Spanish Architecture at Scripps and its Violent Colonial History

Eve Kaufman '20

Staff Writer

Scripps campus is beautiful. Known for this beauty, Scripps is often is rated highly by various sources for its campus. The campus itself is even considered nationally historic, only adding to the seriousness in which aesthetics at Scripps are taken. Scripps is littered with lawns, gardens, and all sorts of old lofty buildings constructed, unfortunately, in the style of Spanish Colonialist architecture.

Created during the revivalist movement, the Spanish Colonial style of architecture was adapted from a history of violence toward Native Americans. The Spanish had invaded the Southwest, and imposed values and religion upon the people there, evangelizing and essentially tricking people into joining the church.

The Spaniards did so by a few methods, including creating what was known as Missions, where the native people they evangelized would worship and work. The Native Americans they had coerced into converting were forced to remain in the church. This effectively separated them from their homes and communities for the rest of their lives. Those trapped would be specifically hunted if they tried to escape, and returned to the Mission. Long hours of unpaid labor were imposed upon them, all in exchange for some food and housing.

Photograph courtesy of Lure Photography.

Photograph courtesy of Lure Photography.

Many of these missions were built in multitudes along the California coast, as the project was meant to be all encompassing to effectively proselytize and convert all the Native Americans. All of this took place between the sixteenth and nineteenth century, leaving dozens of buildings in this likeness. California was littered with them, and many remain to the present day as heritage sites and elementary school field trip destinations.

With a disregard to their past, the missions became quintessential to the aesthetic of California. In the 1920’s, what was known as colonial Spanish revivalism took place, tapping into nostalgia for the old architecture present throughout the state. Most of California’s buildings are now influenced by such a style, specifically the architecture of Scripps.

Scripps was founded in 1926, and the campus was quickly built to accommodate the school’s need. Within three years, the oldest dorms on campus- Toll, Clark, and Browning- were built. The architects hired were channeling the zeitgeist of the time, following the trend of this revivalism. Gordon Kaufmann was responsible for the design and construction of these buildings and contracted to make beautiful albeit inaccessible colonial buildings. Now, these dorms stand as relics of a sordid colonial past.

Ellen Browning Scripps had no qualms with constructing such buildings, as she had little ties to the suffering the Native Americans endured, within the very Missions which these dorms were made in likeness to. The buildings which were symbols of anguish to many were glorified simply for their appearances, a glorification Scripps was more than glad to undertake.

Of course, this was prior to society being more conscious of such social issues. As unfortunate as Ms. Scripps willingness to buy into a colonial construction for the benefit of upper-class white women was, what’s even more questionable is the continuation of such designs in Scripps development of recent. New Hall is also built in such a style. This is inappropriate and demeaning to the awareness that society and our student body, in particular, are trying to raise.

There is always a narrative associated with a style. The context of a design is crucial to understanding the finished product. How can one build a structure, so intertwined with a history of struggle and conquest, without simultaneously implementing those values into the environment itself? Scripps is a campus that first and foremost services white wealthy women. This truism is all the more exemplified by these structures being the dominating style throughout campus, entirely disregarding the fascistic, colonial past that is revived along with the style itself.

Scripps has made numerous questionable choices in the past. The administration often finds themselves catering to the board of trustees’ wishes. This board determines much of how Scripps operates, at times directing funding to satisfy their own wishes. Donors have been known to invest in things like maintenance of the campus, rather than educational funds and financial aid, as a means to protest decisions Scripps administration has made that don’t align with their own. Undoubtedly, it is this control the donors maintain that influenced the design and style of New Hall, which determined the choice of matching the architecture of New Hall to that of the past.

With this reality in mind, it is imperative that Scripps administration begins assessing the needs and wants of the community at large, rather than acquiescing into the pressures of donors. As important as funding is, such pursuits truly demonstrate the disregard Scripps as an institution has for its community members. This isn’t to say Scripps lacks many positive aspects as well. I am glad to go here and am often proud of what is accomplished as a collective. Scripps attracts bright minds of empowered people, and the administration at the end of the day supports and fosters such an environment. It is simply disheartening to reconcile these two realities: that of the good Scripps does with the willingness to buy into relics of colonialism, which at the end of the day are inherently racist, misogynist and classist due to its past narrative.