70th Anniversary

Old student union to become new alumni center

By Reina Suio and Delaney Tran

The now empty, caution-taped Soroptomist house used to be a thriving center for advocacy, wellness and community on-campus. 

Alumni, like Jo Murray, class of 1982, remember the building fondly.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Murray, who chaired concerts held in the outdoor terrace with her husband in 1986 and enjoyed the afternoon tea services in high school.

The house was built in 1957 and gifted to Associated Students Inc. by the Soroptimist House of Long Beach, according to James Ahumada, senior communications manager of ASI. It was then used as the school’s first student union, where students gathered to relax between classes. 

Courtesy of Special Collections & University Archives, California State University, Long Beach.

However, after 62 years on campus, it’s being replaced with the new alumni center. The decision was made before the Ridgecrest Earthquake on July 4 which left the Soroptimist House red-tagged and deemed unsafe. 

“It’s exciting to have progress, but it’s sad to not have something that embraces our history on campus,” Murray said.

The building, one of the oldest on campus, served as an inexpensive venue to rent on campus. The dated furniture and mid-century modern architecture appealed to the students since it felt retro compared to the rest of campus. 

Throughout the years, it has been used for multiple events including weddings and Poet’s Lounges. The ownership was transferred to the university in recent years, where it continued to hold events and meetings. The Soroptimist International of Long Beach has used it for meet-and-greets, but hasn’t in the past five years.   

Soroptimist International has embraced the news, but are sad to let it go.   

“I think times have changed; it’s no longer a viable house,” said Judy Murphy, president of Soroptimist International. “It’s served its purpose all those years…We are OK with that. We are happy that it’s been used for so long and so well…You have to let it go, but that’s what happens. Times change.”

According to Mark Zakhour, director of design and construction services, the canopy in particular was unsafe and the overall structure has gone beyond its replacement date.

“It’s deteriorating, it’s old,” Zakhour said. “It was built in the ‘60s, so by the time you make all the seismic retrofits, make it compliant with the new energy codes, at that point you’re basically building a new building.”

Now, the space will become the 6,000-square-foot Anna W. Ngai Alumni Center. The building will cost $8.5 million, and its funding will come exclusively from private donations, with Construction scheduled to begin summer 2020. 

Its design was just released at the Founder’s Day celebration for CSULB’s 70th anniversary.

It will still be a place to hold events and a space for community and campus groups to gather, much like the Soroptimist House.

The new structure will pay tribute to the Soroptimist House by incorporating a plaque dedicated to the house and using pieces from the old structure in the alumni center.

“It has a lot of great history and has done a lot for the campus, so we want to document it well and make sure it never gets forgotten,” Zakhour said. 

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