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Sara Barz

Mills College: Campus mixes history, modernity

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tucked next to the freeway at the foot of the Oakland hills, the 135-acre Mills College campus is a delightful urban oasis. Breathe a sigh of relief that you’re not a frenzied student; as a visitor, you can stroll over tranquil lawns and tree-lined roads, and stop to enjoy buildings of striking beauty.


Founded in 1852, Mills was the first women’s college in the West. You’ll see history here as well as modernity. Among other qualities, Mills favors being green. The U.S. Green Building Council has recognized two campus buildings with its LEED gold and platinum certifications.

A pleasant stroll

Mills College is a private institution, so walkers need to choose a day when there’s a public event on campus. (Go to www.mills.edu for more information.) After you check in with the security guard at the main entrance, walk down Richards Road to begin a pleasant 2-mile loop. The second building on your right is the Chapel. If it’s open, its 14-sided, wood-paneled walls might make you feel like you’re in an ancient redwood forest.

Continue on Richards to the next building on your right, the Music Building. Its Spanish colonial style and terra cotta entrance were designed by renowned architect Walter Ratcliff Jr. If the Littlefield Concert Hall is open – it’s generally locked unless there’s a concert or lecture – peek in to see the colorful frescoes and Depression-era murals.

Continue on Richards, then turn right on Kapiolani Road. Then turn left past the Fine Arts Annex. You’ll cross Leona Creek and arrive at the Oval. El Campanil is off to your right. If you’re here on the hour, the bells – named Faith, Hope, Peace and Joy – will chime for you.

Directly across the Oval is Mills Hall. In 1871, when the campus was moved from Benicia, this Victorian beauty housed the entire college – dorms, classrooms, offices and dining hall. Today, it’s just classrooms. Walk to the back of Mills Hall. Continue across the meadow to the cluster of buildings that make up the student center.

Along pinetop trail

Make a hairpin turn out of the student union and around to your left. At the back of the student union, you approach the base of a hill. Turn right through the parking lot toward the eucalyptus trees. At the end of the pavement, merge onto the Pinetop Trail and follow it uphill. At the road, turn downhill to the left. Continue along the road until you see no-parking signs on your right and another marker for Pinetop Trail.

Take the trail downhill to Lake Aliso. Water from this small lake is used to irrigate the campus during dry summer months. Cross the bridge over the creek and turn left at the T.

Lions guard the museum

When the trail merges into a parking lot, follow the paved road angling slightly to your left. Stay on the lookout for the art museum to the right. Look for the ceremonial lions guarding the entrance. Exhibitions are free to the public.

As you leave the museum grounds, turn your back on the lions and walk straight along the road (Kapiolani). On your right is the new Lokey Graduate School of Business – one of the LEED buildings at Mills. Its sustainable features include a living roof, radiant-heated floors and a rainwater collection system. Just past the business school building, turn right to return to Richards Road.

Getting there

From the Transbay Terminal, take AC Transit’s NL and get off at MacArthur Boulevard and Pierson Street. From the MacArthur BART Station, take AC Transit No. 57 and exit at MacArthur and Pierson.

By car, take Interstate 580 east toward Hayward/Stockton. Take the second MacArthur Boulevard exit, after High Street, and bear right onto MacArthur. The Mills gate is immediately ahead on your left.


Urban Outings are presented by Greenbelt Alliance, the Bay Area’s advocate for protecting open spaces and creating vibrant places. To suggest an Urban Outing, contact Eileen Keremitsis, tour leader for S.F. City Guides and author of “Frommer’s 24 Great Walks in San Francisco.” (Gail Todd will return.) To find out more about Greenbelt Alliance’s work, visit www.greenbelt.org.

– Eileen Keremitsis, 96hours@sfchronicle.com


This article appeared on page G – 25 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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