Beacon on the Hill
After 40 years, the lights dim on seismically unsafe Warren Hall
BY FRED SANDSMARK ’83
When Hal Gin ’73, mpa ’83 arrived at then–California State College at Hayward in 1970, Warren Hall was being built — “just a skeletal frame,” he recalls — but it already dominated the fledgling campus.
And when the 194-foot tower was complete, its prominence only grew and amplified. “For years, Warren Hall was not just a landmark, but it was the place to be,” Gin recalls. “If you were on campus, you wanted to have a meeting in the President’s Conference Room on the 9th floor, just to
see the view.”
As a 20-year-old transfer student majoring in sociology, Gin couldn’t know that he’d spend a 30-plus year career in the new building, but he did: Gin started working in the tower’s lobby as a student assistant in 1971, and retired from a fourth-floor office as executive drector of Student Development Services in 2005. He also couldn’t know that he’d live to see the structure that he affectionately calls “my home” demolished. The hulking concrete tower stood vacant all summer. “Buildings, like human lives, have their seasons,” Gin says. “I guess the season for Warren Hall has reached its end."
FORCES AT WORK
Warren Hall was a victim of the seismic forces that shaped California. The building sat less than 1.25 miles from the Hayward Fault, an active earthquake fault that carries an “increasingly likely” risk of a 6.8-magnitude earthquake according to a report issued by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in 2008. At a conference held at the Cal State East Bay campus that year, seismologists said there was a 22 percent chance that the next major quake on the Hayward Fault would strike within
the next 30 years.
Economic forces were at play, too. More than 11,000 students now attend Cal State East Bay full-time, and more than 2,000 people work for the school. The university has a responsibility to keep this community safe — and to do so cost-effectively. After years of studies, California State University leaders decided that keeping Warren Hall open presented an unacceptable risk to the campus community, and demolishing the building made the best financial sense.
But it’s been difficult to imagine the Cal State East Bay campus without its signature structure — albeit one that, in aggregate, probably inspired more respect than affection in its 40-year history. “The impression was, ‘This building is authority,’” Gin recalls from his days as a student. “This is the administration building, where all decisions were made for us. It certainly had that symbol.” Furthermore, the building represented a hierarchy: Generally, the higher an administrator’s office, the more powerful he or she was, culminating in the president’s office on the top floor — slyly referred to as “The Ego’s Nest” by some in the campus community, Gin recalls with a laugh.
In spite of that perhaps-negative symbolism, Warren Hall boosters came out of the woodwork (or, perhaps more accurately, out of the concrete) to express their affection in its final days. More than 165 photos have been posted to a Facebook tribute page, with nostalgic comments, like “Farewell, old friend,” dominating the discussion. One student sculpted Warren Hall from old newspapers for the school’s 2013 Earth Week Recycled Art Contest.
In October, Sarai Portocarrero ’09 and Justin Albano ’07 took their tribute a step further: They trekked to the hilltop campus — she in a deep blue, knee-length sleeveless dress and he in a sharp blue suit and crisp, open-collared white shirt — to pose for engagement photos. Cal State East Bay brought them together — they met at a college party — and they wanted to memorialize that fact. “I knew, definitely, I wanted to take pictures with that building in them,” Portocarrero says of Warren Hall, because the tower symbolizes Cal State East Bay for the couple, who married in April and live in Hayward. “I could always see it, point to the building and say, ‘I went to that university,’” she says. “Now it’s ... gone. It’s not going to be the same. It’s sad.”
CONCRETE AND IVORY
That sadness makes sense because landmarks are as much emotional touchpoints as physical ones, explains Jennifer Wolch ’75, M.S. ’76, dean of the College of Environmental Design at University of California, Berkeley. She remembered the building from her days on campus: “It was a classic early ’70s brutalist structure,” she says. (“Brutalist” comes from the French phrase béton brut, meaning “raw concrete,” and doesn’t necessarily imply that a building is brutal to its users.)
While brutalism has its aficionados, a building’s success depends in part on context, and that’s where Warren Hall fell short in spite of its height. “It did not blend in with the hills in a sympathetic way,” Wolch says. “It was an industrial-looking concrete building set in a more pastoral landscape.” While its stature made Warren Hall an eyesore to some, it also reinforced its role as a landmark.
The building also could be criticized as representing a detached, command-and-control management philosophy, Wolch says. And she’s not the first person to say so. Fred Harcleroad, the first president of the university, voiced opposition to the proposed tower in a March 1966 memo found in the Cal State East Bay archives. “The ivory tower impression, the greater inaccessibility of people, and the communications hurdles that would come with the tower as it is now being planned will create problems for us that we do not need in our relationships among ourselves (those of us in administration) as well as with faculty, students and other groups,” Harcleroad wrote.
It was an accurate foretelling, Gin says. The fourth-floor student activities office where he worked was a case in point. “We were concerned that we weren’t accessible and friendly to students,” Gin says. “Who wants to take an elevator to the fourth floor just to fill out forms?”
But in his memo, Harcleroad conceded that the decision to construct a tower was already made. Planning for a combined library and administration complex had begun about three years after the campus’ hilltop site was chosen in 1961. By 1967, renderings by architect John Puisha showed a three-story, 250,000-square-foot library and a 10-story, 113,000-square-foot administration tower, connected by a bridge over West Loop Road. Almost $11 million in state and federal funding were assembled — measured in dollars, it was the largest single project in the state college system at the time — and Dillingham Construction Corp. of San Francisco won the contract over six other bidders to erect the building.
PUT TO GOOD USE
Ground was broken July 7, 1969, and construction was rapid. University employees began working in the building in late 1971, and documents in the Cal State East Bay archives describe the glitches they encountered in the new structure. “Administrators have been climbing stairs to their top-floor offices in the new administration building, because the three elevators have worked only intermittently so far,” reported a September 1971 article in the local Morning News. Window blinds, eliminated from the building’s initial design to save money, were needed after all to shield workers from the blazing afternoon sun. Telephones and air conditioning were unreliable.
Despite the early hiccups, the East Bay community flocked to an open house for the new structure on Sunday, March 19, 1972. Three months later the college was rechristened California State University, Hayward, and the Administration Building — that was its official name — settled into productive use. Workers filled the tower’s offices and communication dishes sprouted from its topmost level as the campus sprawled horizontally in its shadow. A symbolic change came in 1980, when the building was named for E. Guy Warren, a Hayward businessman and former trustee of the California State Colleges, predecessor of the CSU. (See “E. Guy Warren,” page 23.)
Another milestone — or speed bump — in the building’s journey came in 1999, when the CSU Seismic Review Board placed Warren Hall on a list of systemwide buildings deemed dangerous in an earthquake. The CSU had always constructed its buildings to current seismic codes, but the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake raised a sense of urgency to make CSU buildings safera and also increased structural engineers’ understanding of what makes buildings vulnerable in a temblor. Within a decade, Warren Hall rose to the top of the Board’s list of risky CSU structures because of “structural deficiencies that could result in total building failure from a Richter magnitude 7 or greater earthquake on the nearby Hayward fault,” according to a July 2012 report by Oakland-based Impact Sciences Inc.
The CSU considered several options, including retrofitting the existing building, shortening it by removing several upper floors, or demolishing it entirely, before eventually settling on demolition.
“You could potentially retrofit a building like Warren Hall, but it would be really expensive,” says Cristian Gaedicke, assistant professor in the Department of Engineering at CSUEB and an expert on concrete.
Although Gaedicke was not involved in the decision to demolish Warren Hall, he understands the rationale behind the choice. “If you start retrofitting, you cannot just do only the structure,” he says. “You have to upgrade the bathrooms, the elevators, fire resistance, indoor air quality and energy efficiency. You need to do the whole thing from scratch.”
MEASURING THE LEGACY
Even in its passing, Warren Hall will continue serving Cal State East Bay students. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, CSUEB Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and other researchers observed and recorded the implosion using hundreds of seismographs surrounding the building to create a 3-D model of the area's underground geology, which could help authorities improve building codes and make the community more resilient in the event of a quake. They hope to learn the depth of the Hayward Fault near CSUEB, whether it joins with any other faults and, if so, how this affects the seismic hazard to the area.
Additionally, graduate construction engineering student Farel Miankodila is working with several CSUEB professors and the demolition company, Silverado Contractors of Oakland, to study how the wood, glass, metal and concrete from Warren Hall will be recycled or reused. Miankodila has been performing a detailed life cycle assessment, or LCA, of the building’s deconstruction (his preferred term) to measure the project’s sustainability. “We need to understand the overall environmental impact related to the building’s materials and make sure that they are reused or recycled in a cost-efficient way that also serves a social good,” he explains.
Looking at the building’s overall impact, and factoring in the social good it delivered, may also be the best way to measure the legacy of Warren Hall. Perhaps there is more to a building than the tons of concrete, steel, and wood in its structure. Perhaps the mark Warren Hall will leave is on the minds and hearts of the faculty, staff, students and community it served, rather than on the land where it stood. Perhaps Marc Jensen ’77, who as a teenager saw the building rise and who planned to watch it tumble down, put it best: “When I think about the building itself, it did strike me as cold,” he says. “But the people brought warmth to it.”