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Davis, California

Friday, April 12, 2024

Freeborn Hall to be demolished

After closure in 2014, renovation to reopen building deemed too expensive

UC Davis administrative officials have decided to demolish Freeborn Hall, contrary to previous plans to pursue renovation options to reopen the building to the public after its closure four years ago. The demolition is planned to happen within the next two years, and administrative officials hope to assess space needs and create a plan of action by this summer.

Freeborn Hall was built in 1961 and named after Stanley Freeborn, UC Davis’ first chancellor. Around 2010, Freeborn Hall received a very poor seismic rating, and the building was closed to the public in 2014.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Emily Galindo said Freeborn Hall is built with tilt-up concrete, meaning that the building would “pancake” if a major geological event were to occur.

Although university officials and student leaders had engaged in lengthy talks to preserve Freeborn Hall through renovations, seismic retrofitting for the building would cost $8.5 million alone. Modernizing the building with accessibility upgrades and new electrical systems would cost an estimated $36 million, according to an op-ed written by Galindo and given to The California Aggie.

Since its closure in 2014, administrators had discussed renovating the building to add classroom space, but, according to Galindo, because the building has been used mostly for student affairs purposes, the university is not willing or able to spend the money required for renovation.

“When the campus has to decide if they’re going to build classrooms or labs for research, unfortunately the priority is just not at the top,” Galindo said. “Student affairs had to say, ‘Well, what can we do?’ And we don’t have a big pot of money sitting anywhere. We do have the money to do the demolition.”

The demolition, which will cost $5 million, will be paid for using a specific safety fee every student pays. After demolition, there are hopes to build in the space Freeborn Hall currently occupies, situated between the Memorial Union and the MU bus terminal, but there are no solid plans to build at this time.

Though seismically unsafe, the basement of Freeborn Hall, Lower Freeborn, was deemed fit for use. ASUCD units including KDVS, The California Aggie, the Entertainment Council, The Pantry and Aggie Studios have occupied that space for years if not decades, in some cases.

An email was sent out on Thursday informing the unit directors and occupants of Lower Freeborn Hall about the demolition plans.

KDVS’ General Manager Jacob Engel, a fourth-year political science and American studies double major, said he was under the impression that the university was still pursuing renovation plans when he received the email. Half terrified and half excited, Engel said he sees the demolition as a new opportunity for KDVS.

“I look at this as a liberating opportunity for us to really be able to build an organization as the ground up,” he said. “This is the 50th year of being FCC licensed as KDVS and so seeing the third iteration of the station will be really fun.”

The walls of KDVS, with posters dating to the 50s, and The California Aggie’s century worth of archives physically historicize Freeborn Hall in all its glory.

A poster of the Count Basie Orchestra performing at Freeborn Hall hangs in KDVS, and The Aggie’s 1973 archives review performances by Fleetwood Mac, with tickets selling for $3.50, Arlo Guthrie and Boz Scaggs. Notable speakers who have visited the Hall include “Fahrenheit 451” author Ray Bradbury, who spoke in 1977; Carl Bernstein, who helped break the Watergate Scandal and spoke in 1974; and Ronald Reagan, while governor of California, was “greeted by loud boos” in Freeborn Hall when he spoke there in 1974.

In addition to ASUCD units which occupy space in Lower Freeborn, the Student Affairs Marketing and Communications Department staff and Campus Recreation and Unions IT staff work there as well. The university is looking for space to accommodate these groups.

KDVS, which has been in Lower Freeborn since 1967, has over 80,000 physical media units — consisting of records, CDs and cassettes — in addition to an impressive array of posters and artwork. Engel foresees challenges moving KDVS’ collection of music and artwork, and he also worries that a move would force KDVS, a radio station which broadcasts 24/7/365, to temporarily go off air while in transition.

At the moment, Engel said KDVS does not have a new location to move to yet.

“The last possibility that was thrown out was the temporary buildings over by the Domes but then the last I heard was those have been already promised to somebody else, so right now we’re kind of in the dark,” he said. “And that’s something that we’re increasingly working on and that ups the urgency of it.”

This summer, the third floor of the MU, occupied by the ASUCD student government, will be renovated. The staff and faculty members who work there will need to be moved first, before the groups in Lower Freeborn are moved.

“Even if we identify space […] we need to use that for the displaced people from the third floor while that project gets done,” Galindo explained. “We really need to engage the students. I know location is critical, so that’s going to be the primary thing.”

Galindo, who recently spoke with Stanley Freeborn’s grandson about the demolition plans, said she wants people to know this decision was made thoughtfully.

“We didn’t just make this decision without taking into consideration the historical feelings about the building,” she said. “But sometimes you just end up with a decision that you don’t want to spend good money on a building that’s really past its life.”

Engel credits his love of UC Davis to his early memories of Freeborn Hall. With his dad serving as president of the alumni association, Engel remembers attending the pancake breakfast in Freeborn Hall at age seven and, later, sneaking away from high school field trips to visit KDVS.

“This space and the ambience will be lost,” he said. “I know that most college stations that we go to are very sterile, they’re very clean, and the ethos of KDVS will be diluted through the move. But it’s also a good start to a new aesthetic — bringing some more retro type of stuff into a new place can be cool. We’ll see.”

Written by: Hannah Holzer — campus@theaggie.org


  1. “…because the building has been used mostly for student affairs purposes, the university is not willing or able to spend the money required for renovation.”

    Very disappointing to see what seems like such anti-student sentiment from the UC Davis administration. These “student affairs” groups are vitally important to the student experience at UC Davis and provide crucial real-world job skills that students can’t get in a classroom setting. I understand that seismic retrofitting can be incredibly expensive and modernization may not be an efficient use of funds, but if demolition is necessary then the administration should be presenting plans for a new and improved building to house these essential organizations rather than abruptly pulling the rug out from under them and leaving them mired in uncertainty.

  2. Freeborn also hosted concerts in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Big Brother and the Holding Company, It’s A Beautiful Day, Tower of Power, Steve Miller Band and The Grateful Dead. Fun days…

  3. Just over 39 years ago, my wife Lindsay and I were in Freeborn Hall to see Bob Marley and the Wailers perform. Though we did not actually meet until some time after that, we have most fond memories of that evening.


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