Today, West Campus is home to Mason's Women's and Men's athletic programs, including Track, Lacrosse, Soccer, Baseball, and Softball. Its early history, however, had little to do with sports.
George Mason University's West Campus section of the Fairfax Campus comprises about 215 acres on Ox Road (VA 123) directly west of Fairfax campus. A complex of buildings, a stadium, athletic fields, and parking lots cover about 40% of the property. The land was acquired in 1969, but Mason Athletics did not leave a footprint there until the early 1980s.
In the mid-1960s, the land that made up today's West Campus contained three small homesteads, one of them belonging to Oliver F. Atkins and his wife, Marjorie. Atkins was the Washington Photography Correspondent for The Saturday Evening Post. He and Marjorie watched the development of George Mason's Fairfax Campus from their home just across Ox Road ever since construction began in 1963. Sometime in 1964, Atkins contacted George Mason College officials and volunteered to serve as its first (unofficial) photographer for college events until a permanent one was hired. While Mason's photographer that winter and next spring, Atkins photographed the college's Dedication in the winter of 1964 and made several other photographs of the college campus.
Atkins took a leave of absence from the Post in 1968 to become President Richard M. Nixon's official photographer. He and Marjorie moved from their home across the road from Mason out to Washington, Virginia. Atkins was Nixon's photographer from 1969 until 1974 and was responsible for the photograph of Nixon bowling (featured in the film, The Big Lebowski) and the images of the President meeting Elvis Presley, widely considered among the most recognizable of his work during this period. Atkins later donated his personal collection of his photographs to George Mason University Libraries in 1977.
Mason had barely been in the new Fairfax campus two years and had about an enrollment of 800 when a sobering report by the Northern Virginia Regional Planning and Economic Development Council was released. The 1966 study estimated that Mason’s enrollment could grow to 15,000 by 1985, and that the college would need to acquire about 450 additional adjacent acres to be able to accommodate this growth. A push to acquire more land for the campus began.
There was available land on the south, east, and west of the original 150-acre tract, but Mason had to act fast before developers acquired it. Administrators hired local land attorney, John T. “Till” Hazel to help. Hazel's expertise helped the college secure more than thirty individual parcels of land totaling 421 acres (including the original Atkins homesite), the last of which were officially transferred to the college in a ceremony on July 18, 1969, presided over by Virginia Governor, Mills E. Godwin, Jr. Hazel went on to be one of Mason's biggest benefactors, serving as Rector of the Board of Visitors, playing a large role in the acquisition of the School of Law (who's building carries his name) and making other generous donations of his time and resources to the university.
The over two hundred acres just west of the campus remained mostly fallow after being acquired by the college until 1972, when Mason offered a former pig shed on the property to Astronomy professor, William Lankford for the construction of a telescope. Three of his students, John Whelan, Elaine "Chipper" Petersen, and Robert Veenstra took on the three-year task of constructing the 7-foot-long, 500-pound telescope. The site known as the Herschel Observatory opened to the university and local community in September 1975. At the time it was the most powerful telescope in the northern Virginia area. The observatory was torn down in the early 1980s to make way for the construction of the George Mason University Field House, opening in 1982. John and Elaine later married and continued to support George Mason University.
With the opening of the Field House and Stadium in 1982 and 1983, respectively, West Campus became a home for Mason's larger Intercollegiate Athletics programs.
In November of 1985, the George Mason University Women’s Soccer team captured the highest prize in collegiate athletics, the Division I National Championship. After a 15-2-1 season, the Patriots earned a spot in the NCAA tournament. After wins in the first three rounds against William and Mary, SUNY Cortland, and University of Massachusetts, all that remained for Mason was a match with 4-time National Champion, North Carolina. Carolina had beaten Mason 4-0 in an NCAA semifinal match in 1983, and Mason was the consensus underdog in their upcoming rematch.
Mason had drawn home field, the new Mason Stadium on West Campus, for the Final on November 24th. Before a partisan crowd of 4,500 and an ESPN television audience of millions, Mason scored first at 30 minutes on an 18-yarder from All-American Pam Bauman. The Patriots held the Tarheels scoreless for the rest of the game, while All-American Lisa Gmitter scored for Mason in the 86th minute to seal the 2-0 victory. The win, against a team that had a record of ninety-nine wins and 4 losses during the previous 4 years, was indeed the first shot heard round the world for Mason athletics. Eleven years later, the Men's Track and Field team became the second Mason team to win a Division I Championship at the Indoor Track and Field Champioships in Indianapolis Indiana.
Today's West Campus hosts Mason's larger indoor and outdoor athletics programs, including Softball, Baseball, Track and Field, and Lacrosse. Its buildings include the Field House, which house the Intercollegiate Athletics offices and indoor track and field venues, George Mason Stadium, Spuhler Field, named after Raymond "Hap" Spuhler, Mason's first Athletic Director, the Softball Complex, practice and recreational fields, and parking lots.
In the spring of 2015, the university built a road to connect the West Campus to the main part of campus. An overpass was constructed to carry both directions of Ox Road over this road. The road, named Campus Drive improves pedestrian and vehicle access between the two parts of campus.