It's on fire.
The news reports mention it being a wealthy community, and it is. If you're not familiar with the area, we're talking about one of the most beautiful places on earth, a synergistic synthesis of natural and human artifice. It will recover its beauty--so innately and deeply gifted is the area. But some spectacular residential architecture will be lost, homes that, even though the vast majority of us could never afford to live in them, we are blessed by nonetheless because we partake of the same human spirit--lit by the Divine spirit--that is able to climb such aesthetic heights.
The edifice that anchors the Westmont campus is Kerrwood Hall, one of these vintage Montecito mansions that date from the 1920s. The college has been there since 1945, now covering some 139 acres and using several dozen buildings. I have learned tonight that unit 'S' of the Clark Hall dorm complex is one of the buildings that has been destroyed by the Tea Fire. I lived in 'Clark S' my junior year at Westmont, so the news brings me up short, and sends me on multitudinous trips down Memory Lane. It was in Clark Hall that I first had "too much to drink" (quite against the rules, I assure you). It was while living there that I began dating and got engaged to the love of my life. The list could go on.
I am grateful that there seem to be no injuries or deaths at Westmont, though a couple of hundred students suddenly have nowhere to live. More importantly, fourteen faculty homes have been destroyed, which is a horror for those families that I cannot even begin to imagine.
I've not been the most gung-ho booster of my alma mater over the years. This is perhaps largely because I quit running in the free-church evangelical circles that form Westmont's core constituency. But I have always been, and will ever be, immensely grateful for my four years there (plus three more married to an adjunct faculty member). I received a challenging and integrative liberal arts education that continues to inform my participation in the universe of intellectual discourse, theological reflection, and the use of the English language. As a bonus, I acquired knowledge and skills in the field of music (my major) that I still make use of on a virtually daily basis in my work as a parish priest. (Sadly, they could not turn me into a competent french horn player; I only look competent in the above photo, taken after my senior recital.) And I must never forget that it was in a Westmont College music department practice room that, alone during spring break of my sophomore year in 1971, I sat down at a piano with the Hymnal 1940 and said to myself, "Where have these hymns been all my life? If there's a church that actually sings them, I need to be in it." That was the nodal point in my discovery of the Anglican tradition.
Of your charity, please hold the Westmont community in your prayers.