The Gift That Kept On Giving
Tony Lazzaro’s role in the first multimillion-dollar gift to the university put Olin Hall, and the university, on the map
When Anthony D. “Tony” Lazzaro joined USC 60 years ago, the School of Engineering consisted of Biegler Hall and five army barracks, newly donated from the military camp at Santa Ana, Calif., to accommodate the flood of young men returning to college under the GI bill. Many engineering classes were still being held across campus, in Bridge Hall, near Exposition Blvd. and Trousdale Parkway, and in the basement of the Old College building in the heart of the campus. Neither was too far away, however, because in 1946, the entire campus was situated on half the land it occupies today — 57 acres sandwiched between Hoover Boulevard and McClintock Avenue.
Lazzaro, who showed up in his Navy lieutenant uniform to fill out his application for admission, would change all of that. After graduating cum laude from USC in 1949, with a degree in industrial engineering and business management, he began his climb up the university business management ladder, holding positions of assistant business manager and director of campus development, associate vice president for business affairs, and senior vice president for business affairs.
“Tony Lazzaro virtually built the USC we know today,” former USC President James H. Zumberge once said of the young industrial and systems engineer. “Since 1960, he has been responsible for the construction of 132 buildings on the USC campus. He oversaw the landscaping that turned city streets into attractive walkways. He has worked closely with the campus planning committee of the USC Board of Trustees for many years.”
Instrumental Role in Olin Hall
Lazzaro not only helped to shape the USC campus, he played an instrumental role in the first multimillion-dollar building to be donated to USC: the School of Engineering’s very own Olin Hall.
“In 1953, Bob Vivian had learned of the F.W. Olin Foundation, which was based in Minneapolis, and stopped in to see Charles Horn, who was the president,” Lazzaro recalls. “Basically he told Horn he needed help, but Horn told him there were so many people ahead of him that he’d have to wait. Bob kept checking in with him every year, though, and in 1960, after he had stepped down as dean of the School of Engineering, Horn called him, saying he wanted to consider USC for a building.
“Vivian let Dean Ingersoll know, and Dean Ingersoll let the president know, and everything was in motion,” Lazzaro says. “We got an application for Olin Hall together, which included a design rendered by William L. Pereira Associates, really a blueprint for the School of Engineering’s urgent space needs, and submitted it. I was deeply involved in the entire process. In 1961, they announced a grant to the university of $2.3 million for what is now Olin Hall.”
The gift came at just the right time. USC President Norman Topping had rolled out the university’s new 1960 Master Plan, which called for expanding the campus to 160 acres and moving its boundaries all the way out to Vermont Avenue, Figueroa Street, Exposition and Jefferson boulevards. Topping announced a price tag for the expansion of $106 million.
‘Totally Unheard Of’
“This was totally unheard of, something we’d never done before,” Lazzaro says. “But when the Olin Foundation members, President Charles Horn and his two associates, James Wynn and Ralph Clark, came in with their grant, they told President Topping that they wanted more proof that the trustees, friends and alumni of USC would start giving. So the Olin Foundation gift became the catalyst for launching a successful fundraising campaign, because in 1962, the Ford Foundation came in with a grant.”
Groundbreaking began on February 22, 1962, after which the School of Engineer’s new engineering support group, Archimedes Circle, held a formal black-tie dinner for its 100 charter members and Olin Foundation trustees Horn and Wynn. The Olin Foundation added an addition $150,000 to its initial $2.3 million gift to build a new hybrid computer laboratory, designed and installed by Drs. George Bekey and Robert McGhee. “We returned $65,000 of the total grant because we had completed the project under budget,” Lazzaro says. “That really impressed the Olin Foundation.”
On September 23, 1963, the building was dedicated and USC entered a new era of broadband communication technology, making its courses and educational resources more accessible to the Los Angeles community. By then, the Olin Foundation was so taken with USC that it donated an unprecedented second gift of $2.7 million in 1966 for Vivian Hall of Engineering. In 1971, the foundation awarded a third gift of $825,000 for the Norman Topping Instructional Television Center, which was “absolutely unheard of,” Lazzaro says. Combined, the gifts totaled $7 million.
“It was a momentous occasion for the School of Engineering because it marked the beginning of a long period of unprecedented growth and development,” former Dean Zohrab A. Kaprielian wrote in a tribute to the Instructional Television Center.
Ford Foundation Follows Suit
Shortly after the initial Olin Foundation gift, the Ford Foundation announced a three-year, $6.5 million matching grant. “For every $3 we raised, they said they’d add $1,” Lazzaro says. “But to qualify for the full $6.5 million, we had to raise $19.5 million by November 1965. We raised the full amount a year before the deadline, and the Ford Foundation came back again and gave us another $7.5 million.” In all, the two Ford Foundation gifts came to $14 million.
The School of Engineering’s Robert E. Vivian Hall of Engineering and Materials Science was the result of a second major grant from the Olin Foundation, given in recognition of the university’s accomplishments in science and engineering. Dedicated in 1967, the seven-story building featured classrooms, laboratories and offices, as well as a permanent office for Dean Emeritus Vivian.
By then, USC was well on its way to becoming a first-class teaching and research university. Gone were the 27 wooden army barracks that had once dotted its 57-acre campus. All but one of the five in the School of Engineering were removed. The last barrack stood stoically on the site of Ronald Tutor Hall until construction for that building began in 2003.
Lazzaro went on to serve as chief liaison officer with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, negotiating agreements that totaled more than $19 million and turning USC into a major Olympic games venue.
When former President Ronald Reagan showed up looking for a temporary office near the games, Lazzaro graciously offered him several choices in Bovard Hall, but Reagan wanted Lazzaro’s suite. “It was near the helipads near the Seeley Mudd Building and Cromwell Field,” Lazzaro says, laughing. Reagan left after opening day, but when the games were over, Zumberge praised Lazzaro, more than any other individual in campus administration, for bringing the Olympics to USC.