Skip directly to: Main page content

UC Davis Magazine

Volume 29 · Number 3 · Spring 2012

Alumni: Happy anniversary, alumni center!

For two decades, the Walter A. Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center has welcomed alumni, prospective parents and families. This Picnic Day weekend, CAAA celebrates the building's special role as UC Davis' 'front door.'

When the Walter A. Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center first opened to the public in April 1992, the building stood alone at the south end of campus — its blue roof rising above the arboretum and its front doors beckoning to Interstate 80.

"People would ask, 'Why did you build it backwards?'" recalled Chancellor Emeritus Larry Vanderhoef, who was executive vice chancellor and provost at the time.

Photo: building

Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center
(Karin Higgins/UC Davis)

Its placement was intentional, opening a new front door to UC Davis. "My vision was that people would come off Interstate 80 and get a strong notion of the history of the campus," Vanderhoef said. "The area would clearly depict our roots and leadership in agriculture, but also show the campus as so much more."

On Picnic Day weekend this April, the campus will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the building and the many people who made its construction possible.

Throughout the past two decades, Vanderhoef's vision has taken shape, with an ambitious district springing up, step by step, around the Alumni and Visitors Center. Today, neighboring buildings include the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts, the Conference Center (which houses Ceremonies and Special Events, the Chancellor Emeritus's office, Development and Alumni Relations, Government Relations and Regional and Community Engagement), and Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr., Hall (home of the Graduate School of Management) — all facing a quad named for Vanderhoef — with a planned Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art to complete the square. Just to the east is a Hyatt Place hotel, and to the southwest, the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science.

When the University Farm opened in 1908–09, its main entrance was on the campus's eastern edge, opening to the city of Davisville, its train station and a roadway that would soon become part of historic Route 40, or the Lincoln Highway.

Construction of I-80 in the 1960s brought easy freeway access to UC Davis, but few structures other than the campus's water towers were visible to the hundreds of thousands of people driving by every day.

Today, Buehler continues to serve as a first stop for both alumni and prospective students — housing both the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and Visitors Services, which conducts campus tours for more than 50,000 prospective students and their families each year.

Funding the building

As headquarters for the Cal Aggie Alumni Association and Visitors Services, the building is home to 200,000 alumni and hosts more than 50,000 prospective students and their families each year.

If you would like to make a donation to the Alumni and Visitors Center, to ensure that it continues to serve as the campus's "front door" and main hospitality center, visit Giving to UC Davis.

"The Buehler Center was the first time UC Davis poked its nose out from behind the trees and welcomed the public onto campus," said Bob Segar, assistant vice chancellor for campus planning and community resources. "And it was a visible sign of the strength of philanthropic partnerships. Thousands of people have now had positive experiences at UC Davis that never would have been possible before. Our philosophy was, 'How are you going to know us and support us if we don't invite you in?' The Buehler Center started it all."

In the late 1980s, campus leaders envisioned an area that would welcome prospective students, and provide, as the project-planning guide put it, "a place where the alumni can rekindle the warmth and pride they felt as students."

As a nonacademic building, the project was not eligible for state funding. Then-Chancellor Ted Huller pledged $1 million in non-state campus funds toward its $4.8 million in construction costs. A fundraising campaign was launched in September 1990 to raise the remaining $3.8 million to build and equip the 18,000-square-foot center.

Chaired by Robert Murphy '63, the Building on Tradition campaign received the support of hundreds of alumni, parents and friends of the university. "The campaign, in a way, was a model for future fundraising endeavors," Murphy recalled in a recent interview. "We couldn't fail."

For many alumni, the campaign was about much more than just raising money. Hal '52 and Carol Sconyers '04 became involved because they wanted to give back to their alma mater. "It was the campaign that reconnected us with the university," Carol Sconyers said.

Essential to the campaign's success was a $1 million gift from a local couple, Walter and Carol Buehler. Although not alumni, the Buehlers contributed to the campaign in memory of Walter's father, Walter A. Buehler. The founder of Buehler, Buehler & Associates structural engineering firm had been grateful for the well-prepared engineers that the university produced.

20th Anniversary Schedule of Events

Friday, April 20

6:30 p.m., 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Buehler Alumni and Visitor Center

6:40 p.m., Unveiling of the CAAA Scholarship Donor Wall

6:50 p.m., Vintage Aggies Wine Tasting

A groundbreaking ceremony officially kicked off the construction in January 1991. The architect said at the time that the building was designed to be a "fulcrum for the area, acknowledging the past while setting the stage for future development."

If he could do it all over, Vanderhoef said he would have encouraged the volunteers to raise more money and build something larger. Even so, "The center was built in a way so that we can add on to it if and when we decide to," he explained.

Facility Manager Kelly Scott has aspirations for the building's continued success: "We hope to continue growing both technologically and spatially so the building will meet the needs of alumni, visitors and prospective students for another 20 years."

For more information about the Walter A. Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center, visit the Cal Aggie Alumni Association.