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Spotlight on the 1920s and 30s: Our Beginnings

The Old Stables and Arabian horses running on the field

When Cal Poly Pomona welcomed its first students 75 years ago, it wasn’t called Cal Poly Pomona or California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. It wasn’t even in Pomona.

Voorhis ChapelIn September 1938, it was the Voorhis Unit of California State Polytechnic College in San Luis Obispo. Some knew it as Cal Poly San Dimas (north of the present day Via Verde Country Club). Students spent the first two years studying agriculture in San Dimas before finishing their college degree in San Luis Obispo.

Before it became Cal Poly San Dimas, the Voorhis campus served as the Voorhis School for Boys, which housed and educated orphaned and underprivileged youth. After headmaster H. Jerry Voorhis was elected to Congress in 1936, the school was donated to be the site of the Southern California campus of Cal Poly SLO.

“The gift of the Voorhis School for Boys in San Dimas to Cal Poly is considered the genesis of the Cal Poly Pomona campus as we know it today,” says Ron Simons, a Cal Poly Pomona alumnus and former administrator. “[Charles] Voorhis was impressed with the type of program taking place at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and was eager to replicate that opportunity in the Southland.”

Cal Poly Pomona’s learn-by-doing philosophy was prevalent at the Voorhis Unit, where undergraduates received hands-on training in agriculture, worked alongside professors and solved real-world problems. The first intramural sports teams were formed, and the Bronco mascot was adopted in 1940, an iteration of “Junior Mustang” named after Cal Poly San Luis Obispo’s mascot.

Pomona in the 1920s and 30s

Cal Poly Pomona’s main campus also has a distinct history, beginning as a horse ranch and winter home for cereal pioneer W.K. Kellogg in the 1920s. Kellogg purchased 377 acres and later added 425 more, building a mansion, manor house, horse stables, training ring and courtyard. The rolling hills and snow-capped mountains were a lush backdrop for his winter residence and herd of prized Arabian horses.

Hollywood’s elite often visited the ranch and watched horse shows, and Kellogg lent some of his horses for use in movies. “It Girl” Clara Bow, Mary Pickford, Gary Cooper and Ronald Reagan were among the stars who visited.

Voorhis School for Boys' Class Picture

In 1932, Kellogg donated the ranch, 87 horses and a $600,000 endowment to the University of California. Will Rogers served as the master of ceremonies at the announcement, which drew nearly 20,000 people, including Gov. James Rolph Jr. The ranch became the W.K. Kellogg Institute of Animal Husbandry.

Silent Movie starlet Clara Bow with Sotamm (an Arabian Horse) at the Kellogg StablesOther highlights from the 1920s and 30s:

1926: Italian actor and “Latin lover” Rudolph Valentino rides Kellogg’s Arabian Jadaan in “The Son of The Sheik.”

1930: W.K. Kellogg buys an additional 425 acres, more than doubling the size of his ranch.

1939: The campus store at the Voorhis Unit is the social hub on campus. It has a radio, a pool table and ping-pong tables.

1939: Spring quarter enrollment stands at 82.

For more highlights from the university’s history, visit the timeline.