Robert E. Kennedy, the seventh president of Cal Poly, wrote his first book, “Learn by Doing,” in the early sixties, expressing the principles of Cal Poly as a conservative and pragmatic school. Poly’s patterns of progress in engineering, agriculture, arts and science along with the inspirational “Learn by Doing” theme, separated the institution from others in a unique way. Poly Royal, as an example, was not just a campus carnival but a way of publicly demonstrating expanding knowledge in combination with practicality. Junior year exhibits would generally extend from the campus buildings all the way up into Poly Canyon.
The junior architecture class in 1969 was the largest in history at the time. As a member, I was proud to take part in one of the greatest Poly Royal department exhibits and demonstrations ever. The diversity of talent was unmatched and the Learn by Doing exercise was incredible. The production and publicity drew a huge crowd of proud parents and enthusiasts. The architecture students, or “Arkies,” as they were often called, outdid themselves. When we were organized into specialty groups, I joined the entertainment project. This was a smaller group of talented architecture students who also excelled in music, acting and performance. Since I played the piano, my duties principally consisted of performing background music and live piano at the campus machine “Power” house where students’ pottery, arts and crafts were on display.
But the big attraction was the architecture patio, a common area sandwiched between the architecture and engineering labs. The collaborative design efforts and construction techniques produced an amazing space consisting of large timber poles, tension cables and artistic sail fabrics creating an unusual shaded arena. The patio area was segmented into terraces and elevated planting areas, but most importantly, an elevated stage for the student production of the Broadway musical Hair.
Hair was a controversial play and when the school’s contributor elites learned about the scheduled performance at Poly Royal, Dean George Hasslein certainly got wind of their disgust. In fact, Dean Hasslein and Mayor Kenneth Schwartz (also a faculty member) arranged an emergency meeting with the architecture students to advise them of the hullabaloo. The compromise arrangement was for some to carry a big sign and walk through the standing-room-only crowd of onlookers. The sign read, “Censored by the Dean,” and one of a few volunteers was me. Thus I became the bad guy when any potentially-objectionable content was on the program; having the unpleasant duty to walk through the area and listen to a huge out cry of boos.
Gerald Shingleton is now a semi-retired architect and author of 12 published books. Life is sweet living in a popular retirement community of Casa Grande, Arizona where he plays tennis four days a week, is an active Rotarian and spends the rest of his time collaborating on work for architects in southern California and Arizona.
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