UC Davis will demolish its oldest auditorium after relocating tenants from its basement

UC Davis officials have decided to demolish Freeborn Hall, a nearly 60-year-old auditorium on campus, rather than pour money into earthquake-proofing the building, the university announced this week.

The university closed the main building, excluding the hall’s basement, in 2014. Since then, UCD has looked at options for renovating the space as a conference or event center, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Emily Galindo said.

Seismic retrofitting for Freeborn would cost an estimated $8.5 million, and a full renovation would top $35 million. Demolition would cost about $5 million.

Galindo said demolition is the most cost-efficient option, and was recommended by an advisory panel to university leadership.

“You don’t want to invest that amount of money ($8.5 million) without also doing system upgrades” including heating, air conditioning and Americans with Disabilities Act upkeep, Galindo said. “And then when you do the system upgrades, and you’ve spent $14 or $15 million and the building is pretty much exactly the same.”

Galindo said the multimillion-dollar demolition will be paid for using $66 safety fees paid by students each academic year. That fee is specifically designated, in part, for seismic retrofitting.

“We didn’t take it lightly,” Galindo said. “We understand there’s many students and now alums that have wonderful memories of time they spent in Freeborn Hall.”

Lower Freeborn, the basement of the hall, will be infilled as the rest of the hall is demolished, with a demolition date not yet determined. The process will take about six months, and there is no plan yet for the future of the site once the building is razed, according to the news release.

That basement remained open after the rest of the hall shuttered in 2014, as it was deemed safe to occupy despite seismic safety shortfalls, Galindo explained.

Its current occupants include the California Aggie student newspaper, the KDVS radio station, a food pantry, administrative offices and others.

“We hope to have a concrete plan in place by the summer for those other groups and have them moved, and then we’ll get the demolition project started,” Galindo said.

The building is currently managed by the university’s division of student affairs.

Before serving as student affairs vice chancellor, Galindo worked in student housing. She said seismic upgrades were performed on the Tercero and Segundo residence halls. From her experience, the decision to either demolish or seismically bolster a building is made on a case-by-case basis, with cost being the main factor considered, she said.

Opened in 1961, Freeborn Hall was the university’s sole auditorium and main events center on campus for decades. The 2002 opening of the Mondavi Center, and more recent developments like the UC Davis Conference Center (opened in 2015), have replaced Freeborn for large event hosting.

Galindo said an evaluation was performed that determined that the building was not historically significant, so it did not qualify for state or national registries that would protect it from demolition. UC Davis was established in 1905.

A recent story published by the California Aggie documented some of the memorable events hosted at Freeborn. Of note: performances by Fleetwood Mac and Boz Scaggs, and an appearance by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1974.