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Post-WWII Veteran Housing at Fullerton College

On June 22, 1944, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law the Servicemen Readjustment Act, popularly known as the G.I. Bill of Rights, which allowed servicemen and women the opportunity to enroll in educational or technical training programs and receive up to $500 for tuition per school year, a monthly living allowance while pursuing their studies and all necessary school supplies.

At its peak year in 1947, there were 1.7 million veterans enrolled in higher education.  By the time the G.I. Bill expired in 1956, 7.8 million World War II veterans had participated in higher education or training programs.

At the end of the Second World War, Fullerton College (then Fullerton Junior College) had only 71 male students.  Only 15 veterans enrolled in 1944-45, but by 1946-47, that figure had jumped to 843.  The campus had the largest freshmen classes in its history, and men soon outnumbered
women by two to one.

Fullerton College applied for certification from the Readjustment Division of the California Department of Education in 1946 and became one of six schools in Orange County approved to educate veterans under the G.I. Bill.  Fullerton College administrators and boosters actively recruited ex-servicemen, but the campus faced one major problem: there was no available housing for veterans.

The City of Fullerton had experienced severe housing shortages decades before the War, and veterans found it almost impossible to find places to live in town. The problem was exacerbated by the age of the returning veterans: most were older than the typical Fullerton College student, and many were married with small children.

Campus administrators and interested citizens looked for ways to provide housing for both single and married veterans.  The former Domingo Bastanchury home, located at the end of Las Palmas Drive on the outskirts of town, was available for rent.  In 1946, the vacant residence was converted into a Veterans’ Home, housing 25 to 40 single G.Is, each paying $50 a month. The Veterans’ Home had the distinction of being the only school-sponsored dormitory for veteran students in Southern California.

With the single veteran housing problem solved, the College started to look for ways to accommodate married veterans.  In February 1946, the Federal Housing Authority announced that Fullerton College was to receive 25 dwelling units for occupancy by veterans and their families, making the College the first in California to take advantage of the federal offer of free housing.

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 Veteran housing north of Fullerton College.

Eventually 51 wood and metal units were moved from the Santa Ana Air Base to the campus.  Each unit was divided into one, two, and five room dwellings. All of the units came with kitchen ranges, iceboxes, washbasins, and bathroom fixtures. The ex-military barrack-styled housing units were not the most stylish or comfortable, but they accommodated 125 veterans and their families.  Married faculty members who had served in the military were also given College housing.

Initially the veterans’ quarters were to be situated near the front of the campus, but in March, 1946, the Board of Trustees was able to purchase 4.1 acres for $10,126 from city librarian Carrie Sheppard and her mother.  Adjacent to the north boundary of the College, with a 276-frontage along North Harvard (now Lemon) Avenue, the newly acquired property became the perfect site for the former military housing units.

The federal government provided the housing units for free, the state government paid for installation and utilities, and Fullerton College donated the land. A private road, known as East Hillcrest Drive or College Village Drive, provided access to the small community, which had named itself College Village.

The Veterans Administration provided a subsistence allowance of $50 a month for veterans without dependents and $75 for those with dependents.  That money did not go far for veterans supporting families so many took part-time jobs on campus.

A Veterans’ Center was set up on campus to advise veterans on matters pertaining to insurance, education, vocational benefits, loans, and any other activities that students wished to have explained.  Special counseling was also established for the disabled, blind, or amputee veterans.

To accommodate the young wives and mothers living in the units, Fullerton College began offering courses (e.g., child care, home economics) that would appeal to them. The low rent, accessibility to campus, and the easy availability of part-time work at a time of critical housing shortages were greatly appreciated by the veterans and their families.

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 Map of Fullerton College with veteran housing.

To accommodate veterans who were not attending Fullerton College, the City of Fullerton moved barrack-styled wooden housing units to 396 West Truslow, and the Veterans Housing Project remained in use until 1952.

That same year, residents living near Fullerton College began to complain about the “disgraceful” condition of College Village, demanding that the units be removed or demolished.  Nearby residents were particularly upset with laundry hanging outside the homes.  When veterans and their families protested that they could not afford apartments—then renting for $80 to $90 a month—the Fullerton City Council allowed the housing units to remain.  By then, Korean War veterans had moved into the housing.

By 1955 the number of veterans attending Fullerton College decreased and the number of residential and apartment developments in the hill area above College Village increased, and it became evident that the rundown units were no longer compatible with their surroundings.

The last veteran family moved out in June 1955, leaving College Village, once jammed bumper-to-bumper with cars, a ghost town.  The decision was then made to close down the housing.  Bids were taken for the buildings.  Some of the units were demolished and a few were relocated to other schools, including La Habra and Buena Park High Schools.

In 1960, the Community College District built new headquarters, the District Center, on the hillside north of campus, and in 1966, Berkeley Avenue was widened and extended to Harbor Boulevard, finally removing all trace of the units that once occupied the north part of the campus.

 

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