Sproul Plaza is a major center of student activity at the University of California, Berkeley. It is divided into two sections: Upper Sproul and Lower Sproul. They are separated by 12 vertical feet and a set of stairs.
Sproul Plaza as well as Sproul Hall are named for former University of California president Robert Gordon Sproul.
Upper Sproul Plaza is bordered to the east by Sproul Hall, which was formerly the location of the campus administration, and is today the location of student and admission services. To the north is Sather Gate, which leads into the central campus, and to the south are Telegraph Avenue and the South Campus area of Berkeley. Sproul Hall is situated on a rise above Upper Sproul Plaza and features a broad, terraced stairway leading to the entrance. Large numbers of students walk past Sproul Hall on the way to class or on the way to Telegraph Avenue.
The combination of a stairway that can be used as a large raised platform and a ready audience makes Upper Sproul Plaza a popular location for student protests, the first of which occurred in 1964 during the Free Speech Movement, when Mario Savio spoke from the Sproul Hall steps, and folk singer Joan Baez gave an early performance. A small round brass marker, embedded in the concrete, declares them as the "Mario Savio Steps." Upper Sproul Plaza was also the site of early teach-ins and protests against the Vietnam War, the 1969 gassing of People's Park protestors by the National Guard, 1985 protests against University investment in apartheid-era South Africa, and many other political events.
During calmer times, numerous student groups set up tables to recruit and inform other students (a practice known as "tabling"). Upper Sproul Plaza also features a double row of the pollarded London Plane trees characteristic of the Berkeley campus.
Lower Sproul Plaza, directly west of Upper Sproul Plaza, is the location of numerous small musical and cultural performances and is surrounded by numerous brutalist-style 1960s-era buildings owned by the ASUC, including Eshleman Hall to the south and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union to the east, as well as the César E. Chávez Student Center to the north and Zellerbach Hall to the west. Eshleman Hall houses the ASUC Senate as well as the offices of various student groups. (Although it is was rated "seismically very poor" in the last campus earthquake readiness evaluation, the ASUC lacks the funds to retrofit the building.) The Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union is home to the Pauley Ballroom, the student store, and the "Bear's Lair" food court which holds many culinary delights. The César E. Chávez Student Center houses the Student Learning Center, the ASUC Mall (including the BEARcade), and the "Golden Bear Café" campus restaurant. Zellerbach Hall is the largest indoor performance auditorium on campus, and frequently hosts guest speakers as well as Cal Performances engagements.
Sproul Plaza is referenced in the song "Sad but true" by The Transplants. Vocalist Tim Armstrong is a Berkeley native.