Returning to UCLA for a campus tour

WESTWOOD — I am spending the morning reading the Daily Bruin newspaper with a cup of coffee during a visit to UCLA this weekend. It is a celebration of our family’s past — and its future.

We are here with our son for an organized campus tour, part of our family’s ongoing visits to college campuses throughout California and elsewhere. We are here to explore for the weekend, also visiting — shhhh! UCLA’s arch-rival USC for a shorter visit. Our son is a STEM student, though he is enjoying his American literature course this semester.

We are staying at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center, a glorious new building on campus that features 254 hotel rooms, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, and more than 25,000 square feet of event space.

My mom and dad went to UCLA, so I grew up regularly visiting the campus, and attending basketball games at Pauley Pavilion (and football games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the site of the Olympic Games).

The visits to UCLA in my youth largely coincided with the era of legendary basketball coach John Wooden (AKA, “The Wizard of Westwood”). I went to the weeklong Wooden basketball camp one summer, a memorable experience.

My mom grew up on Kinnard Ave. in Westwood, not far from campus. She went to University or “Uni” high; one of her classmates was Andy Williams. Dad grew up in Santa Monica, on 21st Place. It was during what I’d call Southern California’s “golden era.”

Westwood has changed from the years when it was a more sleepy “village.” A bookstore we frequented, Campbell’s, is gone, along with the Hamburger Hamlet and other places. (Stan’s donuts is still around). But there are wonderful new additions to what is now a bustling metropolis within the metropolis of greater L.A.

A mix of old and new

The two-year-old Luskin conference center — named after generous UCLA donors — is located on campus. The walls of the handsome brick building are adorned with artwork and photos celebrating UCLA, from iconic Royce Hall to basketball legend Kareem Abdul Jabar. The collection also includes nearly 60 pieces by artists who are UCLA alumni and faculty members.

The conference center even has its own robot, “Lara,” to welcome guests and give directions. The lobby includes a concert piano, with live music on some weekdays. The rooms have free, lightning-fast Wi-Fi, new flat-screen TVs, original artwork and wood paneling. There’s 25,000 sq. ft of event space, accommodating up to 960 guests. There’s also a gym, a business center and a campus shuttle.

The Daily Bruin is a robust mix of news, arts, sports and opinion. The UCLA magazine has a feature on basketball great Bill Walton (“still truckin'”) and a feature on the Ethnic Studies Center celebrating its 50th year.

The campus tours are led by students. They last about two hours, including a 30-minute admission presentation and 90-minute walking tour.

While here, we’ll also visit some other sites on campus, Westwood Village and the surrounding neighborhoods. I lived in Westwood during the summer of ’82 when I was working as a correspondent at Time magazine while I was a senior at UC Berkeley.

Along with Cal, UCLA ranks as one of the nation’s top public universities. The overall admission rate for 2018 was around 62 percent, but it was just 59 percent for in-state freshmen, down from 63 percent in 2017, as the Mercury-News points out. Just 12 percent of in-state applicants to UCLA gained admission in 2018, and just 17 percent of would-be Cal students were offered a spot, a decline from last year in both cases.

It is exciting to return to reminisce about the past, but also consider the future.