In 1949, California was celebrating the 100th anniversary of the gold rush, and in Long Beach things were moving fast for the new State College. Legislators needed someone who could “prospect” potential locations and “mine” the country for new faculty; and they needed that person to move quickly. After all, the state government was pushing for the college to go from nothing to functioning in just over six months.
P. Victor Peterson was recruited to be the president of the new college. And though he did not meet the nimble and fast-moving characteristics desired, he had successfully opened Los Angeles State College two years prior, and he was available. In retrospect, he proved to be the perfect person for the job.
Peterson was a builder, a connector, a prospector, if you will. Though he didn’t prospect gold; he prospected resources in the form of faculty, staff, students and supplies for the new State College.
The first time he struck gold was when trying to find a temporary site for the college. After driving around and not finding any potential locations, he stopped to “cool off” at the offices of Lloyd S. Whaley, who was in the midst of developing East Long Beach from farmlands into a sprawling suburb. Whaley mentioned he would be “tickled to death” if Peterson would use his half-finished apartment complex in Park Estates to hold classes. Peterson jumped at the chance.
The faculty’s first meeting was held under a pepper tree. Professors and staff used picks and shovels to clear away debris from the construction site so that students had an area to come to register for classes. In the small, intimate environment of 1949’s LBSU – with 169 students crammed into the converted apartment building off of Anaheim Road – the students, faculty, staff and administrators shared a special relationship. They ate together at the “Canteen,” a converted laundry room, and worked together in garages revamped into science labs. The close quarters translated into a close-knit community; after all, they were building a brand new university together.
President Peterson soon came to be known on campus as “President Pete,” and was hailed for his pioneering spirit, essentially turning a “ghost town” of an apartment building into a functioning college campus, and “staking the claim” on 230 acres of land in East Long Beach that would become the third largest campus in the CSU system.
Under President Pete’s tenure, LBSU grew from 169 students to more than 10,000. It went from a makeshift classroom environment to a sprawling campus with a theatre, radio station, telecommunications center and a real cafeteria. He was tasked with starting a new college, and he struck gold in the supportive, motivated and passionate Long Beach community.
Years later, students would vote to name the 49er mascot “Prospector Pete” in honor of the original prospector of LBSU, P. Victor Peterson.