On June 20, 1964, a crowd of 15,000 people followed a newly paved road to an open field on The Irvine Ranch to witness history. The University of California, Irvine, was about to be dedicated, and hopes were high. Those gathered were understandably excited for the ceremony to begin. The president of the United States would soon arrive.
The UCI dedication visit by Lyndon B. Johnson was the first time an active U.S. president had visited Orange County, and, in the wake of John F. Kennedy’s assassination six months earlier, extra security was provided by the Marine Corps. It was decided that President Johnson would arrive via helicopter.
Just before noon, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Band began to play as the president’s helicopter landed nearby. Johnson greeted the UC regents and took his place on stage in front of a 30-foot-tall map of the Irvine Master Plan with the university at its core. A parade of speakers addressed the crowd, and then, finally, the 36th president stepped to the lectern.
“All our hopes for peace depend on the kind of society we can build in the United States,” he said. “And that, in turn, rests on our system of education.” Johnson concluded his remarks and then viewed a dedication plaque that would be installed outside the campus library. After a rendition of the university hymn by the All-Orange County High School Choir, Johnson boarded the helicopter, but not before ignoring the concerns of the Secret Service and taking time to shake hands with well-wishers.
Ellen Bell is an Orange County historian and author of “Irvine: Images of America.”