Sierra Tower Photo and the Kennedy Assassination

Only a fadograph of a yestern scene -- Finnegans Wake

San Fernando Valley State College was founded on July 1, 1958 on the present site of the University. The 1960's brought about a period of rapid expansion of the campus facilities, including the construction of the Sierra complex--Sierra Hall North, Sierra Hall South, and Sierra Hall Tower, the focus of this little-known historical note. The entire Sierra Hall complex was scheduled to open when classes began on September 16, 1963. However, only Sierra Hall South opened on time; Sierra Tower was scheduled to open in January.

During October and November of 1963, the unoccupied Sierra Tower was used to beam a welcome to visitors across the San Fernando Valley State College campus. On November 26, 1963, the Tuesday immediately after the Kennedy assassination, the front page of the Daily Sundial showed a picture of Sierra Tower with the initials 'VSC' displayed from lighted faculty offices. Atop the picture was the caption "A TOWER WELCOMES VISITORS" and below the picture the caption "Beams Welcome--The tower of Sierra Hall beams 'VSC' to night visitors to the campus. The practice was ended when a four-letter word appeared instead." No mention was made of exactly what four-letter word was involved in this incident; and, in fact, officially the Tower episode was never mentioned again. Significantly, though, this same Tuesday issue of the college paper also contained a one-page insert entitled "We Honor Our Late President" stating that

The insert in today's Sundial was originally prepared as an Extra for distribution on Monday when campus Memorial Services for John F. Kennedy have been planned. A presidential order by Lyndon B. Johnson, however, declared Monday a national day of mourning, and classes were canceled. The edition is presented today as a tribute to the President.--The Editors

Despite the apparent relationship between the sudden appearance of a significant four-letter word on Sierra Tower over the weekend of November 22, 1963, and the shooting of JFK that Friday, no one on campus seems to have connected the two events.

Sierra Tower, San Fernando Valley State College, November 22-24, 1963

 Sierra Tower Photo

Because I do not believe that this re-ordering of the office lights was a random act of mischief, I am willing to speculate on the events occurring between Friday, November 22, and Sunday, November 24, 1963. Shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a small group of students with access to a master key entered Sierra Tower, re-configured the lighted offices, and beamed across the Valley State College campus their graphic reaction to the assassination of JFK. They subsequently took the above photo and distributed a few copies privately. Even though this act was probably an early sign of growing political consciousness, the incident and its photographic record have both been long forgotten until I came upon a copy of the photo quite by accident--at least twenty-five years after the event--and reproduced it as an historical oddity in my edition of The Best Fiction and Poetry from CSUN: 1962-1988. For the 1995 electronic edition of this anthology, however, I have decided to add this speculative note along with the photo in order to make explicit what I only hinted at in the original 1988 edition. Incidentally, the photographer and the Sierra Tower lighting crew were unknown to me in 1988, and to this day remain a mystery.

Warren Wedin
California State University, Northridge
March 1995


20 September 1995
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Warren Wedin warren.wedin@csun.edu