That Norfolk has two major universities is a major source of civic pride, but it is also a pointed reminder of the commonwealth's segregated past. The origins of Norfolk State University, the commonwealth's largest historically black institution of higher education, can be traced to 1935, when Virginia Union University opened a Norfolk unit. It was renamed Norfolk Polytechnic College in 1942 to reflect the school's vocational and technical orientation. In 1944 the school became affiliated with Virginia State College, and several years later the city conveyed the old Memorial Park Golf Course to the school for its present campus. Not until 1969 did the school become independent under the name Norfolk State College; university status was granted in 1979.
The development of the campus has followed a master plan created by Shriver and Holland in 1965, with most growth concentrated to the east of Park Avenue and north of Brambleton Avenue. Shriver and Holland have also designed many of the campus's buildings in a harmonious blend of modern idioms. An exception is the Phyllis Wheatley Residence Hall ( NK92.1) (Mary F. Ballentine Home for the Aged) (1893–1894, Bradford Lee Gilbert), a Romanesque Revival building later used as a branch of the YWCA on the west side of Park Avenue. This is evidently the only work in Virginia by the New York architect Gilbert. The university is seeking to expand southward across Brambleton Avenue.