Just weeks before their planned demolition, the last two Quonset huts on campus perished in the Tea Fire. Their absence is bittersweet. They make way for much finer facilities and a new road, but their long history on campus symbolized Westmont’s difficult early years as well as God’s faithful provision. The unexpected blaze meant the art department lost its equipment for the sculpture and ceramics classes held at one of the huts. The public events office used the other one for storing items used in Commencement and other college activities, none of which survived.
Quonset huts first appeared on campus in 1945 shortly after the college moved to Santa Barbara. World War II had created a housing shortage that made it challenging to find sufficient residences for students — but it also provided temporary facilities. Westmont officials desperate for dormitories learned they could purchase inexpensive Quonset huts from the Navy base in Oxnard. The only problem was transporting them.
Bob Ross ’48, whose schooling was interrupted by the war, recalls moving the huts to Santa Barbara. “[Westmont] hired a trucking firm that moved those kinds of things … We were taking biology at the time and whenever they would have one of these trucks ready…they dismissed the biology class … and we would literally ride the tops of those Quonset huts up from Oxnard, because we had … to be there with wooden poles to lift the [power] lines to be sure that they didn’t snag … [and] the Quonset huts didn’t knock down any electric lines or electric poles.”
According to Bob, the first one went where the parking lot by the bookstore is today, and it became a public restroom. Six huts housed male students in a dorm known as Q-Ville located on the site of Van Kampen Hall. Another Quonset hut, placed opposite the post office, served as the student store.
Ruth McCreery remembers, “Moving the college to Santa Barbara was a very hectic business … Quonset huts were secured and brought in to the campus for housing of the young male students.” William Beasley lived in the Quonset huts for two years. During that time, “The heating was a floor furnace, a gas floor furnace, and many times we would fire that thing up on a Sunday night and get some chow from somewhere and put it over the grill to heat it up.” He also described a time before there were bridges on campus and “going down the hill, and jumping over the little creek, and coming up on the other side. And when it rained, you skidded down there, or slipped, or whatever.”
While the Quonset huts served as temporary facilities, they also contributed to the building of permanent ones. Roger Voskuyl recalls the huts being an integral part of campus. “When Mr. and Mrs. Murchison came to visit the campus the first time, where do you think I took them? To see where our students were living in Quonset huts. Later the Murchisons gave us funds for two-thirds of the cost of Murchison Gym. So much for facilities!”
The campus road under construction will traverse part of the area where the Quonset huts stood for so many years. In the next phase of building on campus, which is years away, the college plans to add an annex for the library on the site left empty by the destruction of the Quonset huts and the physics building.