In 1955 the Pacific Bible Institute board purchased 53 acres near the corner of Chestnut and Butler avenues in Southeast Fresno at what is now the main campus. There the members intended to create PBI’s first true campus. Since its founding in 1944, PBI had conducted its operations only in single buildings. This property would, board members hoped, make possible the development of a more expansive liberal arts curriculum.
The board envisioned a 20-acre campus with a 3-acre plot for a Mennonite Brethren Church. The “excess property” would be subdivided and made available for building sites. This residential development would be known as “Campus Homesites.”
The subdivision included 82 lots on Butler, Townsend and Heaton avenues, between Garden Avenue on the west and Willow Avenue on the east: 70-foot lots, located south of Townsend and north of Heaton to the west of Winery Avenue, sold for $1,800; larger 100-foot lots in other parts of the subdivision sold for $2,250.
This plan addressed two realities as understood at that time: First, there was no money to construct buildings on the land that had been purchased. Subdividing and selling the 82 lots would provide those funds. Second, the board assumed that PBI would never need more than 20 acres for its campus. Thus, the subdivision plan seemed the perfect way to move forward.
By 1956, 39 lots had been sold, most to Mennonite Brethren investors, and house construction began almost immediately. Over the next few years enough lots had been sold to make possible completion of a classroom building on the new campus (now known as Sattler Hall) in 1959.
By the 1970s it was evident that the board’s assumption about 33 acres of “excess property” had been incorrect. In 1977 the college purchased 18.5 acres southeast of Winery and Hamilton, mostly for use as athletics facilities. Only nine years later the college purchased back the first Campus Homesites lot. By 1989 it had purchased five lots on Townsend and Heaton avenues. Today the university owns almost every lot on Butler, Townsend and Heaton west of Winery, and even a few to the east of Winery. In 2020 four Campus Homesites houses were demolished to make room for the new Culture and Arts Center.
Was Campus Homesites a good idea? In retrospect, we might wish that the board had been more expansive in its vision for the institution’s future. But given the fiscal realities of that time, it may have been the only means for PBI to develop into the university we know today.