Freeborn Hall: History of Music and More

Luncheon event, circular tables with balloons, in Freeborn Hall
Staff and faculty gather for Soaring to new Heights diversity event in Freeborn Hall.

Freeborn Hall was constructed in 1961 as a multiuse replacement to the campus’ old Recreation Hall, a 1921 wood-shingle building that in its early years did double duty as a gymnasium and a library.

Joan Baez concert poster

When Freeborn Hall opened, it was known as Assembly Hall. It was later renamed to honor UC Davis’ first chancellor, Stanley Freeborn.

Over the years, the venue hosted a wide series of events — class lectures, academic conferences, rallies, dances and commencements. During the annual Picnic Day, the Cal Aggie Alumni Association held pancake breakfasts in Freeborn.

The hall is perhaps best remembered for its concerts by some of the most popular artists of the time. Joan Baez gave the inaugural concert. Duke Ellington played for $1 a ticket. Other big draws included Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Snoop Dogg and Nine Inch Nails. Read more about Freeborn concerts, and see more posters.

The last event held in Freeborn was a dance for athletes of the 2014 Special Olympics Northern California Summer Games.

Steve Weiss ’86, former director of ASUCD Student Forums and former assistant director and director of University Cultural Programs, told UC Davis Magazine that Freeborn presented challenges as a venue. When he first began working there as an undergraduate, the seating in the hall was flat. “If you were back 15 rows, you better hope that nobody tall was in front of you.”

Renovations in the late 1980s included the addition of bleacher-style seating and ceiling baffles to improve the acoustics for orchestral music. Limitations remained, but Weiss said Freeborn allowed the university to book top speakers and performing artists — building a regional audience to support the construction of the Mondavi Center.

This article is excerpted from "Freeborn Hall Retrospective," UC Davis Magazine, Fall 2014.

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