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Davis, California

Saturday, October 23, 2021

From wheat field to gathering place

MONICA CHAN / AGGIE
MONICA CHAN / AGGIE

The UC Davis quad: its appeal, its history, its memories

Ninety-five degrees, a cup of iced coffee and a gently rocking hammock can make the perfect combination on a warm school afternoon. But, while most spots on campus are not ideal locations for such a combination, the UC Davis Quad is the exception.

“[The Quad] is really the true heart of the campus,” said Gregory Secor, senior project manager for UC Davis Design and Construction Management. “It’s the centerpiece. It seems to be the center element [from] which the campus has kind of grown.”

Located on the northeast corner of the UC Davis campus, between the Memorial Union and Shields Library, the Quad is an area of lawn designed to be a social space, lined with trees for shade and equipped with hammocks on either side, making for an easily-accessible hangout spot for students and faculty.

“The Quad is a centrally located oasis on campus,” said Steve Wheeler, urban design and sustainability professor of the UC Davis landscape architecture program. “It is popular partly because of its location at the center of everything. Everybody’s going by there every day — it is welcoming, it is green [and] it is shady.”

Though the Quad is primarily used as a space for relaxing, it is also home to many events and activities throughout the year. The Whole Earth Festival is an annual celebration that takes place on the Quad every spring; other events include the Involvement Fair, Lawntopia, Picnic Day and the occasional political protest.

When the UC Davis campus, formerly a family ranch, first opened in 1908, the Quad was an agricultural field for harvesting wheat, barley and other crops. Every four years, however, the students and staff would come together to work on a project to better the campus. In 1932, the project was the Quad.

“It was supposed to be twice as big as it is today,” said Skip Mezger, the UC Davis campus landscape architect. “Unfortunately, [the university] didn’t really stick to that layout much.”

According to Mezger, the walkway outside the Memorial Union that lines the Quad was originally a pathway that ran from North and South Hall (originally dormitories) to Wellman Hall. Now, that pathway is filled with tables and students promoting campus organizations.

Though the campus has been renovated over the years, changes to the Quad have been minimal. For example, the cork oak trees that line the Quad today were planted in 1925.

“There’s a great history here,” Mezger said. “[For instance, the cork tree] is also a product tree; you get cork out of it. If you haven’t gone up to one of those trees, go up and push on the bark and it’s exactly the same cork they use for cork bottles. It’s a very interesting tree.”

Despite few changes to the Quad itself, its surrounding buildings were renovated more frequently. The Recreation Hall, a venue for sports, dances and more, was torn down and replaced by the Memorial Union in the 1960s, and the Shields Library entrance, originally facing the Quad, was moved to the west side.

According to Patsy Owens, a landscape architecture and environmental design professor in the Department of Human Ecology, these neighboring buildings contribute to the the Quad’s atmosphere.

“For me, what’s really special about the location [is] if you look at other campuses […] the common university space [is] often located next to campus administration,” Owens said. “What’s really cool about [our] Quad […] is [that] it’s located next to the student center.”

Since 1932, the biggest change made to the Quad has been the walkway down the center, which was remodeled in 2008 to celebrate the university’s centennial. The walkway was designed by Mezger and Christina De Martini Reyes, UC Davis’ assistant landscape architect.

Over the years, the Quad has become a hub for main campus activities. Students use it for everything from casual frisbee practice to cramming for finals.

“The Quad is part of what [we call] the ‘sacred structure’ […it] is a place where you can go to get away,” Owens said. “If you’re trying to study for a test […] it’s a place where you can go and get your head together. It allows a lot of different things to happen there.”

Though the Quad is an important constant in daily campus life, Wheeler believes that environmental issues could impact it in the future.

“There are some redwood trees on the Quad, and redwood trees are struggling in this climate,” Wheeler said. “We do need to think about water. Are these trees going to survive this drought?”

According to Wheeler, the space will most likely make an eventual transition from “turf and trees” to a “native drought tolerant aesthetic.” However, it seems that regardless of aesthetic changes, the Quad will ultimately remain a space that continues to draw in the community.

“I think the thing to remember about the Quad is […] the memories,” Owens said. “It [has] become our space.”

 

Written by: Allyson Tsuji – features@theaggie.org

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