines that supplied compressed air, distilled water, and suction for filtration. The laboratory was located in a particularly good part of the building, according to a college brochure: “For besides sunlight and ocean air, the students enjoy the beauty of a splendid garden which gives a tone of culture to the unpoetical routine of technical processes.”

One of the chemistry labs in the new Liberal Arts Building.

One of the chemistry labs in the new Liberal Arts Building was designed to replicate commercial labs and housed the latest scientific equipment. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

Another laboratory in the Liberal Arts Building was designated as a bio-chemical laboratory for pre-medical students. It had special storage spaces to enable a student “to place complicated trains of glassware and such equipment as requires time to assemble, in his locker on leaving the laboratory, without breaking seals and dismembering parts.” The laboratory also served as a library for chemical and medical journals. After completing their advanced studies in the bio-chemical laboratory, students were prepared “to serve in one of two affiliated hospital laboratories for experience with clinical material.”

Bio-chemical laboratory at St. Ignatius College.

This bio-chemical laboratory at St. Ignatius College was designed for the advanced training of pre-medical students prior to their working in hospital laboratories. UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO ARCHIVES

Students in the new Liberal Arts Building of St. Ignatius College could also take general chemistry, inorganic and organic chemistry, biochemistry, and physical chemistry courses. They could also choose from among a wide range of other science and math courses, including botany, zoology, comparative anatomy, embryology, college algebra, analytic geometry, differential calculus, and various physics courses, such as analytic mechanics, advanced electricity, and magnetism. There was even a science course for the non-science major called hygiene and sanitation, which covered “the elements of human physiology, with important phases of personal and public health control.”

The Bio-Chemical Club of St. Ignatius College, founded in 1923 by James Conlon, S.J., a longtime professor of chemistry, continued to be active after the school’s move to its new location in the Liberal Arts Building on Fulton Street. The club was designed to “promote scholarship and culture among pre-medical students and those interested in scientific research.” The club emphasized the liberal arts tradition of the college and was linked to the San Francisco medical community. The club often invited physicians to attend social events and asked them to give talks to undergraduate students. A 1929 St. Ignatius College brochure described one of the goals of the bio-medical club: “With a literary training and philosophical background, the intensive study of technical subjects is thus made inspiring and balanced. Friendly association with eminent members of the medical profession matures the inexperienced and stimulates them to strive for the awards of achievement.”

In the late 1920s, like today, the promotion of academic achievement, career preparation, and the development of professional connections loomed large in the overall educational experience of the school’s science students, and for students in other disciplines as well.


Sister M. Thomas Magee, of the Sisters of the Presentation, described the groundbreaking ceremony for the Liberal Arts Building at St. Ignatius College during a class on the history of USF at the Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning, taught by the author in the spring of 2005. The planning and building of the Liberal Arts Building is also described in Jesuits by the Golden Gate: The Society of Jesus in San Francisco, 1849–1969 by John McGloin, S.J., pages 110–112. The quotes from the speakers at the event can be found in the 1927 issue of the Ignatian, page 45. A description of the dedication can be found in the San Francisco Monitor, October 16, 1927, courtesy of Michael Kotlanger, USF’s archivist, who also supplied catalog descriptions of the science courses taught at St. Ignatius College from 1927 to 1929.

Alan Ziajka, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and University Historian