Start watching
Tending Nature poster 2021

Tending Nature

Start watching

Southland Sessions

Start watching

Earth Focus

Start watching

Reporter Roundup

Start watching

City Rising

Start watching

Lost LA

Start watching
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement and Special Events teams.

An Olympic Mystery at Occidental College


Living in a dorm building shouldn't be a challenge. But at Stearns Hall at Occidental College, the hallways are sloped and turn in disorienting ways. Floor levels don't match up on different wings of the building. The tiny rooms have brick walls painted white, with a bizarre small window that looks out onto the wall of another wing. It takes a few tries to find the right path towards the exit as you wander aimlessly through the maze-like structure.

Stearns Hall under construction
Stearns Hall under construction

For many Oxy students, Stearns Hall remains a mystery. Legend has it that Stearns was built with the sole purpose to house the Russian Olympic team for the 1984 Games held in Los Angeles. What other explanation could there be for the construction of such a bizarre building? It would be a perfect place to disrupt the psyche of our nation's sworn Cold War enemies.

Occidental College is known to have many other unsolved mysteries, including the underground tunnels connecting various buildings, hidden rooms in the Mary Norton Clapp Library, and unabashedly contentious squirrels. But the possibility of the 1984 Russian Olympic team staying in Stearns was quite possibly more than just a rumor.

In fact, this urban myth gains even more credibility when one learns that Stearns Hall was one of two new structures that the college commissioned in 1980 along with the Bill Henry Track, a state of the art track field that was used as a training facility at the '84 Olympic games. Furthermore, notes show that many area schools including Loyola Marymount University, Pepperdine University, Mount St Mary's College, University of Southern California, and of course Occidental College, all participated in the Campus Housing Program set up by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee to provide accommodations to members of the Olympic family.

It turns out that Occidental College rented out 1,007 beds across campus to Olympic athletes and officials. Interestingly, documents containing the information about who rented out which rooms (and in which dorms) are confidential, and part of the President's notes.

People who know their history remember to add a specific detail to the urban legend when they recount it. Twelve weeks before the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympic Games, the USSR announced that they would be boycotting the event. They blamed the commercialization of the games and a lack of security measures. They accused the United States of using the games "for political purposes" and "stirring up anti-Soviet propaganda," and of having a "cavalier attitude to security of Russian athletes".

You could say that as a result of this political move, Occidental College ended up having to put students in the dorm instead of the Russian athletes for whom it was intended. Perhaps this was the case, but because of the confidentiality of the documents, there's no saying where they were supposed to stay on their trip to Los Angeles.

Although a member of the 1984 Olympic Russian team has (probably) never walked the peculiar halls of Stearns, there's no saying that they weren't ever supposed to.

Wendy Abbot, who was not a member of the Russian Olympic Team, by Stearns Hall not long after its completion.
Wendy Abbot, who was not a member of the Russian Olympic Team, by Stearns Hall not long after its completion.

Photos Courtesy Occidental College Special Collections

Support Provided By
Support Provided By
Read More
Chiqui Diaz at work advocating to end social isolation | Courtesy of Chiqui Diaz

Youth Leaders Making a Difference Honored by The California Endowment

The Youth Awards was created in 2018 to recognize the impact youth voices have in creating change throughout California. Learn more about the positive work they're accomplishing throughout the state.
A 2011 crime scene in Tulare County, where one of Jose Martinez's victims was found. | Courtesy of Marion County Sherff’s Office via FOIA/Buzzfeed

California's Unincorporated Places Can Be Poor, Powerless — and the Perfect Place to Commit Murder

It's time to do better by communities that don’t even have local police to call, let alone defund.
Protesters confront police outside the 3rd Police Precinct on May 27, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota after the George Floyd killing | Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

In California, A History of Young, Powerful Voices in Journalism Emerge

In the Golden State, the youth have a long history of storytelling that uncovers little-heard narratives.