Ask the Archivist


Whatever Happened To...

Q. Are there any documents explaining the demise of the Earl Warren Legal Center? --WW, Berkeley

A. The convoluted saga of the Earl Warren Legal Center reveals much about the complex and at times uncomfortable issue of fund-raising and building naming. With state financial support for Berkeley ever waning, the Law School is hardly unique on this campus in responding to the hard challenge of capital campaigns by employing a little smoke and quite a few mirrors.

In 1957 a fundraising effort to build a dormitory for Boalt Hall flopped miserably. Planned for a lot on Durant somewhat isolated from the law school complex, the building failed to generate much donor interest. The School of Law decided that a larger project, one not focused entirely on bricks and mortar, might have better success. In addition to the dorm, we decided to plan for classrooms, office space, an auditorium, and a dining commons—and also a center for a more advanced and creative study of the law. The building and the educational program together were pitched as the Earl Warren Legal Center.

“[The EWLC’s] purpose,” the fund-raising booklet explained, “is to improve and deepen the understanding of our laws, their interpretations and administration and their impact upon our society.... Through the medium of conferences, institutes and special meetings legal practitioners, business executives and others will intensively explore specific problems posed by the great mass of local, state, federal and international regulations. Discussion meetings will be planned by committees of the faculty and the School of Law and representatives of the legal profession and private interests to pinpoint problems of great importance to the western states. From these meetings will come a great fund of practical information in highly usable form for those who must live with the law.”

From the beginning, the educational program was the more exciting half of the project, the one that took up the most bandwidth for the faculty and the administration. What began as an effort to add much-needed floor space to the law school complex was quickly overrun by enthusiasm for the idea of being able to add a whole new dimension to the study of the law, one carried on outside the traditional pedagogy of the classroom.

As the School of Law discussed the structure and governance of the Earl Warren Legal Center, it became apparent that the proposed name would cause problems. A “center” did not fit into the proper hierarchy of nomenclature adopted by the University. Therefore the program's name was changed in 1967 to the Earl Warren Legal Institute. By the time the bricks-and-mortar building was dedicated in 1968, its component parts had been named after people other than Earl Warren: the dormitory after Herbert Manville, the patio after Jesse Steinhart, the auditorium after Willis Booth, the dining commons after John A. McCarthy, and the reading room after William Prosser.     

The truly significant part of the whole project (to most of the people associated with the law school, at least) was not the shiny modern construction, but rather the educational program that was by then called the Earl Warren Legal Institute (and later became the Institute for Legal Research, which continues to thrive).  Today, the Earl Warren Room—the primary conference space for the School of Law—resides at the heart of the 1968 construction project.

Have a question? Ask the Archivist: benemann@law.berkeley.edu

2/19/2013