The Architect(ure) of Cal State Long Beach, Part I: Design

Photos by Katie Rispoli. Scroll through the gallery above.

This is Part I of a three-part series. For Part II, click here. For Part III, click here.

What do Long Beach’s Brady Residence, Marina Tower Display Unit, City Hall, CSU Long Beach, USC’s Watt Hall, and a chain of hotels in Hawaii have in common?

Among many things, their architect.

Ed Killingsworth’s name carries a legacy in Southern California. Notorious for his mid-century modern design, Killingsworth designs dot the Southland. We’re going to start this off with one of the greats.

Here’s the start of something new for Longbeachize: let’s talk about history. To kick off this new series on Long Beach’s heritage conservation climate, I wanted to draw attention to one of our largest assets. The city’s largest college campus (and only university) could one day draw tourists beyond our borders. The mentality of its mid-century design is already gaining prominence in a world growing to recognize the historical value of modern architecture.

So we’re going to break this down:

Today: Design – What is it that makes the design of CSULB so great? Who is behind the architecture of the campus, and what is the extent of their work?

Next: Projects – What’s coming up at The Beach? Are they good/bad examples of new development and adaptation? Why should we be concerned about future construction at the University?

Later: Future – What does the University need to do to ensure the campus maintains its good reputation, and respects its historic contributions to the community?


The master plan for California State University, Long Beach was laid out in 1962 by Killingsworth, Brady & Smith. Edward A. Killingsworth, who had lived in Long Beach since 1921, was a local with a budding international reputation. The firm’s work on site at CSULB began in the 1960s, but continued for over 40 years, until 2004.

Killingsworth, Brady & Smith’s designs gave impressions of verticality to horizontal, approachable buildings. Their work was well-integrated with landscape, building connections indoors and out. CSULB is a fine example of their indoor/outdoor integration. Most of their campus buildings have high windows with large amounts of light, surrounded by gardens carefully chosen by the master plan landscape architect, Edward R. Lovell.

Killingsworth designed buildings at numerous college campuses, most notably UC Riverside and USC outside of his work in Long Beach. The comprehensive design on his part on our local campus is a rarity – to have a singular architect design, guide, or collaborate on the creation of nearly all buildings and spaces on one university campus for four decades is remarkable. In addition to his work on the campus architecture, Killingsworth also created the iconic concrete “memo columns” sporting yellow tops around campus, put together Friendship Walk, and helped a team organize the sculpture exhibition which still inhabits the campus today.

Initial contributions to the plan are light and airy with plentiful gardens designed by Lovell. Buildings in the 1970s and 80s have a higher presence of concrete, echoing Killingsworth’s love of playing with industrial materials. Regardless, most buildings integrate natural tones through wood banisters and other interior detailing. All buildings designed by Killingsworth carry the use of red brick, still used in new buildings designed on campus today.

Regardless of his tenure with the university, Killingsworth did not design every building on campus. New buildings were created during this period by other notable firms, such as Gibbs & Gibbs, who he worked with frequently. Hugh Gibbs contributed designs for CSULB early on, contributing the Liberal Arts and Fine Arts buildings, among others. His son Donald, a graduate of the USC School of Architecture, joined him to form Gibbs & Gibbs, and the two firms collaborated throughout their careers. The pair were responsible for the design of the CSULB Pyramid, and Carpenter Performing Arts Center. Donald Gibbs designed the Schlaich Dance Center and continues to work with CSULB on upcoming projects, as well as educational institutions throughout the Southland.

Designs by these architects grew to shape development throughout Los Angeles County.With strong relationships in the academic community, Killingsworth eventually designed an office headquarters for the California State University and College system to move from their prior location on Wilshire Boulevard to Long Beach. In Southern California he also designed buildings on campus at USC and designed homes for the Case Study House program by Arts and Architecture Magazine, among many others. Gibbs & Gibbs continued to work on municipal infrastructure, designing Downey’s Civic Center and institutional buildings throughout the region.

So what has become of the campus’ remarkable, cohesive design? California State University, Long Beach has risen to modern expectations by reevaluating its assets. Recently, the University has began more progressive work, including adding to, gutting, and renovating buildings throughout campus. We’ll explore these changes and their awesome (or disappointing) effects in round two.

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