By Paul Medina
As East Los Angeles College enters its 75th year in operation, the campus has undergone a series of major physical transformations. From original World War II bungalows to the beautiful buildings on the campus today, ELAC has gone through a significant journey as it continues to provide educational opportunities for 34,000 students per year.
ELAC has gone through significant remodeling and expansion to reach its present state. Today it boasts one of the most beautiful community college campuses around.
Former ELAC President (1994-2011) and current Los Angeles Community College District Board of Trustees member Ernest Moreno said that was not always the case.
“When I arrived there, we had the worst conditions you could possibly imagine. We had buildings that were supposed to be temporary with no heat, no air conditioning,” Moreno said.
Many of the buildings on campus were former World War II bungalows. The campus had buildings unkempt, unclean and in completely decay condition.
“It was certainly when I arrived the least desirable of all the colleges to attend,” Moreno said.
Several buildings were not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act nor easily accessible. Moreno said he was astonished over the horrible conditions that the students had to endure for many years.
When Moreno arrived as vice president in 1991, the first major building in decades was being built, thanks to state funding. The William Palmer Automotive Technology building was in the process of being planned and Moreno worked with Department Chair Palmer, whom the building is named after.
That, Moreno said, was the beginning of what would become a great journey in ELAC’s transformation. Other state funded tasks followed which included the Child Development Center, a small center located in the middle of the campus at the time.
Moreno was able to obtain additional funding which made it the largest Child Development Center in the state of California. It is now located in the southwest part of campus.
Moreno thought his legacy was going to be limited to those two buildings and E7, which were funded by the state. E7 was the largest and most up-to-date building the college had planned.
Because the state was not willing to completely fund everything with the building, Moreno had to go through extreme lengths to borrow steel and other materials. It took a lot of effort to get those buildings done.
Once Proposition A, AA and Bond J were passed, it became possible to build other buildings on campus. This victory would mean that the buildings that were being built or developed could be part of the master plan.
After having fought so hard to make this happen, Moreno could not believe these buildings were going up during his term as president.
He feels very fortunate to have had the opportunity to replan ELAC with the building projects manager and to have improved almost every building on campus.
Many buildings would be fully renovated, including the Helen Miller Bailey, Administration building, E1 building and modifications to the football stadium which was updated with a new field and tracks.
New construction began on a Math building, the arts galleries were moved to its current location at the stand-alone Vincent Price Art Museum.
Additional construction included the Theater Arts Complex, S building complex, the F7 Social Science building and the F5 Student Center, which was built with a large cafeteria at the bottom. Two multi-level parking lots were also built, and a clock tower was added.
Alumni Esther Maurice, who graduated in 1988, recalls taking classes at ELAC during a time that the campus was not as updated as it is today. Noting the new condition of the campus buildings, she reacted to the change when she returned to campus in 2019.
“I saw the change drastically. When I returned, I noticed the library had been renovated. There were newer classrooms. The facilities had changed. Back then the classrooms were older and now they all look new,” Maurice said.
The E3 building construction would become the largest of all projects. The building houses disciplines such as English, Chicano Studies and Communication Studies.
The building accomplished the task of being environmentally friendly and provides offices for instructors, classrooms and an open air environment at the center. The open area allows for air to flow inside, which is beneficial to temperature change, making it environmentally friendly.
When Moreno first arrived, people couldn’t see much of the college from the 60 Freeway. All one could see was part of the stadium and auditorium, so Moreno insisted that they put a sign on top of the auditorium.
Moreno wanted a skyline where people could look at and see ELAC’s presence. His goal was for “ELAC to be the shining star on the hill,” Moreno said.
Moreno said he felt honored that the college named the E3 building after him. He felt it was an honor bestowed to him by the campus, not only for his work with the physical campus transformation, but for all his contributions under his leadership which are now ELAC staples.