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The 5 top college towns.

An autumnal urge stirs this time of year. You think about filling suitcases and station wagons with sweaters and scarves, beer steins and tennis rackets, dictionaries and calculators. It doesn't matter that you registered for your last class a quarter of a century ago. A college town maintains a lock on the emotions that lasts a lifetime.

A college town is a repository of tradition and change. The entwining ivy, the musty volumes in the upper stacks, speak of weighty thoughts that reach back centuries. The whir of skateboards, the thrash-funk from the dorm stereos, the lights burning late at the computer center, shout tomorrow.

Here's the minimum a great college town must possess: One coffeehouse with espresso strong enough to make you consider a pacemaker. One athletic team high-powered enough to make the playoffs, or lousy enough to be endearing. One mountain bike shop, one chamber music series, one alternative nightclub populated by threateningly coiffed people in torn T-shirts. One leafy nook where, beneath a marble bust of the college's founder, you can read Shelley to your beloved. And terrible parking.

A true college town can be infuriatingly insular. "There are times it makes my teeth ache," one resident says of Eugene. "The self-anointment, the intellectual pretension, drive me crazy," another says of Austin.

Yet there is something about these places that keeps us loving them. Partly it's the recollected joys of being loud, stupid, and 19. Partly it's the knowledge that if these towns often behave as though they're the only places in the world, it's because for four years, they are.

There are a lot of good college towns in the West. Here are five of the best. Go on, pay a visit, have some fun. You're only young twice.



In 1878, a professor of French and German, Miss Mary Rippon, arrived in Boulder to begin her career at the new state university. She descended from her Pullman car, gazed west to the jagged peaks of the Flatirons, and uttered one word: "Glorious."

People have been saying that about Boulder ever since. If heaven has a college town, it's probably as beautiful as Boulder.

It's also a town in motion--a buzz of bikes, in-line skates, jogging feet. Outlanders faced with such fierce athleticism end up shuffling around, muttering like the little engine that could, I will do sit-ups, I will do sit-ups. The penchant for self-improvement extends far past the physical: check out the kiosks on the four-block-long Pearl Street Mall, where fliers advertise in-depth astrological sessions and holistic aromatherapy.

Like many college towns, Boulder (population 83,000) is self-aware, not to say self-obsessed. It conceives adages and aphorisms--always about Boulder. "We're somewhere between the Rockies and reality," goes one, and another is the prophecy of an apocryphal Arapaho Indian chief: "If you leave Boulder, you will return." That seems to be blessing and curse, because, as the waiter with the master's degree tells you, "People who work here consider the mountains half their pay."

In fact, the town of Boulder is so, well, Boulder, that visitors beguiled by the scenery and the mall and the restored Victorians may forget about the university that put it all together. Which is unfortunate. With 25,000 students, the University of Colorado is a big school, but its historic Norlin Quadrangle (long lawns and Colorado sandstone interpretations of Italian Renaissance architecture) is an intimate, visitor-friendly public space. The university maintains strong programs in biochemistry (biochem professor Thomas Cech won a Nobel Prize in 1989), in aerospace engineer-(the school boasts 12 alumni astronauts), and in natural resource law. And then there are those CU Buffaloes, 1990 national champions in football.

One of the nation's best-known historians of the American West, professor Patricia Limerick, has taught here for eight years. "I came here from the Ivy League, and I'm afraid I was a snob. But a lot of my students are energized and ready to go. Oh, there are some driving with their parking brakes on--serving time in college because their parents won't pay for the ski vacations otherwise. But there are also really smart kids.

"Of course, there are things about Boulder I don't like," she continues. "It's so smug about being fit that I want to go out in public eating big bags of potato chips. And it's too expensive to be ethnically diverse--I have to go to Denver just to remember who else is on the planet. But in other ways it's heaven. I look around and think, Lucky me."


* Grooviest grocer: Of course, Boulder has the hippest natural food store anywhere: Alfalfa's Market, 1651 Broodway. (All right, Austin's Whole Foods is also a contender.) * Most famous alumni: Robert Redford, Supreme Court Justice Byron White, Glenn Miller * A great day's wander: Start with a mall crawl: Pearl Street Mall is that rarity, a downtown pedestrian mall that actually works (not even the occasional mime can spoil the fun). Favorite stops include Boulder Bookstore, 1107 Pearl, and the Boulder Arts & Crafts Cooperative, 1421 Pearl. From Pearl, Broadway leads directly onto campus, where the University of Colorado Museum and the CU Heritage Center entertain and enlighten. Next, an athletic choice: bicycle along Boulder Creek, or hike Boulder Mountain Park. For dinner, try the Flagstaff House Restaurant (303/442-4640), on Flagstaff Road, for its view; the three restaurants at The Hotel Boulderado, 2115 13th Street, for history; or the Walnut Brewery, 1123 Walnut Street, for Boulder's truest love--locally brewed suds.

Central West edition readers, see page 32 for details and more.



Velveeta. Party.

Okay. We've used the two words obligatory in any discussion of Chico. The first comes from San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. For decades, the three-dot journalist has affectionately dismissed this 44,000-person Sacramento Valley town as a rube's roost whose idea of haute cuisine is the aforementioned cheese product. The second? Well, pundits from such institutions as Playboy and MTV have awarded Chico State a party cum laude for being the kind of college where the second law of thermodynamics tends to take second place to keggers.

But we think visitors usually find themselves using another word to describe the town: civilized. About 85 miles north of Sacramento, the town sits among Sierra Nevada foothills sun-dried, this time of year, to a tawny, mountain lion gold. On campus, handsome brick buildings rise from rose gardens. Walk one minute in one direction and you're in well-tended downtown Chico; walk in the other and you've come to Bidwell Park, the Sherwood Forest in the original 1938 Adventures of Robin Hood and, with 2,400 acres, one of the largest, finest urban parks in the nation.

Founded in 1887 as a teachers college, 15,000-student Chico State now boasts strong programs in computer science and communications. University president Robin Wilson says he's worked to beef up academics and tone down the campus's party-till-you-drop rep. To that end, in the late 1980s, when Chico's venerable Pioneer Days celebration verged on riot, Wilson called a halt: "I took Pioneer Days out to the backyard and shot it."

Deprived of the Pioneer Days of their lives, Chico students now funnel energies left over from studies into jogging and bicycling, and inner-tubing down the Sacramento River. And, all right, into the occasional soiree--come Halloween, everyone parades costumed through downtown.

Laid-back Chico does not have complete immunity from troubles of the times. Senior Rick Callender, who is black, laments the homogeneity of the university.

"We're far away from any big city, and it can be hard for minority students to feel comfortable here," he says. As newly elected student president, Callender hopes to reverse that trend. Meanwhile, college president Wilson fears California's budget crunch, which, he says, "makes our future absolutely opaque."

Yet, as one observer told us, "This is a hard place to get out of your system." Just ask Ted Meriam. He grew up in Chico, the son of a psychology professor. He attended college here for two years, finished up at Stanford, then returned. That was in 1932. He's lived in Chico ever since, serving as a California State University trustee and, for 10 years, as mayor. Does he still like his hometown? "You bet," says the 82-year-old Meriam. "I was truly blessed. I had the good fortune to be born here. I didn't have to search to find it."


* Best proof that the more things change, etc.: Madison Bear Garden, 316 W. Second Street, (916) 891-1639. If you've attended college in the last 20 years, you know the scene: form implements hanging from the ceiling, antlered ruminants hanging from the walls, three big-screen TVs blasting three different sporting events, and loudspeakers blasting Top 40. Oh yeah--and beer. * Most famous alumni: GOP-turned-Perot-turned-GOP-strategist Ed Rollins, erstwhile tycoon Adnan Khashoggi, short story master Raymond Carver * A great day's wander: All days in Chico should begin in verdant Bidwell Park, so take a morning jog there. On campus, admire graceful brick Trinity and Kendall halls and Laxson Auditorium, and the Easter Island-like sculptural grouping Monoliths. Walk across Big Chico Creek to Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park and tour the home of Chica's founders. Hungry? Thirsty? It's a 10-minute drive, but the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company Taproom and Restaurant (1075 E. 20th Street, 345-2739) has great beer and good food.

Central West edition readers, see page 32 for details and more.



To have people act nice, and sincerely mean it, took a while to get adjusted to." This is what professor of chemistry Geri Richmond says of her college, the University of Oregon, and her college town, Eugene.

Settled in the green heart of the Willamette Valley, this 16,500-student campus and 117,000-person city are indeed sincerely nice places. The university feels solid and comfortable, its chief visual extravagance an extraordinary canopy of trees. ("The whole campus is an arboretum," explains university archivist Keith Richard. "We have about every tree you can grow in this climate and one or two that have absolutely no business growing in this climate.")

The best of the campus buildings were designed in the 1920s and 30s by Ellis Fuller Lawrence, who almost invariably employed good red bricks from nearby Yamhill County. There are two new knockouts--Willamette and Streisinger halls--amused tributes to scientific inquiry, with DNA-inspired staircases, and sculptures of such luminaries as Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, and drosophila, the fruit fly beloved of genetics students everywhere.

A like mixture--solid, with jolts of the weird--typifies Eugene, too. "In some ways we are wacky--an elephant graveyard of the '60s," says Jim Godbold, an editor at Eugene's paper, The Register-Guard. "The Grateful Dead is practically our house band."

Adds Godbold's colleague, Register-Guard columnist Don Bishoff, "Our reputation is that we eat yogurt and granola, run 3 miles before work, then go off to save the Earth." But, he says, the image can mislead in a town where timber remains a dominant, if oft-ailing, industry. "In a lot of ways we're still a mill town. We're not Brigadoon."

And yet for visitors, Brigadoon--a tie-dyed, socially conscious Brigadoon--may be what comes to mind as they watch the morning mist rising from the Willamette, or thread their way among Erb Memorial Union's tables full of students promoting worthy causes. City and university seem to share an almost anachronistic belief that, with thoughtful discussion, problems from global warming to the university budget cuts that could result from Oregon's Measure 5 can be solved.

Then, of course, there's the University of Oregon mascot: a duck. "That duck is one of the things I love most about this place," says professor Richmond. "The fighting ducks. Who could get mad at a duck?"

Well, there's a story about that duck, and it's a good Eugene story. The U of O mascot bears more than a passing resemblance to a famous Hollywood quacker. Walt Disney Productions did not normally permit its animated actors to accept additional employment. But for Oregon, Walt himself agreed to allow Donald to moonlight.

Remember that as you visit Eugene. Think about the duck, and realize that good things happen to places that are sincerely nice.


* Best mascot (tie): The U of O dock (see story, left) * Most famous alumni: Nike founder Phil Knight, novelist Ken Kesey, footballer-turned-commentator Ahmad Rashad * Best use in movie: Producers of 1978's National Lampoon's Animal House sought a traditional red-brick, big-tree, East Coast-looking campus not threatened by traditional East Coast snows. Voila! Erb Union's Fishbowl soda bar was the backdrop for John Belushi's most famous gross-out scene. It's since been remodeled. Coincidence? * A great day's wander: Start with coffee--The

Coffee Corner at the Fifth Street Public Market, E. Fifth Avenue and High Street. Nearer campus, the town gets so caffeine-mad that even Kinko's Copy Center (860 E. 13th Avenue) sells espressos. On campus, visit two fine museums the Museum of Natural History, 1680 E. 15th Avenue, and the midcampus Museum of Art). The U of O's motto is Mens Agitat Molem (mind moves moss), so after all that culture you'll need to jog or bicycle along the Willamette. Sup well in downtown Eugene, then o who or what is happening at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts (503/342-5746).

Northwest edition readers, see page 32 for details and more.



Deciduous trees--elm, sycamore, liquidambar--loose golden leaves onto avenues named Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth. And if fall here is too mild to foment the really fiery color that lights up Vermont, well, Claremont still knows that it has achieved a credible compromise of culture and climate. As Claremont Graduate School professor Dan Mazmanian says, "We're like a wonderful New England town set down near metropolitan Los Angeles."

This self-styled "city of trees and Ph.D.s" looks as if it has been what it is forever. In fact, Claremont--population 32,000--was born with a loud speculative bang, a railroad town of the 1880s. The only reason Pomona College moved here was to grab free space in the failed Claremont Hotel. But out of these unpromising beginnings came Southern California's answer to Oxford.

The Claremont Colleges actually are six separate schools that share some facilities but maintain strongly individual identities. The oldest and largest, Pomona, embraces the liberal arts, while Harvey Mudd focuses on science and engineering. Claremont McKenna students carry a reputation for conservatism, Pitzer's for iconoclastic display. ("You can always tell Pitzer students," one campus observer claims. "They're the ones going to morning classes in pajamas.") Scripps is one of but a handful of women's colleges in the West. Segments of the Claremont Graduate School rank among the best in the nation in surveys of higher education. Even in , these tight times, well-heeled alumni ensure that none of the schools is hurting. Says Mazmanian: "Comparatively speaking, we're an island of tranquillity, affluence, and optimism in the midst of what's going on in higher education in this state. It's almost embarrassing."

The town is likewise an island of intellectual stimulation amid the freeway, furniture mart, and multiplex sprawl east of Los Angeles. The downtown is one of the most walkable in Southern California, and city council member Judy Wright applauds the weekly round of college-sponsored lectures, concerts, and gallery openings. "The colleges really make us a city--not just a suburb."

It's a place of tucked-away pleasures, Claremont is. On campus there's Denison Library, pictured here, and serene Memorial Court. There's Ellen Browning Hall, where generations of graduating Scripps classes have painted greetings to posterity:

'38-Beauty or Brains or Both

'71-All You Need Is Love

Few locales will give you a more poignant sense of what college is about--the enthusiasm, the idealism, the sense of being at the starting gate of your life.


* Best (allegedly) censored mural: Campus legend has it that back in the 1930s, Pomona College trustees made famed muralist Jose Clemente Orozco tame his Promethous to an anatomically incomplete, G-rated version. Official campus history says the bowdlerization was Orozco's own doing. In any case, the results are still on view inside Frary Dining Hall. * Most famous alumni: Kris Kristofferson (Pomona), Richard Chamberlain (also Pomona), financier Henry Kravis (Claremont McKenna) * A great day's wander: Start in The Village, Claremont's small-scale downtown, where The Danson, 109 Yale Avenue, pumps out breakfasts, lunches, and dinners in a restored '30s gas station. Harvard Square Cafe, 206 W. Bonita Avenue, has a pleasant sidewalk setting, For shopping, check out Claremont Books & Prints, upstairs at 126 N. Yale, or the Folk Music Center, 220 N. Yale. Then walk up College Avenue to the campuses: idyllic, Mediterranean Scripps is the prettiest, but Pomona's Stover Walk, shaded in California live oaks, is no aesthetic slouch either. Restored to its Craftsman splendor, Pitzer College's 1903 Grove House is a serene spot for a cup o' joe.

Southern California readers, see page 40 for details and more.



Those four other college towns you just read about? Poseurs. Would-bes. Pretenders.

That's what Austin would have you believe. And maybe it has a point. Of all our college towns, Austin--more or less smack in the heart of Texas--is the most complex, not a town but at 500,000 people every inch a capital city of horse-trading pols and semiconductor savants, with a music scene whose tendrils stretch across the country. It would take a potent campus indeed to dominate such a place. But 50,000-student University of Texas at Austin is just that campus.

For decades, two colossi bestrode the Austin skyline: the 311-foot-tall Texas State Capitol dome and the 307-foot-tall University of Texas tower, the latter lit orange with every Longhorn football victory. Since the 1980s they've been physically overshadowed by new downtown skyscrapers, but their symbolic importance holds: the mile between the tower and the dome is the nexus of Texas power, with success at one institution--say, UT School of Law or the LBJ School of Public Affairs--often leading to success at the other.

UT communications professor Roderick P. Hart says that UT's aura of success is deserved. "UT students are as good as any public university students in the United States. People who could go to Ivy League schools come here because it's Texas." Adds Arnold Garcia, editorial page editor of the Austin American--Statesman, "Austin is full of high school valedictorians who don't have any trouble expressing themselves. It's as interesting a town to watch people in as any place I've ever been."

Yet it would be an injustice to say that UT and Austin are nothing more than shark tanks crammed with movers and shakers. Town and university are just too quirky, pungent, and fun for that. You'll see, if you head up to Antone's to hear Lou Ann Barton growl the blues, or if you sample the chicken fried steak at Threadgill's. Or, advises UT senior Shai Tsur, you can join the undergraduates, graduates, and post-postgraduates who populate Les Amis and other near-campus cafes. "You'll see an awful lot of people drawing out their dog-eared copies of Rilke and smoking unfiltered cigarettes, sitting at the sidewalk so everybody can watch them."

If that's your cup of French roast, go to it. And if, as you do, anyone looks askance at you, just recite the lyrics of our all-time favorite college song, "Didn't Go to College," penned by the city's own redoubtable Austin Lounge Lizards:


* Best mascot (tie): Bevo, the 1,500-pound longhorn, 13th in a line that began in 1916. His name? From an old brand of near-beer. * Most famous alumni: Bill Moyers, Lady Bird Johnson, Janis Joplin and Walter Cronkite (neither graduated) * A great day's wander: Start downtown with a Tex-Mex breakfast of migas--scrambled eggs, tortillas, and peppers--at Las Manitas (211 Congress Avenue, 512/472-9357). Then drive to campus and explore the South Mall's lovely cluster of Texas limestone classrooms and the Archer M. Huntington Art Gallery's James Michener collection of 20th-century American art. Do the fitness course along Waller Creek that ends at Santa Rita No. 1, the oil rig--moved here from West Texas--that provided funds for UT's first endowment. Then hop back in the car to enjoy a dinner of Southern delights at Threadgill's (6416 N. Lamar Street, 451-5440). Then it's time to drink up blues, R & B, and progressive country at legendary Antone's Nightclub (2915 Guadalupe, 474-5314).

Page 40, Southwest edition, has more.
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Author:Fish, Peter
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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