Lost in the commotion of last fall’s election excitement was a short letter to the Fullerton Observer by Tom Dalton, Fullerton Heritage’s President-for-Life. It appeared in the early September issue. It seemed to be a very belated response to the letter I had written some time before, and that I just posted here on our blog. Well, I’m posting a copy of Mr. Dalton’s letter here as well as a response I sent to the Observer’s editor. Please note that the Observer never printed my letter rebutting Tom Dalton’s, but now for the very first time, Loyal Friends, you may enjoy it here!

First Mr. Dalton’s missive:

College Buildings

Fullerton College dedicated the latest in a series of new buildings on the Fullerton campus August 15, 2008. The Classroom Office Building joins the Library and the Student Center as another example of how new construction can complement and even improve on the overall historic and architectural character of the campus complex. Period design features, proper scale and proportions, and use of appropriate materials on these buildings reflect the style and character of the original campus. And let us not forget the wonderful results of the restoration work on the Wilshire Continuing Education complex. Fullerton College President Kathleen Hodge, former District Chancellor Jerome Hunter, and the District Board are all to be commended for their steadfast commitment to honor the past by foregoing faddish architecture that others often use to make their own statements. Fullerton College has made the strongest statement of all by preserving its heritage. Fullerton Heritage salutes you! Keep up the good work.

Tom Dalton, President Fullerton Heritage

Well, Tom has had his bootlicking say, and now I will share my thoughts on the subject:


I just read Tom Dalton’s recent tribute to the wisdom of the NOCCCD Trustees for their dismal architectural failures on the Fullerton College campus, as printed in your September edition. Tom’s letter must have pleased the trustee who asked him to write it, but it left me wondering why these folks choose to defend the indefensible – rather than develop a new policy of building modern architecture on our campus. Well, maybe they ought to be defensive! Tom tells us the pseudo-historical details, the materials, and the proportions of the new buildings are harmonious with the historical structures on campus. I guess he expects us to take his word for it. But the commonsense of anyone standing in the central quad will tell him that the new library is an overbearing, out-of-scale monstrosity.

The fake concrete form patterns impressed on hollow stucco walls, the awkward fenestration, and the ludicrous cupola only add insult to injury. It’s not easy to create buildings that are both tacky and unoriginal, but whoever designed this building achieved this dubious distinction. The image and caption on the cover of your early October issue is telling: Tiles Fall off the Dome of the New Library During Storm (what storm was that, by the way?). Further comment is unnecessary.

Why does Tom admire architecture that hides its steel structure within hollow walls made of metal studs, lath, and plaster? He says this sort of thing goes well with the existing buildings, and again he seems to think we’ll take his word for it. But why should we accept the idea that boring, dishonest, clunky buildings are anything but an insult to historical structures? Because Tom says so? The new building on Chapman Avenue with its false arches assaults passersby with a sort of stubborn muteness; it is a dull, blocky, inert monument to creative bankruptcy, without a single redeeming architectural quality.

Tom piously warns us against the evil of architectural fads, by which I think we can assume he means contemporary architecture that doesn’t ape the original Mediterranean themes of the WPA buildings on campus. And so, innovative modern architecture on campus of the sort pioneered in Southern California by masters such as Frank Lloyd Wright, Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra and their followers would likely be dismissed as faddish by Dalton, just as their work was scorned by philistines of an earlier time who preferred period revivals such as Stockbroker Tudor and French Provincial as safe, tasteful bets for the local gentry.

But must the public, the students, and the faculty accept fake arches, Styrofoam cornices, and hidden structural members because they gratify Tom and his like minded friends on the Board of Trustees? We should recognize a higher responsibility than weakly regurgitating forms from the past and doing even that poorly. There is no premium paid for good, modern architecture. It costs no more than the uninspired junk the North Orange County Community College District Trustees are foisting on us. And in the long run good architecture will cost less. Someone at the top must make the commitment.

There really is a bigger issue that falls outside the penlight illumination cast by Tom Dalton’s personal aesthetic sensibility. Isn’t it the responsibility of an academic institution to promote creative excellence and shouldn’t that ideal be enshrined in the college’s built environment? Timid and trite architectural expression seems contrary to the very mission of an academic institution. On top of that, it’s a waste of money.

In a few years, as the dreary McSpanish dinosaurs of my Alma Mater disintegrate into a well-deserved decrepitude, Trustees will no doubt float yet another bond to pay for their replacement. Then, hopefully, some future generation will enjoy new creative and dynamic architecture on campus.

Tony Bushala

Founder, Fullerton Heritage


  1. An excellent follow up. There is a mindset that is comfortable with lazy, boring, non-threatening buildings. Unfortunately, it includes almost all school boards and city councils. We deserve better than this kind of tripe.

  2. I’ve never met this Dalton guy but I know about his group. What a load of crap. He places a premium on conformity and clearly has no idea what good architecture even is. And yet he speaks with a voice of authority – as if anybody cared what he had to say.

    I’ll bet it was Molly McClanahan that put him up to it. Another self-righteous nitwit.

  3. “Outclassed by Oceanside”

    The Oceanside Museum of Art provides a clear example of how to approach a similar project the right way, and not the way apparently advocated by Mr. Dalton. OMA’s new central building was designed in a contemporary style compatible with, but not in imitation of, the two historical structures on either side of it. Designed by seminal California modernist Irving Gill, the city’s original Fire Station and City Hall buildings are accentuated by the simple lines of architect Frederick Fisher’s Pavilion instead of being buried by it.

    Here is a link:


    The two strategies employed by OMA and Fullerton College could not illustrate a clearer example of the differences between choosing to respect the past and spoiling it by trying to live in it. The former embraces the challenges of creating the future while preserving and honoring the past. The latter clings to the past by creating grotesque caricatures of it instead of allowing it to age with the dignity it deserves.

  4. Bravo, Mr. Leslie! It’s good to see that at least a few people here in Fullerton “get it.”

    Nobody ever said complementing historic architecture was easy. But NOCCCD has chosen the laziest and most expensive course of all.

    Thanks, also for the link.

    The key to appreciationg Irving Gill is understanding how he applied a completely stripped down, modernist approach to the Spanish/Mission idiom. His work predated Le Corbusier by a decade; and it paid hommage to an architectural tradition without aping it, but by finding universal themes applicable to the 20th Century. He created a brilliant, indigenous architecture.

  5. P.S.

    “Disneyland’s Tomorrow Isn’t Even Yesterday”

    The picture of Disneyland is appropriate for this article in more ways than one. Much of Tomorrowland’s (now chic) mid-century charm has given way to a consciously retro styled new design approach that seems to seek a static “golden age” of dreaming about the future. Here are two links to the neo-Victorian/Buck Rogers Astro Orbitor that replaced the older rocket ride:



    Tomorrowland’s redevelopment of its “blight” is a good example of our passage from modernism to postmodernism in the past three decades. We don’t expect rocket packs to carry us to the supermarket anymore, and we somehow never got our monorail for mass transit, but must we sacrifice any vision at all of a new and exciting future by retreating to a cinematic pastiche of the past? As if dreaming of the future was itself a quaint anachronism?

    I ran across an article from Treehugger.com a while ago that roundly castigated Disney for producing a resource wasting McMansion for their new House of the Future:


    The article also takes them to task for the “new” building’s “mix of Art Nouveau and Craftsman Style”. You read that correctly. It seems that visitors found the daring modernist original House of the Future “kind of cold”, and that we ought to be satisfied with a future that looks a lot like comfy styles from the past.

    Who doesn’t like Craftsman houses? (except the planners and developers who tore so many down in the past decade and a half downtown). My point is that we are lucky to have great examples of period styles like Craftsman bungalows or Eichler mid-century modernist homes in Fullerton, but we don’t need to retreat from the serious job, and the great fun, of design for the future.

    Postmodernism is not Neoconservatism. One is for democracy, the other for totalitarianism. Disney and Fullerton College shouldn’t be trying to shut down our dreams.

  6. You intellectuals can go on all day about this stuff. What matters is not how smart you are, but how smart you have to be to get the trustees to give you a contract.

    And believe me, the answer is not very.

  7. Matt, Fisher’s Pavilion between Gill’s Fire Station and City Hall is a great example of the direction the NOCCD board should have taken.

    The board is probably more ignorant than anyone could imagine, and most likely unwilling or perhaps unable to admit their own ignorance.

    Your comments are enlightening.

  8. Admin,

    Please do not begin using the facts and common sense in an effort to address these type issues. It is only going to confuse Mr. Dalton and his ilk. Dont you get it? Mr. Dalton bases his expertise on caring about an issue, not actual knowledge. You see he really wants things to be nice at the campus and he is nice to people too. Isnt that good enough? Actually knowing something about architecture requires work and study, background and perspective. Acting like he cares can be done on the fly.

  9. “You see he really wants things to be nice at the campus and he is nice to people too”

    Actually he is nice to you if you agree with him and are a big boohoo. If not, he’s just as obnoxious as his wife – and that’s pretty damn obnoxious.

  10. Jain, you are correct. There is a strain of malice that runs through the liberal mindset applied to anybody who fails to agree with them.

    I’ve seen it time and time again. These are NOT nice people. They are opinionated and vindictive. And the sooner Fullerton gets rid of these tree fungii the better off it will be.

  11. Matt… I agree… Cool design, within OUR period, but still fitting to the surrounding buildings. Nice post.

  12. Admin, why don’t you post some GOOD design in OC and call out the architects. Maybe someone will get the clue? (or maybe not).

  13. Yes, I asked Tom to write that letter because that snake in the grass Tony B was making us look bad. I LIKE FAKE OLD TOO!

  14. The middle part of the library doesn’t go with the ends. The bottom of the middle doesn’t go with the top of the middle. This is crapola. Who approved this? NAME NAMES!

  15. If you look closely at one of the photos, you can see that the school is having a “giant book sale”. Now tell me… who is going to buy all of these giant books?

  16. Why didnt Chamber Board president Terresa Harvey report to the community about FJC’s new sports complex? She is responsibile as Fullertons liason to the NOCCCD to inform us about how & where our $95 million voter approved Bond funds would be spent. Pam Keller, city staffers and neighbors wonder why the JC did’nt even mention to the city what was being planned for at FJC, ask Harvey.

  17. Admin, perhaps this Teresa Harvey woman and her roll in this issue should be a seperate post. The nieghbors effected by the new Stadium deserve to know who “was” responsible for informing them about what was being planned right accross the street from their houses.

  18. No one approves anything on school property. They can build without oversight, community input or City involvement. You can call the school and bitch, but, hey, it’s ALREADY there!

  19. Are you concerned about the stadium and other impacts of Fullerton College? Would you like to join a group actively seeking to protect our neighborhood?

    My name is Ken Bane and I’m working with a group of neighborsto do whatever we reasonably can to ensure our neighborhood’s interests are protected.

    I invite you to join us. We already have a leadership team in place and are dialing into a number of key areas to help our cause.
    No commitments. We’ll keep you informed of upcoming important events and seek your input and support at key times (like showing up for public meetings, etc.) Of course, if you’d like to have a more active role we’d definitely appreciate your energy!

    Let me know your thoughts, I sure would appreciate it. Feel free to email me at kb@banemedia.com

  20. Ken, welcome to FFFF. Good luck on this project. As usual a school does whatever it damn well pleases with virtually no public awareness – until ground is broken.

    Remember its all about education.

    BTW, what was the environemental review on this?

  21. funny you should ask – the EIR only contemplated a “renovation” of the track field. but when no one was looking, they added lighing, a PA system, and seating 2000+. When we caught their hand in the cookie jar the agreed to be a “good neighbor” and do the required supplemental CEQA review, like someone following the law makes them worthy, when in fact they wouldn’t have unless we busted them. And frankly, we’re skeptical they’ll do it right from here anyway.

    shoot me an email if you’d like to talk – we need support and insight (same invitation goes for anyone…) kb@banemedia.com

  22. Well, they’ll do an Initial Study and try to slide by with the minimum effort when they ought to be doing an Ammendment to an EIR – or an EIR itself if there isn’t one already – for Traffic/Circulation, Sound, and Aesthetics (lights).

    What is it about Fullerton. First they approve it, then they do an acoustical analysis!

    What a waste of dough. There’s already a stadium at FHS and another one at CSUF. Sometimes renting is better than owning.

    I think our administrator may want to do a post on this issue.

  23. The right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. Harpoon, you pinned the tail on the donkey, “sometimes renting is better than owning” this was one of those times, but as usual, the government (NOCCCD) has our tax money burning a hole in their pockets.

  24. “There’s already a stadium at FHS and another one at CSUF”, I believe Mr. Harpoon is correct, but the word on the street is that CSUF wont let the Hornets play at their stadium (even though it was bought and paid for by the redevelopment agency and the FUHSD wont take bond funds from the NOCCD to make improvements to upgrade the HS Stadium. Just another typical government boondoggle at work. Admin, do a post on this subject.

  25. A lot of negative crap here. But I agree that the architecture on campus is out of context.
    But as a designer I can tell you that this is a common problem: administration injecting themselves into the design process, not through a knowledge of design/architecture but through the simple fact that they can.
    Think about it, you can spend your day doing mundane administrative duties. Or you can play pretend architect/art director. Most people will pick the latter.
    EVERYBODY thinks they’re creative, that they have taste etc. The fact is these people don’t realize that they don’t have the trained fine tuned eye/vision that someone gets through training, experience and flat out hard work. I find this complete lack of respect for other people’s disciplines insulting. It ‘s also a huge time/money waster. And in this economy that should be looked at.
    Does the college district let these people change complex legal documents without a law degree? No. But hey, anybody can design a building right? Why listen to the expert opinion of an architect? That you’ve hired because of his/her expertise. Oh that’s right, because none of these administrators can actually envision/draw/design anything. Don’t blame the architect, they probably had a good plan but it gets completely destroyed in this ridiculous process.

    1. No, the architects were just following their instructions from the administration.

      Most of the rest of your comment seems pretty accurate.

      Except the part about “negative crap.” This blog tells it like it is. The bureaucrats and the educrats no doubt hate our guts for shining a little light onto their incompetence and self-serving behavior. Hell, that’s a badge of honor!

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