Reliving the Art Deco era; Art historian takes visitors on a tour of City College’s unique history

Bruce Marwick standing in front of the Fresco Mural located in the Performing Art Center. Jiaxin Lu | Staff Photographer |

LeeAnn Salerno
Guest Writer

He’s not a student. He’s not an instructor. In fact, he has never attended or worked at City College. Yet, he seems to know more about the history of the college campus than most anyone.

With a passion for art and history, Bruce Marwick leads people on tours around the campus to show its special history and architecture. The Southern California transplant attended the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. On his first tour in the fall of  2017, he pointed out the Art Deco history that surrounds City College.

On that day, Marwick, 58, is holding a large portfolio with old pictures of the campus. He stands just north of Hughes Stadium and eagerly waits for tour attendees to gather. Some patiently stand nearby and admire a parked 1939 Lincoln Zephyr. Everyone is abuzz, and the car seems to create excitement about the Art Deco tour.

“One of the things that makes Bruce an exceptional tour guide is his ability to go the extra mile,” says Bruce Woodward, Sacramento Art Deco Society secretary, whose organization sponsored the tour. “He likes to find a personal connection to the artist by contacting their relatives. He even invites the artist’s relatives on the tour.”

Marwick, an art history researcher and author, eagerly shares the history of City College’s art balls with the tour group. Started in 1927, art balls were held annually for 22 years and epitomized the Art Deco era of the time. They were over-the-top themed events that included elaborate costumes, shows and a traditional dance. Each year a theme was selected, and students prepared the entire year for the event.

Although the art balls were associated with the Student Art League, the entire college came together to raise money for student scholarships. The balls became an opportunity for all departments at the school to showcase the skills they were developing at the college.

“These art balls were a big deal,” says Marwick. “The art balls just grew and grew. At one point they had to move them to Memorial Auditorium.”

It is evident that Marwick does not mind doing research and has no problem taking it to the next step.

In fact, Marwick’s initial research seven years ago for an article he wrote for Moderne Times, the Sacramento Art Deco Society’s quarterly publication, led him, not only to write three articles, but to find a personal link to the campus art balls.

“I was doing research on yearbooks from the 1930s, thinking there would be some wonderful student art reflective of the era,” Marwick says. “The highlight of that research was how I initially found Bernyce Polifka, my (former) teacher at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. She had done all the illustrations for the 1933 Sacramento Junior College yearbook.”

Polifka was a former student at City College who eventually made her mark in the animation world. She worked for Warner Bros. before teaching at the Art Center College of Design. Marwick highlighted Polifka and two other artists for his second article.

The last stop of the tour ends where Marwick’s research began: The Special Collections room. It was here that Marwick showed tour attendees materials for the famed art balls. Flyers, plans, and yearbooks of the Art Deco years are housed here.

If there is one thing to be said, Marwick’s research provided a literal and figurative open door to the unique history of City College.

“His interest has always been history,” says Silvia Marwick, his wife. “He loves being around people and is completely jazzed after a tour. He gets rejuvenated.”

Sharing his passion for art history is what led Marwick to City College.

“What I like to do is pull in personal stories or vignettes that help support the story,” says Marwick. “So not only do I talk about architecture, but I like to talk about the architect behind the architecture.”

During the tour, Marwick was asked what he thought the theme for a modern-day art ball would be.

“Diversity,” says Marwick. “It would include embracing technology and using multimedia.”

Pretty futuristic for someone who appreciates history.