Jan 23, 2019

Smittcamp Alumni House opens its doors to more than alumni

Kyle Lowe/The Collegian

The new University High School isn’t the only eye-catching building on campus that captures the attention of guests, students, faculty and staff. Along Matoian Way sits a two-story white house that draws in visitors to the Fresno State campus for more than one reason.

“The main purpose of the Smittcamp Alumni House is to have some place where alumni can have a building, an image to associate with the alumni,” Jennifer Burgess, Alumni House manager, said. “We have the Alumni Association that is housed here.”

Burgess said the Alumni House is a landmark for visitors. Visitors can stop by the Alumni House for maps, directions and endless information about the campus.

“This is kind of like their home base before they venture out on the campus,” Burgess said.

Weddings, receptions, banquets, company interviews, graduation parties, bridal and baby showers and retirement parties are just a few events that can take place at the Alumni House.

Beside the multiple events, Fresno State is the only California State University with an alumni house on campus.

The $2.2 million Alumni House opened its doors on March 21, 2000, after three years of construction and preparation. Earl and Muriel Smittcamp and their family donated $1 million to start the construction of the Alumni House in 1997.

The Smittcamp’s and their four children are Fresno State alumni and have been dedicated supporters for multiple years.

“The Smittcamp family were the original donors who helped build the house,” Burgess said.

Executive Director of the Fresno State Alumni Association Jacqui Glasener said the vision to start an alumni house was created by Bill Forbes, a 1948 Fresno State graduate and the building committee chair.

“He was absolutely passionate about having an alumni house,” Glasener said.

Glasener said Forbes was a good friend and tennis partner with Earl, and the pair would discuss the future of an alumni house on the tennis court.

Burgess has been the house manager for 15 months and hears a great deal of misconceptions about the Alumni House. She said the two biggest misconceptions are that President John Welty lives there and that it’s a hotel.

“We actually don’t have any overnight visitors,” Burgess said. “We’re only open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.”

Leo Barajas, a mass communications and journalism major, works at the front desk, greeting guests and taking the role as the house secretary. Since his start of work at the Alumni House last June, Barajas has had his share of prank calls and guests coming into the house claiming that there are bedrooms upstairs.

“People think it’s the health center,” Barajas said. “People think it’s the president’s house — President Welty.”

The Alumni House has four rooms, but no bedrooms. It includes an alumni library, a small conference room, a large conference room that can be divided into two smaller rooms and a faculty lounge that composes most of downstairs.

Downstairs also includes a culinary room, a long hallway directing guests to the conference rooms and the alumni library, an elevator and several bathrooms that makes up the first floor of the Alumni House.

The Jensen Library has more than just books. A marble fireplace, game tables, televisions, and pictures of well-known alumni decorate the library. Guests have a choice of staying inside or walking outside to a small courtyard and fountain.

“Dr. Welty has rented out the room and he’s hosted [opera singer] Andrea Bocelli,” Burgess said. “He hosted a dinner in there when he came to the Save Mart Center.”

The McMurty Conference Room is the smallest room in the Alumni House, providing an intimate space for 10 guests. The Board of Directors Conference Room and the Whitten Family Conference Room can be combined to provide space for more than 100 guests.

The Thorburn Faculty Lounge accommodates approximately 20 guests and is 346 square feet.

A large staircase on the left of the Markarian Grand Foyer peers over a black baby grand player piano, leading to the offices for the staff of the Fresno State Alumni Association.

One of the most recognizable pieces in the foyer is a 180-pound, hand-crafted chandelier.

“The foyer chandelier can be lowered from the ceiling to be cleaned,” Burgess said. “A specialist cleans each individual crystal by hand.”

The glass double doors are etched with a design by one of the Smittcamp’s daughters, Betsy.

Burgess said the staff decorates the Alumni House for the winter holidays by setting up a 14-foot Christmas tree, bright lights, wreaths and garlands. Santa Claus also makes an appearance during the first week of December for family pictures.

Burgess said decorating the inside and the outside of the Alumni House takes a whole day.

The Alumni House is open Monday through Friday. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and guests are more than welcomed to browse through the Alumni House and its features.

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