1897 – 2017

SDSU Turns 120

San Diego Teachers College

In the same year the university wraps up its highly successful inaugural comprehensive fundraising campaign, there is another milestone to celebrate along with The Campaign for SDSU: the 120th anniversary of the institution that would become San Diego State University. On March 13, 1897, California Governor James Budd signed a bill authorizing the creation of the State Normal School of San Diego.

The school’s first “campus” was located in downtown San Diego on the southwest corner of Sixth and F Streets. It consisted of some rented rooms above a drug store.

Samuel T. BlackSamuel T. Black was the first president of the State Normal School of San Diego, the institution that would become San Diego State University. (University Special Collections and Archive photo)

Initially intended to train teachers, the San Diego Normal School started with seven faculty members, 91 students, and a curriculum consisting solely of English, history and math. The institution’s first president was Samuel T. Black.

Within two years, what then became known as the San Diego State Normal School moved to a new location on Normal Street in University Heights where its first commencement was held in June of 1900.  Part of that structure, designed by notable San Diego architect Irving Gill, still stands, but much of it was demolished in the years after the school’s move to its current home on Montezuma Mesa.


Having recently turned 104, Bill Vogt (’34) is believed to be the last surviving student to have attended classes at the University Heights location. In an interview from March, 2016, he recalled the move in 1931 to the current campus during the Great Depression.  

"It was new, but it wasn't elaborate; it was very plain,” Vogt remembered of the campus which, at that time, contained only a few buildings. “I don't think we ever had even a paved parking lot and very little lawn space just in the little quad; it was kind of raw."

The “little quad” has now expanded to more than 300 acres and includes a satellite campus in Calexico. What became San Diego State College, then in 1974 San Diego State University, currently boasts almost 34,000 students, 1,700 full- and part-time faculty, and more than 291,000 living, degree-holding alumni.

SDSU CampusA view of campus from Hardy Tower looking toward the Old Quad.

SDSU contributes billions of dollars annually to California’s economy. It is now ranked among the nation’s top 75 public universities in “U.S. News & World Report’s” annual ranking of America's Best Colleges.

Elliot Hirshman, Ph.D., is San Diego State’s eighth president in 120 years. Samuel Black’s statue stands at the southwest corner of the old administration building as a reminder of the university’s roots.

To see more of what San Diego State University has become in its first 120 years, visit Explore SDSU: Open House 2017 on March 18. Learn more at sdsu.edu/exploresdsu.