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History / Timeline

Otis Students circa 1920s - Mt Baldy Trip

A Glimpse of the Past

1918-2008 Illustrated Timeline with historical images. (PDF)


December 23, 1916 The Otis Art Institute of the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science, and Art

General Harrison Gray Otis, L.A.Times publisher, donates his spacious Wilshire Boulevard home, known as the Bivouac, to Los Angeles County to be used “continuously and perpetually for the Arts and advancement of the Arts.”

September 1918

Otis opens its doors as the first independent professional school of art in Southern California, with a three-year course in drawing and painting, a two-year course in illustration, and another two-year course in design and applied arts. Tuition is $80 a year. Life drawing classes are separate for men and women but by 1919, they study together. E. Roscoe Shrader was with the school from 1918 until he retired in 1949 as Director.


Otis, the largest art school west of Chicago, with 350 students, begins to chart the course of art in Southern California.


Students publish El Dorado, a book of California’s history, with illustrations by Benji Okubo, John Hench, Charles Morimoto, and Hideo Date.

1930s Otis Art Institute

During the Great Depression, many students are forced to drop out.


Throughout the ‘40s, Norman Rockwell spends his winters as an artist-in-residence, painting many of his famed Saturday Evening Post covers, and using Otisians as models.

December 7, 1941

30 students are drafted within a month of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

February 1942

An auction of student art work benefits servicemen. Early in the war, when West Coast Japanese-Americans are ordered to internment camps. they include Benji Okubo and Hideo Date, who teach art classes at the Heart Mountain Camp.


Tuition for 12 weeks is $60. The Alumni Association establishes a scholarship fund for students who served in the war.

1954 Los Angeles County Art Institute

Millard Sheets becomes Director, and during the ‘50s, he restructures the academic programs to offer BFA and MFA degrees. The curriculum is designed primarily to train college-and university-level art teachers. (Otis’ Library was named for Sheets in 1997.) Otis becomes home to the California Ceramics Revolution when Peter Voulkos joins the faculty in 1957. “Peter Voulkos was already legendary, but he was also coming out of recent encounters at Black Mountain College with John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham, and meetings with a lot of Abstract Expressionist painters,” observed art dealer Frank Lloyd. “He brought that exposure to avant-garde ideas of the time to Otis, where a vigorous group of students was attracted to work with him.”


New campus facilities, including studios, a gallery, and ceramics studio replace the Bivouac. The Ferus Gallery in Venice becomes a magnet for aspiring L.A. artists who attract national attention. Director Walter Hopps selects Otis students Ken Price, Billy Al Bengston, John Altoon, John Mason, and Robert Irwin—all students of Peter Voulkos—to exhibit.

1978 Otis Art Institute of Parsons School of Design.

In 1978, the County of Los Angeles discontinues public support of the College as a result of Proposition 13. The County Board of Supervisors votes to merge Otis with Parsons School of Design in New York, creating a private institution. Fashion Design, Communication Arts, and Environmental Design majors are added, and Continuing Education evening classes are offered.


The first Scholarship Benefit Fashion Show of student designs is held at the Hard Rock Café.


Adolfo Nodal, writer and curator, becomes director of the Otis Art Gallery. He strengthens Otis’ relationship with the city by renovating MacArthur Park’s band shell, commissioning art, and establishing a variety of community programs. Alumnus Kent Twitchell, working with Otis students, creates freeway murals for The Olympic Games.


Brookl7n, later known as Otis Design Group (ODG), an in-house design studio, is started by seven faculty members and students, spearheaded by Sheila deBretteville and Ave Pildas. More than 200 students join this studio during its 22 years. Their non-profit clients include the Lulu Washington Dance Company, L.A. Dept. of Cultural Affairs, Plaza de la Raza, and the Chinese Cultural and Community Center.


Otis is awarded a Presidential “private sector initiative commendation” for its MacArthur Park work.

1991 Otis School of Art and Design/Otis College of Art and Design

Otis becomes independent of Parsons and In 1993, changes its name from Otis School of Art and Design to Otis College of Art and Design. Neil Hoffman is President.



Otis relocates to Westchester to a 1964 IBM research facility designed by Eliot Noyes. The renovated building, named Kathleen Holser Ahmanson Hall, is the central facility of the Elaine and Bram Goldsmith Campus. Toy Design and Digital Media majors are launched. Fashion Design occupies one floor of the California Market Center in downtown’s fashion district, and Graduate Fine Arts studios are in nearby El Segundo. Degree student enrollment is 726.


Samuel Hoi becomes President. Graduate Writing Program is launched.


The Bronya and Andy Galef Center for Fine Arts opens with studios for fine arts students and a professional exhibition space, the Ben Maltz Gallery.


The U.S. Dept. of Education awards a five-year, $1.8 million grant to develop two new degree programs: Interactive Product Design and Advertising Design, and a new area of emphasis in teacher training: Artists, Community and Teaching.


John S. Gordon is appointed the first Provost. Student Learning Resource Center opens to provide tutoring, ESL assistance, counseling and workshops. “Mexican Otis” exhibition at the Mexican Consulate, near the original campus, includes work that spans seven decades by alumni artists of Mexican heritage.


Interactive Product Design major is established. Otis Speaks public lecture and programs series launches.


New identity is introduced. Integrated Learning multidisciplinary site-based curriculum is initiated, with partners including Watts Labor Community Action Committee, Westchester Senior Center, Friends of Ballona Wetlands, and Homeboy Industries. "Otis: Nine Decades of Los Angeles Art" exhibition and catalogue showcase the work of more than 80 fine arts alumni. The Scholarship Benefit Fashion Show breaks the $1 million mark in scholarship funds.


The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching designates Otis among the inaugural group of 76 colleges and universities cited for their commitment to “Curricular Engagement and Outreach & Partnerships.” MFA in Public Practice is launched.The report on the L.A. region’s creative economy is commissioned from the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. More than 6,000 visitors, including representatives of design firms and arts institutions, attend the Class of 2007 Exhibition. The New Media Consortium awards the Library a Center of Excellence Award for its achievement in applying technology to learning, as in its podcast channels on YouTube and iTunesU.


MFA in Graphic Design enrolls its first class. Nike/Hurley team up to create a $1 million scholarship endowment for fashion design students. Student enrollment reaches 1200. Otis celebrates its 90th anniversary with the publication of "Otis Designs." First Donghia Foundation Designer in Residence is appointed. Product Design launches entrepreneurship class with LMU. Irvine Foundation awards funding for media arts teaching and OTEAM.

2009 - 2014 coming soon


Otis Leaders 
1918 Channing P. Townsley, Director 
1922-1949 E. Roscoe Shrader, Director
1949-1952 Gaylord Richmond, Director
1954-1962 Millard Sheets, Director
1962-1974 Andreas S. Andersen, Director
1974-1976 Gurdon Woods, Director
1976-1979 Peter Clothier, Acting Director
1979-1983 Neil Hoffman, Director 
1985-1993 Roger Workman (President, 1991) 
1993-2000 Neil Hoffman, President 
2000-present Samuel Hoi, President