Architecture and History Enthusiast Inspires CSUN Students in Nation’s Capital

  • Alumnus Bill Keene gives a tour of the National Monuments in Washington D.C.

    Bill Keene, '69 (Urban Planning) discusses the history of the National Monuments in Washington D.C. with CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison. After a long career in the energy industry, Keene now enjoys retirement by giving tours examining the famous architectural landmarks around the D.C. area. Photo courtesy of Lawrence Becker.

Bill Keene ’66 (Urban Planning), ’69 M.A. (Urban History) can trace his love of architecture back to a fateful day when he was 8 years old.

One day, while watching television, Keene stumbled upon an interview with Frank Lloyd Wright — one of a number of designers now known as “starchitects.” Wright’s charisma on camera and use of the media to promote his projects drew the young Keene in. That was when he knew: His future was in architecture.

Keene, who grew up in Denver and moved to Los Angeles at the age of 9, attended San Fernando Valley State College (now CSUN) as a double major in political science and urban planning. During his junior year, he realized he had a deeper interest in urban history and dropped his political science major. During his time at Valley State, he was active in his fraternity, as well as Associated Students — representing CSUN students as part of the Northridge Chamber of Commerce. Keene has fond Valley State memories and his university experience gave him a great foundation for the working world, he said.

“The small class sizes, the courses of interest and the fantastic teachers all helped me to achieve a very personalized education,” he said.

After graduating from CSUN in 1966 with his bachelor’s degree, Keene joined the Alumni Association and has served two terms as its president. Later, he decided to continue his education at CSUN, earning a master’s degree in urban history in 1969.

Upon leaving CSUN, Keene briefly taught at Pepperdine University and USC, where he developed a deeper understanding of the many aspects of urban history of Los Angeles through his curriculum. But Keene’s career was in another field and came along rather unexpectedly: While accompanying a fraternity brother on an assignment for Lundberg Survey, a company that surveyed gasoline prices throughout the United States, Keene realized he had an aptitude for market research, and took over his friend’s position when he left the company.

After more than 20 years’ experience working for Lundberg, Keene was approached by Southern California Gas Company to work for them as a senior petroleum analyst, analyzing oil markets and such projects for the potential of enhanced oil recovery in California. He served in this role until 1994, when Energy Security Analysis Inc. hired him to work in its Washington, D.C. office. Keene leapt at the opportunity and began a new chapter on the East Coast.

Before moving to the East Coast, Keene amassed an impressive library of more than 1,000 books on architecture and urban history, along with a collection of maps and pamphlets on Los Angeles and Southern California. He decided to donate some of these materials to CSUN to benefit its students. The donations are housed within the Department of Geological Sciences map collection and marked the beginning of Keene giving back to CSUN — a practice he continues today.

In 1998, Keene took on a position as a senior energy analyst for Science Applications International Corporation, now known as Liedos. Upon moving to the Washington D.C. area, he joined the Smithsonian Associates, a diverse program of lectures, tours and concerts catering to a wide variety of tastes for those in the D.C. metropolitan region. In 2009, Keene began developing tours and lectures of his own for the associate program. These revolved around architecture, dealing primarily with Frank Lloyd Wright and other architects, as well as the history of architecture in the United States and issues of infrastructure and sustainability.

After more than 15 years working for SAIC, a faculty mentor in CSUN’s D.C. Internship Program asked Keene if he would be willing to give current students a tour of the National Mall in 2012. Keene happily obliged, leading a new generation of CSUN students around the nation’s landmarks, including the Capitol, Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The tour examined the evolution from the original plan for the monuments and the changes brought about at the turn of the 20th century.

Lawrence Becker, head of the Political Science department at CSUN and one of the key figures behind the D.C. Internship program, was appreciative of the vast knowledge that Keene had to impart to the students.

“Mr. Keene is an incredibly knowledgeable authority on the planning, history and architecture of Washington, D.C. and the National Mall in particular,” Becker said. “For our students to have access to a walking tour with him is a real treat, and it is such a bonus for our students that the tour is led by a CSUN alumnus. He’s a wonderful supporter of CSUN and our students.”

Keene was impressed by the level of engagement of the CSUN students, and was impressed by the new generation of Matadors.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm and many questions, and it was interesting to hear the students’ stories of how they became interested in working in Washington, D.C., and how that influenced their goals,” he said.

Since that initial outing, Keene’s tours have become a staple of the CSUN D.C. Internship Program — and a point of Matador pride for this seasoned professional.

“I’m proud to be associated with CSUN,” he said. “It’s surprising how many people on the East Coast know about the university or have knowledge of one of its departments. Its good reputation draws a lot of professors to the university, and there are so many opportunities to give back over a number of areas. It’s important to do. I saw it simply as an opportunity to help an institution where it all began for me and has helped me so much during my career.”

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