- 85-year-old building houses new Graduate Center
- 3 wings in back are general-assignment classrooms
- Grand opening celebration scheduled for April 8
The 85-year-old Walker Hall, one of the oldest buildings on campus, is bustling with student life again after a front-to-back renovation, including retrofits for accessibility and seismic safety.
Vacant since 2011, Walker — near the center of campus — reopened at the start of the fall quarter. The front part (the two-story north side of the Spanish mission-style building, facing Shields Avenue) is now the Graduate Center, giving graduate and professional students a home of their own for the first time — and, in fact, it’s the first center of its kind in the UC system. The three wings in back have been converted into general-assignment classroom space.
In the “Welcome to the Graduate Center at Walker Hall” video above, Vice Provost and Dean Jean-Pierre Delplanque acknowledges graduate and professional students (who today number about 7,000) and postdoctoral scholars (about 1,000) as “core” to the UC Davis research enterprise and educational mission — and adds that the Graduate Center’s location in the heart of campus “symbolizes the importance of that contribution.”
The center houses myriad programs in UC Davis’ support system for graduate students’ academic, professional and personal well-being — including mentoring and advising, and financial and mental health services. Also included: meeting and conference rooms, a collaborative studio and quiet writing lounge, graduate commons and kitchen, lactation room and parent study lounge.
The building also houses the Postdoctoral Scholars Association, the Graduate Student Association and the GSA Pantry, operated in partnership with the Aggie Compass Basic Needs Center.
While most of the interior is brand-new, a number of historic elements have been retained in the lobby, including the doorways and tile floors.
It was an ag building first
The building was designed to “house the entire activities of the Agricultural Engineering Division, which includes instruction and research in farm power and machinery and farm structures,” The California Aggie reported in a 1926 article about the forthcoming construction.
It opened the next year as the Agricultural Engineering Building. The cost: $136,704, according to historical information maintained by the UC Davis Library. (The renovation cost: $33.4 million, according to Design and Construction Management.)
The library records also note the building’s name change to Walker Hall in 1959, honoring agricultural engineering professor Harry B. Walker, who was chair of the Agricultural Engineering Division from the time he joined the faculty in 1928 until 1947. The next chair, Roy Bainer, would also have a building named in his honor, Bainer Hall, home of the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering.
Meanwhile, Walker Hall would house a number of other departments over the years Civil Engineering, Design (and the Design Museum), Landscape Design, Environmental Design and Landscape Architecture.
From shops to classrooms
Professor Walker, instrumental in the development of the sugar beet harvester, would make good use of the back of the Agricultural Engineering Building. The California Aggie, in its advance story on the project, reported that the one-story wings would be “of shop-type construction with large steel-frame windows which provide ample natural light.”
The wings give the building its E shape, with each wing perpendicular to the main structure. During the renovation, they were cut back some to make way for the Walker Promenade connecting Shields Library, to the east of Walker Hall, and the Student Community Center to the west.
The promenade provides access to the wings-turned-classrooms — numbered 1310, 1320 and 1330 Walker Hall — seating 194, 72 and 99 students, respectively. The seats in the largest room are tiered and fixed, while the seats in the other rooms are moveable.
A grand reopening
The campus dedicated the Agricultural Engineering Building in November 1928 along with the Animal Science Building (now Hart Hall) across the street.
Leonard J. Fletcher, general supervisor of agricultural sales for the Caterpillar Tractor Co. and former professor of agricultural engineering at Davis, was among the speakers, according to the newspaper, which stated: “Mr. Fletcher dedicated the new Agricultural Engineering Building with an interesting address, ‘The Way of Agriculture — Engineered.’”
And though the Agricultural Engineering Division left long ago, the “Engineering” name still adorns the wall above the main entrance — which seems perfectly appropriate, considering how UC Davis successfully engineered new uses for Walker Hall, preserving the historic structure for continuing service to the university’s mission.
A grand reopening ceremony is scheduled for Friday, April 8. Details will be announced as they become available.