There are many campus directories, maps and guides available for Arizona State University. They’ll get you to your classes, show you where the nearest coffee is, and point out where to study, exercise and eat. This is not a guide. This article is about hidden gems at ASU.

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We’re sure you can find the student union and the fitness center on your own. This guide will help you find the interesting, the strange, and the amazing on all four ASU campuses. “What is that thing?” you might wonder. We’re here to answer that.


Stand where a President stood

At 2 acres short of a solid square mile and 136 years old, the Tempe campus has a lot of university history and goodies, like moon rocks, dinosaur skulls, meteorites, rare books and paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe and Diego Rivera.

Old Main, the three-story Victorian red brick pile on University Drive with the balcony, elegant staircase and balcony, is the heart and soul the campus.

Many universities have beautiful old buildings. Not one of the four presidents that were carved on Mount Rushmore sat and spoke.

The dedication of the Roosevelt Dam was held in New York City on March 20, 1911 by former President Theodore Roosevelt, located 60 miles northeastern from the Salt River Valley. His trip to Tempe was only expected to take two to three minutes. He was expected to speak standing in his car.

Old Main on the Tempe campus is one of ASU’s signature buildings.

He was greeted by hundreds upon his arrival at the campus. The Old Main second-floor balcony was decorated with a huge flag. Roosevelt ran up the steps leading to the first landing and spoke for 13 min.

“It is a rare pleasure to be here, and I wish to congratulate the territory of Arizona upon the far-sighted wisdom and generosity which was shown in building the institution,” Roosevelt said. “It is a pleasure to see such buildings, and it is an omen of good augury for the future of the state to realize that a premium is being put upon the best type of educational work.”

Arizona historians agree that the dam’s dedication is the single most significant event in the history of Phoenix. Walk up to the first landing, stand on the west side, and you’re exactly where the Bull Moose himself stood. There’s no plaque.

The Philomathian Bench

The Philomathian benches are located close to University Drive on the west side the Old Main lawn. There’s no plaque there either.

The Philomathians are derived from the Greek word philomath which means “a lover of learning”) were one of three literary societies organized in 1900. All students were required to participate in one of the societies: the Alphas — for freshman students only — the Olympians or the Philomathians. The three societies competed each year for an annual trophy. All three societies were disbanded in 1912 and were eventually replaced by voluntary clubs.

The Philomathian society returned in 1921 as an all-women’s club that returned to its roots as “Lovers of Learning.”They encouraged writing, music and essay, and enjoyed desert picnics and weekend camping trips together. Alumni dedicated the Philomathian chair just before the 1929 convocation. It has been on Old Main lawn since.

ASU Philomathian Bench

The bench was donated by the Philomathian society alumnae in 1929 to honor learning lovers. It is located near Old Main, next to Durham Hall, which was recently renovated. It is one of the not-in-the-directory gems of ASU’sTempe campus, but worth noting. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU

The society evolved into a sorority and adopted Greek letters. It also expanded its activities to include drama, literature, and social functions like music and sports. The Arizona State College annual last listed the Philomathian Sorority in 1949. It was disbanded shortly afterwards. The seat has been maintained by Alpha Delta Pi, which has no ties to Philomathians since the 1950s.

The reptile collection

The Life Sciences A Wing is located south and east of Old Main. Walk into the north hallway and you’ll find one of the most Arizona things at Arizona State – the Life Sciences Living Reptile Exhibit with about 18 to 20 reptiles on display (the displays change from time to time). The majority are rattlesnakes and include all the species and subspecies of Arizona’s rattlesnakes.

The star of the show is Joey, an albino Western diamondback rattlesnake, son of Hector, who lived for 24 years.

Joey albino rattlesnake ASU

Joey, the albino Western diamondback rattlesnake, is a not-in-the-directory gem of ASU’s Tempe campus and worth noting. He lives in the Life Sciences A Wing with his mother and sister, as well as several other reptiles. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU

The snakes tend to be mostly dormant, unless you happen through when the enclosures are being cleaned, and then they’re fired up.

It is not clear how long the collection has existed, but most people believe it began in the 1960s, when the School of Life Sciences was called the Department of Zoology. At that time Herbert Stahnke — a scorpion expert who developed a scorpion antivenin — headed the department, and the treatment of bites from scorpions, rattlesnakes and Gila monsters generated interest in antivenin.

The Secret Garden

You will find the Secret Garden at the southwest corner Dixie Gammage Hall (on Forest Mall across from Coor Hall). Follow a path down and through a tunnel. The Secret Garden is a lush, shaded courtyard with seating, a beautiful lawn, and a fireplace. It’s not on official campus maps, but it has been beloved for decades for peace and quiet.

ASU Tempe Secret Garden

Sun Devils who seek solitude will love the Secret Garden, which is located between Dixie Gammage Hall & West Hall. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU

The hottest – and coolest – spots on campus

The three hottest spots on campus, according to an ASU study:

1. At the heart of the “X”Hayden Lawn sidewalks

Hottest spot on ASU Tempe campus

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU

2. The walkway linking Payne and Coor halls.

3. The intersection of Tyler and Cady malls.

These are the three most cool spots on campus

1. Coor Hall’s breezeway.

Coolest spot on ASU Tempe campus

Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU

2. Under the trees on Old Main lawn.

3. The Memorial Union is just west of the enormous ficus trees.

What the foxes have to say

“We’re just fine”They are probably right. Kit foxes as well as gray foxes are found on Tempe campus. They are often mistaken for cats. In September 2020, three of them broke into Memorial Union. They’re often spotted by the residence halls, but they’ve been seen everywhere else: Noble Library, the stadium parking lot, Hayden Lawn. They’re not shy. One was spotted running across Old Main lawn on weekday afternoon with hundreds of people.

“I saw one really late at night by the bookstore, and I thought I was hallucinating,” said Reddit user volkszaggen.

Kit fox on ASU campus

Kit fox on campus Photo by CanisSparverius, Reddit user

Downtown Phoenix campus

The murals of the post office

The old post office located at 522 N. Central Ave., is a gathering space for students. It also has office space for career services, counseling, and other units. Wander around the lobby and you’ll notice four spectacular murals.

In the 1930s and 40s, the federal government established a program to place artwork in public buildings. It was designed to lift morale following the Great Depression. The subjects were supposed to be optimistic, and were painted in an encouraging style. “American scene” style and depict ordinary citizens in a realistic manner — nothing in abstract or modern art styles. They were meant to be appropriate for their surroundings.

Oscar Edmund Berninghaus was a founding member of Taos Society of Artists and painted two of the murals. The Taos Society was established in 1915 by a group visual artists who were fascinated by the beauty and culture that is northern New Mexico.

Phoenix post office mural by Oscar Edmund Berninghaus

Phoenix mural by Oscar Edmund Berninghaus (Taos Society of Artists), 1939. “Spanish Explorers and American Indians.”Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU

Berninghaus and others believed that Taos would produce a distinctively American art. “We have had French, Dutch, Italian and German art,”He said. “Now we have American art. I feel that from Taos will come that art.”

Laverne NelsonBlack, who was fascinated by Native American culture, painted the other murals. He was shy and never gained any recognition in his personal life. He died shortly after the completion of these murals, apparently poisoned from the paints he used.

Most paintings by the Taos School are now in museums. They are extremely rare, highly sought-after and fetch high prices when they do come on the market.

Phoenix post office mural by Laverne Nelson Black

Phoenix mural by Laverne N. Black, 1937. “Progress of the Pioneer, Crossing the Desert.”Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU

Polytechnic campus

Ammunition dump

The Polytechnic campus was once an aviation training facility for World War II pilots. There were pilots who trained as P-38 Lightning and B-17 Flying Fortress pilots. Gunnery training was available, which required ammunition.

It was kept in bunkers south campus that Del Webb built in 1942. They look like mounds made of dirt with some space between. The bunker was actually one mound. The blast wall was on the opposite side, and was intended to contain any explosions.

They’re in good shape, but empty.

Poly ammo dump

Ammo Bunker, (S-1008), is located southwest of Vosler Drive (formerly Alaska Drive), on the Polytechnic campus (formerly Williams Air Force Base), Mesa. Listed in National Register of Historic Places. Photo courtesy of Tony the Marine via Wikimedia Commons/Marine 69-71 at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0

West campus

The Bool bell

Navy SEAL candidates who have dropped out of Hell Week ring the Bool bell. Students from West campus succeed when they ring the Bool Bell.

The Bool bell, which was donated to West campus in 1983, was named after Herb and Betty Bool. The bell has been a symbol to West students ever since.

When a student has completed their last final at ASU and completed the final course of their senior years, they ring this Bool bell. Students can walk around campus during finals week and listen to the bell ring, knowing that each ring signifies the end of an academic journey at ASU.

The tradition is so beloved that you can hear the bell occasionally throughout the summer.

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