The Parnassus Campus

History of Parnassus

From its origins following the California Gold Rush, UCSF established itself along Parnassus Avenue in 1898 on land donated by San Francisco Mayor Adolph Sutro. At the time, Parnassus Heights was in the remote western part of San Francisco, but its medical facilities suddenly became a central player in saving lives when the 1906 earthquake and fire struck. With much of San Francisco — even its hospitals — destroyed in the disaster, a tent city arose in Golden Gate Park, housing 40,000 people near the growing health sciences institution. 

Tent city in Golden Gate Park after the great 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

In 1914, the prestigious Hooper Foundation for Medical Research selected Parnassus as the site for its research work, creating the first medical research foundation in the United States incorporated into a university. Hooper investigators contributed to an expanding research enterprise on Parnassus that led to a 1949 vote by the UC Board of Regents designating the campus, rather than UC Berkeley, as the main site for all medical science.

The 20th century was a period of remarkable growth, with the addition of new research institutes and facilities, culminating in administrative independence and the selection of John B. de C.M. Saunders, MD, as UCSF’s first chancellor in 1964. 

The Campus Today

Many departments in the School of Medicine, ranging from Anesthesia and Perioperative Care to Surgery, call Parnassus home, and it is the base for the School of Dentistry. Many departments from the schools of nursing and pharmacy also are located on “the hill.”

Kalmanovitz Library

The UCSF Parnassus campus is home to a network of comprehensive patient care services for adults through UCSF Medical Center, Langley Porter Psychiatric Hospital and Clinics, and the UCSF Dental Center. The facilities treat both inpatients and outpatients.

The UCSF research enterprise spans many locations, but the Parnassus and Mission Bay campuses are the two principal sites for the majority of the distinguished research for which UCSF is known. In addition to laboratories that are distinguished for their leading work in basic science, Parnassus is the site of a number of centers and institutes that focus on specific areas within the health sciences, uncovering the ways the human body works and discovering ways to combat many illnesses.

Other facilities and services on Parnassus include the Kalmanovitz Library, the University’s bookstore, a lively food court, a conference and fitness center at Millberry Union, and a child care center.

Much of the public art that has become a UCSF hallmark over the years can be found on the Parnassus campus, including sculptures by Beniamino Bufano and Jim Campbell and a mural by Douglas Cooper.

A Vision For the Future

Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF.

The Parnassus campus has grown to become a city within the city, with an average daily population of 16,000 people, including faculty, staff, students, patients and visitors. 

The campus continues to thrive, and in February 2011 celebrated the grand opening of the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine Building, the new headquarters of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regeneration Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCSF. Designed by internationally renowned architect Rafael Viñoly, the building provides a dramatic statement of UCSF’s commitment to the Parnassus site.

The $123 million building, paid for by state and private funds, is designed to foster intensive collaboration and a cross-pollination of ideas among scientists representing a broad spectrum of labs and disciplines. The researchers’ goal is to develop strategies for treating a variety of diseases and conditions, such as birth defects, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, spinal cord injury and cancer.

Since the opening of the new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay in 2015, clinical care on Parnassus has transitioned into focusing on high-end adult surgical and medical services, including emergency medicine, while UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion has become a major outpatient hub, offering advanced diagnostic and therapeutic services.