Freeborn Hall Has Hosted Its Last Event

Freeborn Hall, exterior, raindy day
The front of the vacant Freeborn Hall, on a rainy day in November, with work on the North Courtyard renovation progressing in the foreground. The courtyard is bounded on two other sides by the Campus Store and the Memorial Union. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Quick Summary

  • Once the campus’s only auditorium, it hosted concerts, speakers, classes for more than half a century
  • Officials decide seismic retrofit, complete renovation too costly — and money is better directed to student services
  • Building will be torn down and the basement filled in, with the site to be left vacant for now

After taking a closer look at the prospect of rehabilitating Freeborn Hall, the upper portion of which required a seismic retrofit, the university has decided the project would be too costly and that the money would be better directed to student services. And so, the 57-year-old hall, once the only auditorium on campus, will be torn down.

The university closed the multipurpose space in 2014 and has been studying options for Freeborn since then. Officials looked at multiple proposals, among them a replacement building; a converted Freeborn, turning it into an open-air pavilion; and a comprehensive renovation, including accessibility upgrades and new building systems to replace those near the end of their lifespans — with costs ranging from $8.5 million for the seismic upgrade alone to $36 million for the full renovation.

As recently as 2017, the university seemed set on renovating Freeborn to serve as a conference and event center. Ultimately, university leadership — in consultation with the ASUCD, Division of Student Affairs, Design and Construction Management, Budget and Institutional Analysis, the campus architect and outside consultants, among others — decided the project was not economically feasible at a time when student services needed the funding.

Demolition including infill of Lower Freeborn, the building’s basement, is expected to cost approximately $5 million and take six months to complete. The start date has not yet been determined.

After the building is torn down, the Freeborn site — prime, central campus real estate — will be left open pending possible future development. Meanwhile, the North Courtyard — surrounded on three sides by Freeborn Hall, the Memorial Union and the Campus Store — is undergoing renovation (new hardscape and landscaping) and is expected to be fully open during winter break.

Lower Freeborn

Because officials declared Lower Freeborn, the basement of Freeborn Hall, safe for continued occupancy, it did not close with the rest of the building four years ago. The occupants — The California Aggie, KDVS, Aggie Studios, The Pantry and other ASUCD units, along with several university administrative offices — will now be relocated on campus. Where the offices will move is under discussion; a plan should be in place by summer 2019, said Emily Galindo, interim vice chancellor for Student Affairs.


Prior to the opening of the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts in 2002, Freeborn Hall was the primary large-events space on the UC Davis campus. Over the years the hall has hosted concerts, distinguished speakers, fairs, large classes and even the occasional high school prom.

Nevertheless, a historic evaluation of the building concluded that it was not historically significant and did not meet the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places or the California Register of Historic Resources. Though campus-owned, Freeborn Hall has long been managed by the Division of Student Affairs.

Today, the campus has other venues suited for mid-size to large events, such as the Conference Center and Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) Ballroom.

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Nathaniel Curiel and Dave Jones

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