Freeborn Hall: Sudden Shift from Historical Campus Resource to Demolition
Freeborn Hall has served as an integral part of the UC Davis campus since the early 1960’s. Four years of rigorous assessment by UC Davis lead to the conclusion of preserving the facility. In late 2018 an unanticipated reversal of decision was issued: To demolish the building for a vacant lot at the heart of the UC Davis campus. This is seen as a poor decision due to numerous factors delineated below.
Freeborn Hall has not only housed several campus organizations within it’s basement in addition to KDVS, but its ground floor served as a mid-sized public venue for special events such as lectures, student-geared events, job fairs, high school graduations, and concerts operated by Campus Student Affairs. Freeborn Hall was named after Stanley Freeborn, UC Davis’ first chancellor, opening in 1961, comprising 61,000 square feet. It is arguably the most historically iconic and distinctive buildings on the UC Davis campus.
The Freeborn auditorium space become noted primary as a regional concert venue, hosting acts such as The B-52s, Bob Marley & Wailers, Bobby Weir and the Midnites, Boz Skaggs, Country Joe & the Fish, Crystal Gayle, Dave Mason, Eldridge Cleaver, Elvis Costello, Emmy Lou Harris, Greg Kihn, Hall & Oates, Hank Wiliams Jr, Hunter S Thompson, Jean Luc Ponty, Jean-Michel Cousteau, Jerry Garcia Band, Jesse Colin Young, Journey, Leila & the Snakes, Mel Blanc, Molly Hatchet, Norton Buffalo, Pablo Cruise, Phoebe Snow, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Queen Ida & Zydeco Band, Randy Hansen, Roger McGuinn, Santana, Starship, Talking Heads, The Outlaws, The Police, The Tubes, Todd Rundgren, Tom Petty & Heartbreakers, Tom Waits, Tower of Power, Van Morrison, Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark (OMD), Big Brother and the Holding Company, and Judy Collins, Fleetwood Mac, Tower of Power, Jerry Garcia, NIN, Pixies, Psychedelic Furs, Ramones, and Stephen Stills.
In 2013, the UC Office of the President noted [https://www.ucop.edu/capital-planning/_files/capital/201323/dv-freeborn-hall-seismic-replacement.pfd] it was earmarking 15 million dollars from Auxiliary Reserves for a replacement building. The “[n]ew building [would]l provide multi-use auditorium space for up to 1,700 people for festival style events and can accommodate seated dining for approximately 500, and meet current programmatic needs.” Analysis of the Freeborn building actually commenced in 2014 with UC Davis’ Design and Construction Management (DCM) division, in conjunction with BAR Architects and subcontractors. At the time, expansion of the adjacent Memorial Union building was being contemplated. On June 19th, 2017 a building design “charrette” was held to evaluate opportunities and potential strategies to identify modification, code compliance, and interior/exterior refurbishment of Freeborn utilizing the work from the previous four years of analysis.
On March 12, 2018, DCM, BAR, and other engineering and design assessment contractors drafted a comprehensive draft Enhanced Detailed Project Program (DDP) [link to PDF]. The DPP comprised hundreds of pages, charts, graphs, data, cost models, discussion and appendices with the input of many Freeborn Hall affiliated stakeholders (ASUCD; Campus Recreation and Unions; Center for Student Involvement; Capital & Space Planning; Campus Planning & Environmental Stewardship; Chancellor’s Office; Conference and Event Services; Student Affairs; Design and Construction Management; Aggie Studios; Associated Students Pantry; KDVS; The California Aggie newspaper; Student Events; Student Affairs, Marketing and Communication, and Intercollegiate Athletics & Box Office).
“UC Davis is now planning the renovation and expansion of this significant campus resource… Renewed, Freeborn Hall will once again be a hub of student activity, entertainment and educational events at UC Davis. With the renovation complete, the strength of programs at Freeborn hall for the UC Davis community will be an equal match to its heroic and muscular architecture”
– DPP Executive Summary
The DPP’s Project Goals section summarized the value of Freeborn from its exhaustive findings, and the University’s sustained trajectory over four years with attempt to maintain the resource in the absence of other new building plans:
“Freeborn Hall has been a fixture of the UC Davis campus and the greater Davis community for decades. With its distinctive architectural style, the building is firmly rooted in the ethos of the early 1960s and the list of performers, speakers and events are evidence that the building and its programmers have carried the social action, free speech and creativity of its initial years into the present. The Project Definition Phase of the Freeborn Project confirmed that students, user groups and university administrators agree on the importance of maintaining an auditorium space for a multitude of event types (banquets, dances, graduation ceremonies, etc.) as an affordable gathering space and resource for the campus and nearby residents”
– DPP Report
In December 2018, the office of UC Davis’ Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs notified the occupants of Lower Freeborn that the campus abruptly changed course and decided that the building would be torn down. The decision did not include examination of the needs of students, student groups, future space for ASUCD units, demand for campus student events space, or any of the items examined the prior four years. It was briefly noted that Freeborn did not meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historic Resources because it is not historically significant, and did not meet the CEQA thresholds for historic preservation nor mitigation (although was admitted CEQA compliance had not yet occurred).
An article in the California Aggie quotes Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Emily Galindo that University funding for student-related programs was not preferential over classroom funding:
“…[A]dministrators 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.
– The California Aggie, December 12, 2018
While it is within the University’s purview to direct funding, issuing a decision without the input of campus, student, building, and community stakeholders — diverging from what was a strategic undertaking up to this point — is believed to be insufficient process for prudent review of all alternatives. Furthermore, current and future extracurricular needs of students and the community have not been adequately addressed within the elimination of a facility — which has been operating for decades — without equivalent replacement. This is compelling reasoning for stakeholders to respectfully request the campus revisit of this judgement.
Freeborn is a valuable resource for students and the surrounding community. A clearer assessment really needs to address some of the important details prior to a demolition decision. Key concerns include:
- No comprehensive assessment is provided in weighing campus needs vs demolition: The “fact sheet” provided by Galindo regarding the University’s December decision does not substantiate the reversal of four years of study aimed on renovation. The campus is asserting an idle vacant lot at the center of campus is the best option here without assessment. Campus assets — i.e., property of California — should not be voided without assessing campus needs, facility utility, and expenses versus demolition in report.
- The current decision is devoid of requisite consideration within UC Davis’ long range development plan: Student-serving facilities are not given commensurate consideration compared to academic facility usage as student enrollment expands, as Galindo even insinuated. ASUCD has no centralized/adequate space on campus — but shrinking space relegated to scraps of space on campus. There is no place earmarked to grow to accommodate an increasing future student population. A new student services building in the center of campus is not conceivable given space and projected economic constraints, and temporary buildings near the edge of campus would not be appropriately located for widespread, convenient student usage.
- What makes Freeborn different from other dated campus building renovations decisions and why is there a rush to demolish the building? Although Lower Freeborn is currently suitable for occupation, the chief reason to eliminate the facility is that it is seismically deficient. The demolition cost is estimated to be 5 million dollars, which would be covered by campus funding, but the base price for seismic upgrade (this includes restroom accessibility and fire sprinkler improvements) is estimated to be $9 million dollars. Seismic upgrade is regularly employed on campus buildings including Sproul, Hart, North and South Halls, Memorial Union, Kerr, Academic Surge, Bainer, John Muir Institute, Heitman Learning Center, Rock Hall, Briggs, Bainer, Robbins, Telecommunications, Vet Med 2, Segundo Housing complex, Segundo Dining Commons, Silo South, Tercero 3 and 4 Housing, Tercero Community/ Dining, and Olson Hall. The most comprehensive renovation of Freeborn — including seismic, ADA, internal and external re-design, and landscaping — is estimated to be $37 million. While that number is larger than a simple seismic upgrade, it is less expensive than a new auditorium. There was no discussion on the various degrees of renovation or alternative sources of funding to defray the University’s renovation fund share. At base cost, seismic renovation is 3.5 to $4 million over demolition, which is superior to paying $5 million to place a hole in the ground in the middle of campus spending.
There is a rush to demolish Freeborn while an exhaustive search has revealed no equivalent relocation space for KDVS on campus. DCM’s website explains that all University buildings that require seismic upgrades must have the seismic retrofit work completed by December 31, 2030. That means UC Davis has ten years to complete the seismic retrofit work on Freeborn.
- The historical preeminence of Freeborn architecture was overtly misrepresented. Freeborn is perhaps the most iconic or unique structures on campus dating back to the age of space-age/googie/mid-century modern architecture — well over a half century at this point. Not too many local examples exist of modern architecture of this type period. Freeborn accentuates the horizontal plane with artistic concrete overhangs hovering in space above light/glass walls. All other UC campuses have unique 1960’s period buildings, with three examples listed below.
Revelle College, Breezeway between Bonner Hall and Mayer Hall, UC San Diego
Langson Library at UC Irvine
Carillon Bell Tower by Jones & Emmons (1966) and the brutalist arcades of the Tomás Rivera Main Library, UC Riverside
The University states Freeborn would not qualify for historic status, nor does it meet CEQA thresholds for historic preservation. Both notions are simply conjecture relayed as fact. Galindo echoed an evaluation that was performed determining the building was not historically significant, so it did not qualify for state or national registries that would protect it from demolition. What Galindo failed to disclose was that this assertion was self-assessed by the University. SaveKDVS participant Michael Doughton obtained a copy of the University’s determination under the California Public Records Act. The evaluation is a filled-in Form DPR 523 provided to the California Office of Historic Preservation (OHP), of the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) — a form intended for application for inclusion on the California Register of Historical Resources. The University explains throughout the form that Freeborn lacks historic significance, essentially directing OHP to deny the application (see page 14 of Doughton’s memo [link]). The ensuing denied application would then appear to provide nominal credence to the University’s finding, preempting any historic registry inclusion, possibly to add cover to avoid legal protections under CEQA. If true, this is a circular assessment. The historical status eligibility criterion include questions concerning if the structure is (1) associated with broad patterns of cultural events, (2) Associated with the lives of persons important to local history, (3) embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, region or method of construction, and (4) has yielded, or has the potential to yield, information important to the prehistory or history of the local area. Freeborn Hall has robust qualifying attributes in all four prongs of assessment. But Form 523 submitted by UC Davis answers:
- “Freeborn Hall is not eligible for listing in the NRHP (CRHR Criterion 1) because it is not historically important within the context of the development of the Davis campus.”
- “Under NRHP Criterion B (CRHP Criterion 2), the complex does not have any direct associations with any individuals significant to history.”
- “Freeborn Hall is not eligible under NRHP Criterion C (CRHR Criterion 3) because it is not an important example of a type, period, or method of construction.”
- “Under NRHP Criterion D (CRHP Criterion 4), this auditorium is not significant as a source (or likely source) of important information regarding history. It does not appear to have any likelihood of yielding
This description submitted to OHP is purposely misrepresentative and insincerely submitted. The University of California should make it a priority to preserve period architecture [show photo of Freeborn].
- Freeborn demolition is not an efficient use of campus resources. The University overlooks the potential of Freeborn for use of a vastly needed large campus lecture hall. There is a significant demand for lecture space at UC Davis The recently-completed California Hall is the first major hall built in the last decade. The last hall of that size — 194 Rock Hall — was completed in 1965. It is a tremendous waste of resource for the University to not work with Student Services to maximize use of Freeborn for daytime use. It would alleviate demand of larger halls within Everson, Haring, Kleiber, Roessler, Wellman, and Young, and avoid greenfield construction of a needed additional campus hall in the next decade. An additional lecture hall in the center of campus is well worth the renovation investment.
- Freeborn demolition eliminates the only mid-sized venue at UC Davis (and within the city of Davis) that can service events that the other venues cannot. UC Davis has multiple venues for public engagements — the most prominent listed below:
Facility Sq Ft
UC Davis Pavilion 150,000
Mondovi Center 106,000
Mondovi Ballroom AB 4,880
ARC Ballroom AB 4,880
UC Davis Conference Center Ballroom ABC 3,993
Alumni Center Alpha Gamma Rho Hall 2,075
Putah Creek Lodge 1,551
There are many events that are too small, or price-inappropriate, for >100,000 sq ft facility. However, ballrooms and lecture halls equally are either too small — the largest maxing out at 250 to 390 persons — or do not meet venue specifications of certain events.
- Smaller-sized rooms under 390 persons are not appropriate for a prominent college-demographic music performer. The limited capacity, fixed-seating of lecture halls and/or the premium-decor of ballroom spaces with expensive interior fixtures are less compatible for a young adult concert space. The demographic of attendees at Mondovi skew differently than those one would see in a Freeborn concert attendance.
- >100,000 sq ft facilities are much too large for college-demographic performers and are price-inappropriate for venue rental.
- Larger events such as high school graduations or large galas will not fit in a ballroom, are either not appropriate or too small for a pavillion setting.
- The other venues on campus are on the outskirts. Freeborn, by its proximity, assures patronage by convenience. For example — the ease of use of attending a job fair between classes.
- Freeborn is strategically placed in the center of campus to provide what no other space can:
- It is adjacent to the high-traffic Memorial Union to draw foot traffic patronage.
- It is positioned centrally for conferences that require multiple forums (eg, MU, the quad, Wellman, MU games).
- The hall is adjacent to the UC Davis Marketplace for either extensive on-campus food dining or convenient full-kitchen catering for expositions regarding flexible and efficient food and drink.
- Freeborn is located at the center of campus to showcase visitor the excellence of the campus — modernized Memorial Union Building, the Quad, and surrounding core historic buildings.
- Freeborn is adjacent to the UC Davis public transportation hub with bus routes direct to the Sacramento International Airport, Sacramento, and Unitrans bus to the bus station to Amtrak (which connects to BART/Bay Area cities). It is serviced by a large parking structure.
The demolition of Freeborn essentially eradicates availability for student body-directed concerts at UC Davis. Freeborn is a value-priced, rugged, lower-overhead multi-purpose venue for workaday student activity, instant patronage-drawing events, and progressive music genres selectively geared to student populations. UC Davis, Davis, and Yolo County positions itself to lose cultural events, concerts, educational or research forums, speakers, and third-party conventions to Cal State University Sacramento and other local venues.
- Freeborn is a selling point to new students. Freeborn architecture resonates with younger people who are discovering mid-century modern architecture, and those looking for a student experience at Davis. It is a gross miscalculation to underestimate these small redeeming campus traits.
- Most importantly, Freeborn demolition prescribes an unknown or downgraded incarnation of KDVS unlike it has been for the last five decades. Upon recent meetings with the University, it was determined there was no equivalent replacement facilities on campus to re-house KDVS and its historic record collection. Elimination of some of the collection was suggested. The Freeborn fact sheet suggested “construction of a new replacement building” costing $10-12 million for the displaced Freeborn basement organizations. That option appears to be eliminated.
The decision to demolish Freeborn Hall does not appear to be guided by fact assessment. The only discernible reasoning for the decision appears to be a shifting priority to not invest in student, cultural, and community-focused facilities.
If the sole issue is money, there are economic and value-added reasons to rehabilitate Freeborn Hall. A better plan for Freeborn would be
- Freeborn can be saved quite feasibly: (1) Divert the demolition funding into seismic funding. (2) Prescribe naming rights to re-name Freeborn Hall, say for a 5 million dollar contribution. (3) Work with students to propose a ballot measure for a limited tuition hike to fund Freeborn re-purposed as “a student activities basement and student entertainment value”. This money collectively could pay for most of the renovation — a more conservative plan. (4) The remainder of the money would be provided by the University in return for daytime rights to the auditorium for a student lecture hall.
- Because Freeborn does not need full renovation until 2030, a phased renovation could be approached in accordance with funds. The $9 million seismic renovation could occur first. With the aforementioned approach, the seismic retrofit portion would not cost UC Davis anything past it’s original demolition money contribution.
- Actively market Freeborn as a cost-effective conference and concert venue so that it is utilized frequently to generate income for UC Davis. This will draw mass patronage from the Davis-Sacramento-Bay Area communities, many of whom are unacquainted with UC Davis.
- Utilize Freeborn as a large academic lecture hall in the daytime.
- Repurpose the basement of Freeborn as a needed centralized ASUCD units center. This will satiate the need for space for ASUCD within the long term plan to avoid premium academic and administrative spots around campus being repurposed as fragmented, piecemeal student activity spots as the student population grows.
- Thus, salvaging Freeborn would avert earmarking millions for two future buildings: the next large campus lecture hall and expanded student facilities space the next decade.
- Expand student activities in conjunction with academic programs and ASUCD to include:
- “The Student Enterprise Incubator Center” (An project space for students to start nonprofits or incubate new businesses).
- Maker Space.
- A student musician / performance space, and music practice space.
- A media lab.
- Retool Freeborn Hall to permit it to be used for cinema.
Such student experiences listed above could be touted by UC Davis in wooing Gen Z undergraduate applicants who are looking for “experiences” beyond the traditional science education.
If you believe UC Davis should revisit the decision of Freeborn Hall demolition, let your voice be heard by contacting the University.
I saw The Motels there in Sept 1982…such a great venue and tix were affordable for freshmen like me…sorry to see it go!
Worked as student crew at Freeborn between ’76-’80 under Ken Lovins, great part of my college experience and still best friends with old Freeborn Gang. Worked lots of concerts, lecture series, theater, modern dance events, etc. Freeborn was the main concert venue for the Sacramento area at the time. First concert working backstage was The Tubes with Leila & the Snakes, and extensive list of many more concerts for following years.
I saw a great Counting Crows concert there in the mid 90s. No one knew who they were. I also performed in a concert there where the maestro lost his suspenders and almost his pants! One of my favorite memories!
I was an Entertainment Director at UCD, and Chair for Student Life in the ASUCD Senate. I remember setting lights, helping set sound mixing; advertising and ticket sales,and specialties for various artists, requested in their contracts for back stage and breaks. IIt was a great way to earn living to pay for part of my education at Davis. But you can’t imagine the other perks that came with the job. Not only meeting top billing artists from Billboard, but due to the entertainment directorship and its reciprocal recognition by other Bay Area promoters, I received upon request free back stage comp tickets to any entertainment concert in the Bay Area any time. Freeborn and the Coffee House at UCD were my meal ticket. I will be most saddened to see it torn down (as I was to see the Coffee House revamped), but I hope it is replaced with something that can deliver quality artists and to a larger gross potential audience. (more capacity bigger named artists). Seating capacity for Freeborn in 1977, if I remember correctly was limited to 2400 gross, and the Coffee House was about 200 – 300 fross. We put on some great shows at the UCD Coffee House as well back then. They say you can take the man out of UCD, but you cant take UCD out of the man. That’s me. And just so you know, I can still throw a frisbee the entire length of the quad. lol
Cool architecture, cozy atmosphere, many special concerts and a dance—–I hope they save the building.
Some of the best concerts I’ve gone to were at Freeborn: Jimmy Eat World, Death Cab for Cutie, and Tegan and Sara