Filed Under Places

West Campus

Nixon, Pig Sheds, and Underdogs

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.

Images

Land acquisition, George Mason College, July 18, 1969
Land acquisition, George Mason College, July 18, 1969 Map showing land acquired between 1967 and 1969 by George Mason College.The 11 parcels west of the area marked:"Original Holdings" make up today's West Campus. On the map, these are the parcels to the left of the pentagonal area. This map appeared on page 7 of a program for the "Ceremony conveying land acquired by the Board of Control for George Mason College to the Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia", July 18, 1969. Source: George Mason University Archives: Commencements, Receptions, etc., #R0128, July 18, 1969 Creator: George Mason College of The University of Virginia Date: July 18, 1969
Oliver F. Atkins
Oliver F. Atkins Portrait photograph of photographer, Oliver F. Atkins. Atkins volunteered his services as Mason's first photographer. He and his wife, Marjorie owned a home on land on the West side of Ox Road across from George Mason. This land was later acquired by the University of Virginia for expansion of George Mason College in 1969. Source: Oliver F. Atkins Photograph Collection, C0036, Box 27 Folder 4 Creator: Oliver F. Atkins Date: circa 1968
Raymond "Hap" Spuhler
Raymond "Hap" Spuhler Photograph of George Mason University Athletic Director, Raymond "Hap" Spuhler. Spuhler became Mason's first Athletic Director and coached both basketball and baseball in 1966. He retired in 1979. Mason's baseball stadium, Spuhler Field, is named in his honor. Source: George Mason University Broadside photograph collection, #R0135, Box 8, Page 5 Creator: Kerry L. Miller Date: January 18, 1974
John Tighlman "Til" Hazel
John Tighlman "Til" Hazel John "Til" Hazel is photographed while speaking at Mason's 1987 Commencement. Hazel was an early supporter of George Mason. He helped create the George Mason Foundation in 1966 and headed up the acquisition of 421 acres of land to expand Mason's campus during 1967-1969. He was appointed to its first Board of Visitors and served from 1972 to 1983 during which he was Rector from 1976 to 1978 and 1982–83. He also played a large role in the acquisition of the School of Law in 1979, and its building in Arlington bears his name. Source: George Mason University photograph collection, #R0120, Box 35, Folder 28 Creator: George Mason University Creative Services Date: May 16, 1987
Robert Veenstra, Elaine Petersen and John Whalan in the Herschel Observatory
Robert Veenstra, Elaine Petersen and John Whalan in the Herschel Observatory Left to right: Robert Veenstra, Elaine "Chipper" Petersen, and John Whalan inspect the telescope in the Herschel Observatory located on what is now George Mason Stadium on Mason's West Campus. Source: University and student publications R0128, Mason Spirit Magazine, October 24, 2011 Creator: George Mason University Creative Services Date: circa 1975
George Mason University Field House exterior
George Mason University Field House exterior Exterior of the George Mason University Athletics Field House on West Campus, July 1982. Source: George Mason University photograph collection, #R0120, Box 25, Folder 25 Creator: George Mason University Creative Services Date: July 20, 1982
George Mason University Field House interior
George Mason University Field House interior Interior of the George Mason University Athletics Field House on West Campus, July 1982. Source: George Mason University photograph collection, #R0120, Box 25, Folder 25 Creator: George Mason University Creative Services Date: July 20, 1982
George Mason Stadium construction
George Mason Stadium construction The George Mason Stadium on the West Campus under construction, circa 1982. Source: George Mason University Broadside photographs, #R0135, Box 21, Page 1 Creator: George Mason University Broadside Date: circa 1982
1985 George Mason University Women's Soccer members team raise the NCAA Championship trophy
1985 George Mason University Women's Soccer members team raise the NCAA Championship trophy Women's Soccer team members (left to right) Sis Koskinen, Pam Baughman, and Meg Romaine lift the NCAA Division I Championship trophy on November 24, 1985 after defeating North Carolina 2-0 at George Mason Stadium on Mason's West Campus. Source: Spring 1986 issue of George Mason Magazine. George Mason University and student publications, #R0128, Box 55, Folder 6 Creator: George Mason University Creative Services Date: November 25, 1985

Location

Metadata

George Mason University Past and Present Team, “West Campus,” The Mason Experience: Past and Present, accessed March 2, 2024, https://pastandpresent.gmu.edu/items/show/13.