by Jack Hallinan
Anyone who has paid a visit to the ceramics lab here at Cal Poly Humboldt knows that it’s not your typical classroom. The run-down warehouse looks more like an abandoned industrial space invaded by artsy 20-somethings, which, after a look at the history of the building, isn’t far from reality. However rough around the edges the lab may be, it is well loved by ceramics students and staff alike, which is why the recently proposed demolition of the building and its replacement with new housing and parking structures is a controversial topic.
While the new construction will provide much-needed parking and housing for Cal Poly Humboldt’s growing student body, the demolition of the art spaces is a cause for some sadness and reflection for the university’s ceramics veterans. Keith Schneider, who retired from his twenty year career as a ceramics professor at Humboldt last spring, reflected on the history of the building as well as his own personal connection to the space.
“Over the past 50 years, tens of thousands of students have developed their work and
honed their skills here, made lifelong friends, and some even met their future spouses
here in the lab,” said Schneider.
The lab’s long history begins with the Arcata Laundry, a commercial laundromat once located in the current ceramics lab location. Reese Bullen, who developed the ceramics program at Humboldt, was successful in purchasing the space under the condition that as a temporary lab, no major structural improvements were to be made to the building. In 1969, the ceramics department staff and students moved all of the laundry equipment out of the space themselves, and replaced it with the ceramics equipment that had previously been stuffed into an undersized room in Jenkins Hall. The ceramics lab continued to be endearingly referred to as “The Laundry,” and in the first few months of its existence as a classroom, former Arcata Laundry customers would wander into the studio with bags of dirty clothes wondering if they could still get them washed.
The proposed demolition of this unconventional yet beloved space is one of many small changes occurring throughout campus. The ROSE house and Bret Harte house are also set to be demolished, a decision that has received pushback from students and staff who feel that the charming, if outdated, buildings enrich the character and history of Humboldt’s campus.
“Someone said, the best art is made in spaces that look the least like classrooms,” Schneider said. “If you get a chance to walk through the lab, you will get a sense of what our students love about it. It’s not a classroom, it’s a funky old run-down industrial space, with remnants of the past everywhere you look.”
Since transitioning to a polytechnic university, Humboldt has received state financial support for the construction of several multi-million dollar projects. At least ten new buildings are listed on the school’s “Infrastructure Projects” web page, mostly including science labs and housing. Included in the prospective are plans to construct a new Campus Apartments building and parking structure where the current residence and ceramics and sculpture labs are now located.
According to the web page, the building complex will consist of “600-700 beds in total that will be built in relation to a new 650-stall parking structure.” While Cal Poly Humboldt students are undoubtedly in need of both housing and parking, a vital part of campus culture and art will be replaced by the facilities. Brandy Ayon, who is currently enrolled in their second class in the ceramics lab, expressed this sentiment.
“I will miss it. It’s bittersweet,” said Ayon. “The old-timey-ness and roughness of the building is very Humboldt. I’ll miss it, but I’m excited for the new opportunities a new space will bring.”
Ayon hopes that the new space will be like a blank canvas for students. It is unclear where the new studio will be located, or when it will be ready to use. The demolition of the ceramics and sculpture studios is proposed to be completed by 2026 and is expected to cost $2.5 million.
“A new building may come with all the latest technology, but the character and quality that students have come to love about the Laundry would be very difficult to recreate. A huge part of history will be lost when/if this building goes,” said Schneider.