The University’s First Thanksgiving

UT Campus.Mid 1890s.

Above: The University of Texas campus in the early 1890s, seen from the corner of 21st and Guadalupe Streets. An unpaved Guadalupe runs along the bottom of the image. On the campus, from left: the Chemistry Labs (where the biological ponds are today); two-thirds of the old Main Building, not completed until 1899; and old B. Hall (near the present day intersection of Inner Campus Drive and the East Mall). The campus was surrounded by a wooden fence to keep out the town cows.

Thanksgiving has always been on the University calendar. A national holiday since 1863, celebrated on the last Thursday in November, the Board of Regents has dutifully ordered a suspension of classes for the day since UT opened in 1883. At the time, the University followed the quarter system. The fall quarter usually started in mid-September and classes were held six days a week (Monday-Wednesday-Friday or Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday). Thanksgiving was the first opportunity for a break in the academic routine, though it only lasted a day. Classes resumed on Friday.

Students from Austin spent the day with their families. Out-of-towners either took the train home if it wasn’t too far, or celebrated together at their boarding houses or local restaurants. For its first seven years, UT had no residence or dining halls; the Forty Acres was a quiet, lonely place on Thanksgiving.

B Hall Original.1890On December 1, 1890, the University opened Brackenridge Hall – known on campus simply as “B. Hall.” A $17,000 donation from San Antonio Regent George Brackenridge, the building (photo at left) was intended to be temporary and provide inexpensive housing for the state’s poor boys, who otherwise couldn’t afford to come to Austin and attend the University. A no frills structure, built from yellow pressed brick and limestone trim, it better resembled a pair of city slum houses adrift on the Texas prairie. Rent for a room was $2.50 per month. Expanded and improved a decade later, B. Hall became legendary. A stronghold of student leadership, the Hall was the birthplace of many UT traditions and campus organizations, including: the Longhorn Band, The Daily Texan, Student Government, The Eyes of Texas, Texas Cowboys, and the Tejas Club.

While the upper floors were student rooms, the ground floor of the hall housed a restaurant. Designed to accommodate more than 100 patrons, it was also the University’s first campus-wide eatery. Outfitted with oak tables and chairs, tablecloths, heavy china plates and bowls, utensils, and glassware, each table was provided with salt and pepper shakers, sugar, cream, and a porcelain pitcher filled with water. A popular prank was to add a few minnows from Waller Creek to a pitcher. Waiters, usually B. Hall residents working their way through school, delivered meals from a fully stocked and staffed kitchen on the north side of the hall. Food was modestly priced. A student could eat well for $5.00 per month.

B. Hall.1890s

Above: B. Hall residents assemble for a group portrait in the 1890s.

AAS.1891.11.26.University Thanksgiving HeadlineThe following year, November 26, 1891, the first Thanksgiving Day meal was served in B. Hall. As most of the residents were too poor to afford a train ticket home, the hall’s steward, Harry Beck, had a feast prepared and a special menu printed on 4 ½ x 7 inch cards. Though the menu has not survived, it was published in the Austin Statesman.

B Hall.1891 Thanksgiving Menu

Above: The menu for the first Thanksgiving Day feast served on the Forty Acres, re-typed from an issue of the Austin Statesman. (The original version, found on microfilm, was difficult to read.)  B. Hall Steward Harry Beck had some fun with the listings. Do you recognize everything?

  • ConsommeA flavored, clear broth soup.
  • Oleaginous Porcine with Apple Sauce“Oleaginous” is a word for “greasy,” while “Porcine” is to resemble a pig. This is really roast pork with apple sauce.
  • Crushed Hiberian SpudsHiberia is an island off the coast of Ireland. These are mashed Irish potatoes.
  • Baked Convolvulus BatatasA botanical reference to sweet potatoes.
  • Punk-In-PiYou guessed it. Pumpkin Pie.

At 1 p.m. in the afternoon, about 55 hungry UT students, mostly B. Hall residents and a few others, enjoyed a full Thanksgiving Dinner. According to several accounts, “all spoke in praise of the excellent fare.” A round of speeches and toasts followed the feast, including a special tribute for Harry Beck. “He was warmly cheered by the boys and his sentiments of friendship were greatly appreciated by them.” The festivities continued through most of the afternoon.

Our “Hook ’em” Hand Sign is 60!!

Harley Clark. 2013 Gone to Texas. Marsha Miller

Above: Harley Clark, flashing the Hook ‘em Horns hand sign at the 2013 Gone To Texas freshman convocation. Harley passed away in October 2014. Photo by Marsha Miller

1955FootballScheduleHarley Clark loved to tell the story. It was the second week of November, 1955, and the University of Texas football team, “high on brain power, but low on brute force,” was preparing for an important contest against the 6th ranked TCU Horned Frogs. The game was to be played in Austin on Saturday afternoon, November 12th, at the usual 2 p.m. kick-off.

The UT squad hadn’t fared all that well. Though Memorial Stadium had just been outfitted with lights and night games were played for the first time, the team was 4-4 overall and 3-3 in the Southwest Conference. But league front runner Texas A&M was on probation for recruiting violations and not eligible for post-season play. If Texas could pull a mighty upset over TCU and then win out, the Longhorns would spend New Year’s Day at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

The week before the game, Texas fans did all they could to support the team. Signs were hung on the Texas Union. Impromptu football rallies were held almost every night in front of Hill Hall (later expanded to Moore-Hill), the residence for most of the athletes. The red candle tradition was employed. First used in 1941 to “hex” the Texas Aggies, candles burned brightly in store windows along the Drag, in offices downtown, and in homes all over Austin. Local businesses found it difficult to keep red candles in stock.

Harley Clark for Head Yell Leader

Above: To campaign for the Head Yell Leader spot, Harley distributed cards that fellow students pinned on their shirts.

At the center of all this activity was Harley Clark, who’d been elected Head Yell Leader in a campus-wide election the previous April. In the 1950s, the position was highly prized. The Head Yell Leader was responsible for the health and well-being of the Texas Longhorn spirit, and Harley took the assignment seriously.


Harley Clark.Head CheerleaderA government major, Harley and his trademark crew cut was an easy figure to spot on the Forty Acres. He seemed to be involved in everything: gymnastics team, Texas Union committees, freshman orientation, Friar Society, Texas Cowboys, and the Tejas Club, his home base, where he roomed with his close friend (and future Austin mayor) Frank Cooksey. Harley would eventually be elected student body president – the first to serve while enrolled in grad school – and earn three UT degrees, a BA and MA in government, as well as a law degree.

Elected Head Yell Leader at the end of his sophomore year, Harley spent part of the summer of ’55 backpacking through Europe with fellow UT student Speed Carroll. Occasionally, the two would write or phone their whereabouts to family and friends in Austin, and Willie Morris, then editor of The Daily Texan, would report on their adventures in the newspaper. “The Eiffel Tower,” said Harley, “is taller that UT’s and has the added attraction of being quite free of English professors.” Along with taking in the sights of the Old Country, Harley was also hatching plans for the upcoming fall term. The stadium, he thought, was far too quiet during football games, and he wanted to do something to boost the decibel level.

Personal Megaphones

Above: Ten-inch plastic megaphones were distributed at the Texas vs. Baylor game. Fans used them for the rest of the season.

On their way back to Austin, Harley and Speed first stopped in New York, and, not yet recovered from jet lag and without making any appointments, spent two days pestering every advertising company they could find along Madison Avenue. They were looking for a company to sponsor ten-inch plastic megaphones to be distributed at a football game. If the fans had their own megaphones, Harley reasoned, the stadium would certainly be a little louder. Just before they had to push on to Austin, Old Gold Cigarettes (It was the 1950s, remember.) agreed to provide 10,000 orange and white personal megaphones with the company logo printed on the front. The order didn’t arrive until the Baylor game in early November, but they were a big hit with the students and were used for the rest of the season.


1955.UT Cheerleaders

The official Texas vs. TCU football rally was set for Friday evening, November 11, 1955 in Gregory Gym. A torchlight parade of several thousand students, led by a Dixieland Band on a flat-bed truck, set out from the northwest corner of campus, marched south on Guadalupe, then east on 21st Street to the gym. There was rousing music by the Longhorn Band (with its newly acquired “world’s largest bass drum,” dubbed Big Bertha), yells by the cheerleaders, and spirited talks by Dean of Students Arno Nowotny, Head Coach Ed Price and Team Captains Herb Gray, Johnny Tatum, and Menan Schriewer. Then, at the end of program, Harley decided to introduce something new.

A few days earlier, while in the Texas Union, Harley was talking with classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, who suggested that the hand sign with the index and little fingers extended, looked a bit like a longhorn, and might be fun to do at rallies and football games. The Texas Aggies had their “Gig ‘em” thumbs-up sign, inspired while playing the TCU Horned Frogs. With the TCU game coming up on Saturday, why can’t Texas fans have their own hand signal?


 Above: The Moment. The “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign is shown for the first time in Gregory Gym. At the lower left, someone is trying out the new signal for themselves. The head at the lower right belongs to Longhorn Band Director Vince DiNino. 

Harley liked the idea, and decided to introduce it at Gregory Gym rally. He demonstrated the sign to the crowd, and promptly declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.” The students and cheerleaders tried it out (some seemed to have it backwards), and Harley led a simple yell, “Hook ‘em Horns!” with hands raised.

Immediately after the rally, Harley was confronted by a furious Dean Nowotny. “How could you say the hand sign was official?” the dean wanted to know. “Has this been approved by the University administration?” Harley admitted that the idea hadn’t been approved first, but the cat was already out of the bag – or the longhorn was already loose in the pasture.


Sometimes, when recounting the story, Harley said that Dean Nowotny also demanded, “Do you know what this means in Sicily?!!” Or Italy. Or Europe. I asked Harley if it were true, did Nowotny really saythat, and Harley admitted that it was the only embellishment he added, mostly just to get a laugh from his audience. For accuracy’s sake, while Nowonty was unhappy that Harley hadn’t first cleared the idea of an “official” hand sign with the administration, the reference to Sicily, didn’t actually happen.


The next day at the football game, the student section practiced what they had learned the night before, and the alumni were quick to follow. By the end of the game, the stadium was full of “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signs. And while TCU won the day (47-20) the University of Texas had a new tradition it would cherish for decades to come.

AAS.1959.11.13.Hook em.TCU Game - Copy

Above: A 1959 issue of the Austin Statesman. The “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign hand already become a well-established UT tradition.

The Longhorns’ Secret Weapon

Texas Cal Cheerleaders.1961

Above: UT alumnus Bill Bates (fourth from left) and the cheerleaders he recruited for the 1961 Texas vs. Cal football game in Berkeley. Oh my…

Texas Cal HelmetsIt was a heartbreaker. Last September, despite a furious comeback, the Texas Longhorns wound up just short of defeating the Golden Bears of the University of California. Fortunately, the game was the first of a home-and-home series, and the rematch is set for September 17, 2016 in Berkeley.

No doubt, the players and the coaching staff will do all they can to be ready. But what about the fans? How can they help ensure that Texas will get its revenge? The burnt orange faithful might take a cue from a UT alumnus who, in 1961, employed the Longhorns’ Secret Weapon.

The 1961 Texas Longhorns were ranked 4th nationally as they prepared for their season opener against the Cal Golden Bears. Expectations were high, but both head coaches – Mark Levy for Cal and Darrell Royal for Texas – knew very well that first games often came with surprises.

Texas fans, excited about their prospects, planned to be at California Memorial Stadium in droves. The UT alumni association chartered its first ever football excursion. A package price of just under $200 included round-trip airfare, two nights stay at a San Francisco hotel, ground transportation to Berkeley, and a ticket to the game. Also scheduled was a pre-game reception at Cal’s Alumni House. UT alumni president John Holmes was so taken by the facility, it inspired him to spearhead an effort to build an alumni center in Austin, which opened in 1965. (See: The Alumni Center Turns 50!)

1961 Cheerleaders

Above: Five of the members of the 1961 UT cheerleading team.

Notably missing from the game, however, were the Longhorn Band and Texas cheerleading squad. At the time, there simply weren’t enough funds in the athletic department’s coffers to help fly the students out to the Golden State. This meant that UT fans would be, well, leaderless, as far as cheering was concerned.

920x920Enter Bill Bates.Originally from Tyler, Texas, Bates transferred to UT for his junior and senior years, 1949-1951. An art major, he had classes with Fess Parker (who would become famous as Disney’s Davy Crockett as well as the Daniel Boone TV series), and for a time dated Cathy Grandstaff, the future Mrs. Bing Crosby. A UT cheerleader, Bates was also a artist for The Daily Texan. He would later travel the world as artist-in-residence for Royal Viking Cruise Ships, then settle in Carmel, California as a cartoonist for the local Carmel Pine Cone. Twice Bates was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He passed away in 2009, survived by his wife and daughter.

In 1961, the 31-year old Bates was just getting his start as a cartoonist for The San Francisco Examiner, and was very disappointed that the UT cheerleaders wouldn’t be present for the all important Texas vs. Cal game. What to do? What any resourceful Texas Longhorn would do, of course. Get replacements. And not some run-of-the-mill substitutes, either. Just as UT strives to be a university of the first class, Bates went looking for the best stand-in cheerleaders he could find.

365 ClubBates was a regular at Bimbo’s 365 Club (photo at left), a nationally known San Francisco nightclub. Founded in 1931 by Italian immigrant Agostino Giuntoli, who was nicknamed “Bimbo” by friends who had trouble pronouncing his name (Unlike the current American slang, “bimbo” comes from the Italian “bambino,” a young boy. The nickname was fairly common.), the 365 Club was a place to see and be seen through much of the 20th century. Hollywood celebrities were frequent customers. Rita Cansino – better known as the actress Rita Hayworth – was discovered there. Now more than 80 years old, the 365 Club continues to thrive in downtown San Francisco.

In the 1960s, among its varied nightclub acts, the Club was also known for its leggy chorus line, something like the New York Rockettes. Bates spoke with Bimbo about his problem, a deal was made, and Bates hired six members of the chorus line to be substitute UT cheerleaders for a day.

The weather was perfect for the 1:30 p.m. kick-off on Saturday, September 23, 1961. Clear, sunny California skies and 70 degrees greeted the 41,500 fans at Cal Stadium. Exactly how Bates won permission to bring his cheerleading squad into the stadium isn’t known, but the girls lined up in front of the Texas fans in white, low-neck dresses and high heels, and, having practiced with Bates beforehand, began to lead the crowd in traditional UT yells.

LA Tiimes.1961 HeadlineA football game was taking place on the field, but a good many fans – and players – were more than a little distracted by the spectacle on the sidelines. “University of Texas rooters more or less disrupted the Cal – Texas football game Saturday by hiring a half dozen chorus girls from a San Francisco night club to act as cheerleaders,” reported The Los Angeles Times (photo right). “The girls, scantily clad in lowcut playsuits and wearing high heels, attracted nearly as much attention from the fans as did the football players.During the times-out and half-time ceremonies, thousands of binoculars stayed glued on the field to watch the girls,” which likely included the reporter. “At halftime a mob scene developed where the dancers were sitting as thousands of college students gathered around just to look.”

As the Longhorn offense began to take control of the game, The Dallas Morning News related, “There wasn’t much for the California partisans to cheer and they spent a good bit of the time ogling Bimbo’s sextet, even though the girls were ostensibly leading the cheering of a band of Texans who came here to root the Longhorns home.” The Austin Statesman called the group “Texas’ Twelfth Man” and Bate’s “secret weapon . . . The strategy worked fine.” United Press International (UPI) snapped a few photos and sent the story out on the news wires. National television newscasts discussed it on their nighttime broadcasts, and Sports Illustrated mentioned it in its next issue.

UPI Image.Texas Cal Cheerleaders.1961

Above: Not the best quality image (it’s from microfilm), but one of the UPI photos and cutlines sent out on newswires across the country.

Oh, and the game? The Texas Longhorns overwhelmed the Golden Bears, 28 – 3.

Head’s up, Cal. We’re looking forward to next September’s meeting in Berkeley. Just beware the Secret Weapon. And would someone get the 365 Club on the phone?  :-)

1950s Football Flare

UT Football Pin 1950s

When it’s time for kick-off, how do you show your team colors? Football fashions have been around as long as, well, football itself. In the 1880s and 1890s, fans going to a game pinned colored ribbons to their lapels to show which team they supported, though the guys often sported longer ribbons to be sure they’d have extra to share with a pretty girl who had none.

By the 1950s, ribbons were still being worn, though though they were more popular with the co-eds. Some were solid color ribbons attached with a team button (see photo at left), and perhaps decorated with “football charms” – tiny footballs, helmets, megaphones, or trophies.

At the University of Texas, paper ribbons printed with a catchy phrase about the day’s opponent were also popular. Pinned to a shirt or blouse, the ribbons were simply strips cut from a regular 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. The University Co-op sponsored the printing costs, and the ribbons were distributed in front of the entrances of the stadium as fans arrived for the game. Below is a sampling from the 1950s and 60s. (Click on an image for a larger view.)

Ribbon Image 1

Above, from left. Paper ribbons used for home games against Texas A&M, when the annual Thanksgiving Day game was often billed as the Tea-Sips vs. the Farmers, rather than Longhorns and Aggies; Oklahoma Sooners (Who else?); Rice Owls; and the TCU Horned Frogs. The “T” and longhorn logo at the bottom was used for only a few years in the early 1950s. The “yelling Bevo” icon was first appeared in 1953. 

Ribbon Image 2

Above, from left. An early 1950s ribbon for a Texas Tech game; from the 1964 Texas vs. Army bout in Memorial Stadium (UT won 17-6.); Oklahoma State was a non-conference opponent in 1963, when Texas went undefeated and claimed its first national football championship; in 1953, third ranked Baylor came to Austin, but UT students had been burning red candles to hex the Bears. Baylor fell 21-20.

Ribbon Image 3

Above, from left. Click on an image for a larger view, and you can still see the holes at the top where the ribbons were pinned. These are from the 1950s and 60s for games against Oklahoma, as well as Southwest Conference opponents Rice, Baylor, and Arkansas.

1955 UT Image

350,000 Thank Yous

UT Football Fans
As of today, the UT History Corner has hosted more than 350,000 visitors from over 120 countries since it opened in May 2012.

A very sincere “Thank You” goes to everyone who has dropped by to look, read, listen, comment, and explore the history of the University of Texas. I hope you found something interesting and worthwhile.


How to Build a Tower


Main Building and Littlefield Fountain

It’s the Tower, the definitive landmark of the University. For more than three-quarters of a century, it has quietly watched over the daily campus bustle, breaking its silence every quarter hour to remind everyone of the passing of the day. Bathed in warm orange lights to announce honors and victories, crowned in fireworks at the climax of spring commencement ceremonies, it’s been a backdrop for freshman convocations, football rallies, concerts, and demonstrations. Architect Paul Cret intended it to be the “image carried in our memory when we think of the place,” though author J. Frank Dobie, incensed that a state so rich in land would build something better suited to New York City, branded it a “toothpick in a pie.” While academia has sometimes been called a metaphorical “ivory tower,” the University of Texas doesn’t settle for expressive substitutes. We have a tower all our own.

Old Main Library.1902.The Main Building with its 27-story Tower was to be the long-term solution to a problem that had plagued the Board of Regents for decades: how to increase the size of the library. The University library was initially housed on the first floor of the old Main Building (Photo at right. Click for a larger view.), but as its holdings increased, the space needed for additional bookshelves literally squeezed the students out of the reading room. The problem was temporarily relieved with the construction of a separate library building in 1911 (now Battle Hall), but by 1920, its quarters were again hopelessly overcrowded. A new library was needed, but where to place it?

1908 Postcard.Old Main with bluebonnets

Above: The old Main Building, surrounded by Texas Bluebonnets in the spring.

While the crest of the hill at the center of the Forty Acres was the obvious best setting for such a monumental building, it would have meant the destruction of the Victorian-Gothic Old Main. As the first structure on the campus, it was the sentimental favorite of both of faculty and alumni, and its offices and classrooms couldn’t be easily moved elsewhere. There simply wasn’t room.

Proposals included the addition of a new library north of Old Main, or, perhaps, to the south, where it would have sat in the middle of today’s South Mall and prevented the development of a grand main entrance to the University. A third scheme was to expand the existing library, double the size of the front façade, and add a 16-story tower for book stacks. All of the proposals either placed the library in an inconvenient spot or were too expensive.

Paul CretIn 1930, the Board of Regents hired Paul Cret as Consulting Architect for the University. Born in in 1876 in Lyon, France, Cret had graduated from the Ecole des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris, at the time considered to be the world’s best university for architecture instruction. He immigrated to the United States early in the 20th century and was the head of the School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania when he was agreed to take on the consulting position for UT. Cret was to design a new master plan for the campus, and among his first priorities was the solution for a new library.

Cret quickly realized that the library belonged on the top of the hill, and as he developed his master plan, the library building became the focal point of his designs. Because the plan was to be a guide for campus construction over several decades, Cret proposed building the library in parts, both to reduce costs – especially important during the 1930s and the time of the Great Depression –  and ease the pain over the removal of Old Main.

The back, lower half of the building was to be constructed immediately. It required only the destruction of the little-used north wing of Old Main, and a hallway would connect both structures. Officially it was to be known as the “library annex,” though at some point in the future it would assume the role as the primary University library. It was important for Cret to get at least part of the building on top of the hill, as it was the lynch pin for the rest of his plans.

Cret imagined that after 20 years or so – in the 1950s – when additional structures had been built to compensate for any space lost with the destruction of Old Main, UT’s first building could be finally retired, and the South façade and stack tower added to complete the library.

Main Building Construction.1.

Above: The back, lower part of the current Main Building was completed first, in 1934. Officially named the “library annex,” it was connected to Old Main, which can be see on the right. The Life Sciences Library, along with the Hall of Texas and the Hall of Noble Words, is still here.

The Board of Regents approved the plan in 1933, and construction for the north annex was finished the following year. It boasted a new Loan and Catalogue Room, also known as the Hall of the Six Coats of Arms. Two stories high, framed in marbles from West Texas, New York, Vermont, and Missouri, with walnut doors and screens, and illuminated by bronze light fixtures, the room featured the coats of arms of the six nations of which Texas has been a part: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States, and the United States.

Hall of Noble Words.2Two spacious reading rooms were placed on either side of the Catalogue Room. To the east was the Hall of Noble Words. (Photo at left.) The ceiling featured a series of heavy concrete beams painted to look like wood. Each side of a beam was decorated with quotes within a specific theme, among them: friendship, patriotism, freedom, wisdom, and truth. It was hoped that the students studying below would occasionally glance upward and be inspired by the exhortations above them. The Hall of Texas opened to the west. The beams here depicted periods of Texas settlement and history, from the times of Native Americans up to the opening of the University. While the Plant Resources Center takes up part of the Hall of Texas, it and the Hall of Noble Words are still open to the public, used by UT students for almost eight decades.

Main Building Construction.2..

Above: In the summer and fall of 1934, Old Main was demolished, and by the following January, steam shovels had arrived to dig out a foundation for the new Main Building’s facade. Battle Hall can be seen on the left and the West Mall in the distance. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

Once completed, the library annex was to have hidden behind Old Main for decades. But as the Great Depression worsened, UT sought ways to minimize the number of unemployed in Austin. The University’s ever-growing building program brought with it construction jobs that helped soften the economic blow. Robert Leon White, an alumnus who was also the University’s Supervising Architect, approached UT President Harry Benedict about finishing the library sooner. Money through the Available University Fund wasn’t available, but White wanted to apply for a loan through the newly created Public Works Administration, one of many New Deal programs initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt. Benedict was skeptical, but allowed White to try.

Main Building Construction.3.

Above: With Old Main razed, work begins in front of the “library annex.” This was the view from Battle Hall on a cold, cloudy day in January 1935. Boardwalks were constructed for students to change classes. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

White filed an application with the PWA for a $2.8 million loan, $1.8 million to complete what was labeled the Main Building and Library Extension, and the rest for three men’s and three women’s residence halls. White was optimistic, in part, because one of his childhood friends was Tully Garner, son of then Vice President John Garner from Uvalde. Using these connections, White arranged a meeting with the vice president for him and Beauford Jester, chair of the Board of Regents. The meeting was a positive one, and Garner agreed to give his support to the University’s application.  A few months later, UT received the funds it needed, and the early completion of the University’s new Main Building and Tower was guaranteed.

Main Building Construction.4.

Above: With work well underway in front of the Main Building, the Tower, which will serve as the book stacks for the library, begins to rise from the one-time “library annex.” From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

The formal dedication ceremony was held Saturday, February 27, 1937. President Benedict, and Regents Beauford Jester and Lutcher Stark made appropriate remarks. A sealed box filled with papers pertaining to the construction of the new Main Building was placed inside a cornerstone next to the south entrance in the building’s loggia.

Main Building Construction.5.

Above: By the end of 1935, the Main Building and its Tower are taking shape. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

Designed as a closed-stack library, the Tower was intended to store the University’s general collections. Sheathed in Indiana Limestone, its infrastructure was built by the Snead Stack Company of New Jersey. Patrons entered the building through the south loggia, climbed one flight up the central staircase, and entered the Catalogue Room. After searching an immense card catalog, readers requested books at the front desk. Orders were then forwarded upstairs to a Tower librarian, who often navigated the rows of bookshelves in roller skates. Once found, books were sent downstairs in a special elevator, then to the main desk to be checked out. Newspapers and magazines were stored on the ground floor, and special collections, including rare books and Latin-American literature, were housed in separate rooms in the building. For a while, it was informally dubbed the Mirabeau B. Lamar Library, but the name wasn’t very popular. Students and faculty preferred a remembrance to Old Main that had once inhabited the spot, and simply called the library the new Main Building.

Main Building Construction.8.

Above: Exactly one year away from its dedication, the Tower is more than halfway complete. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

Main Building.Littlefield Fountain.1938

Above: Officially opened on February 27, 1937, the Main Building and Tower served as the University Library until the 1960s, when higher enrollment and greater usage meant more than a half hour wait to retrieve a book from the Tower stacks. In 1964, the Undergraduate Library – today’s Flawn Academic Center – was opened with direct access to the bookshelves. 

Photo credits: Many of the images in the post come from the University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archive, University of Texas Libraries.

Moonlight Prowl set for September 18th

Moonlight Prowl.September 5 2014

It’s the Beat Cal Moonlight Prowl! Scheduled for the Friday night before the football game between the Texas Longhorns and the Golden Bears from the University of California.

The Moonlight Prowl is a nighttime walking history tour of the University of Texas that I first conducted in June 1988. Over the years the Prowl has evolved, but it’s always packed with anecdotes of student life, UT traditions, campus architecture, and University history. Everyone is welcome to attend.

For all the details and how to RSVP, go to the Moonlight Prowl page here.

See you on September 18th!



Ninety Years of Burnt Orange

Our favorite color appeared a few years earlier than was once thought.

1928 UT Pennant

Above: A 1910 UT pennant in bright orange and white.

When did the Longhorn football team first don that distinctive, burnt orange color?

Orange and white made its first appearance in 1885, at UT’s inaugural baseball game against Southwestern University. After fifteen years of trying out other colors – from gold and white, to orange and maroon, to royal blue – the Board of Regents officially declared orange and white as UT’s colors after a vote of students, faculty, staff, and alumni in 1900. (The complete history is here.)

The bright orange and white had issues, though. The white stained easily on the athletic field, and the orange began to fade to a yellowish hue after being washed too many times. By the 1920s, opponents near the end of a football season would sometimes call the Texas squad the “yellow bellies,” which didn’t sit well with coaches or athletes.

DT.1925.09.19.Burnt OrangeFor decades, it was believed that in 1928, UT football coach Clyde Littlefield initiated a change and ordered a darker-colored orange jersey that wouldn’t fade so easily. But recently, while scrolling through a microfilm copy of The Daily Texan from 1925 in the UT Archives, the author came across a short, two paragraph article buried on page seven of the September 19, 1925 issue. The article read:

“When crowds watch the Longhorns fight their way through one of the stiffest schedules of their career, the men will wear uniforms of a color slightly different from the proverbial orange and white, according to S. N. Eckdahl of the University athletic staff, who has been issuing equipment to the Longhorn players.

“As several other schools in the country claimed orange and white as their school colors, the University officials decided to adopt an orange and white which  should be Texas’ own. As a consequence, a combination of dyes was used to produce a shade different from the standard orange. The new shade is darker, being more of a burnt orange.”

EJ Doc StewartThe history will need to be corrected. It was Coach E. J. “Doc” Stewart (photo at right) who introduced the burnt orange color 90 years ago this month. The change seemed to have been made within the Athletic Department; the Board of Regents didn’t recognize the new hue until much later.

Burnt orange – or “Texas orange” – was used from 1925 until the Second World War, when the dye was no longer available. Team uniforms reverted back to their original bright orange color for almost two decades, until Coach Darrell Royal returned to the Texas orange in the early 1960s.

1928.UT Letter Sweater

Above: A 1928 University of Texas football letter sweater. It was long believed that 1928 was the year a dark orange color made its first appearance, but a recent discovery has pushed the date back to 1925. The sweater is still likely the first version of a “Texas Orange,” and is almost a rust color. Both the sweater and the 1910 UT pennant are in possession of the author.

1928.UT Letter Sweater.T Close up

How to Impersonate the UT President

UT Campus.1905 - Copy

Above: The University of Texas campus in the 1900s. The Victorian-Gothic old Main Building stood where the present Main Building and Tower are today. B. Hall, the men’s dorm, is seen on the far right. Click on an image for a larger view.

It’s that time of year! Over the next few days, the latest herd of greenhorns – the freshman class of 2019 – will stampede their way on to the Forty Acres. To help new students with the transition to college life, the University will sponsor the Longhorn Welcome. It’s two weeks of campus-wide events, from moving in to the residence halls to a grand convocation the night before classes begin, intended to help every newcomer feel at home.

Unfortunately, such a friendly hand was not always extended to the freshmen. A little over a century ago, The Daily Texan newspaper printed a stern list of freshmen rules by the upperclassmen, which was followed soon after by a law student who posed as the University president.

In  September 1908, when the University was beginning its 25th academic year, Tom Ball, 28, an older-than-average senior law student, moved back in to his old room in Brackenridge Hall, better known as “B.Hall,” the first men’s dorm. It was a gift from San Antonio Regent George Brackenridge, intended to be a no frills residence for the “poor boys” of the state who could otherwise not afford to come to Austin and attend the University.

Tom Ball.Sidney Mezes

Above: Senior law student Tom Ball (left) and UT president Sidney Mezes.

Also on campus was a new UT president. Dr. Sidney Mezes had been on the faculty since 1894, first as a philosophy professor, then as a dean, and finally appointed president by the Board of Regents. A tall, thin, often serious gentleman, Mezes sported a full Van Dyke beard and spectacles.

By coincidence,Tom Ball had grown a Van Dyke beard over the summer, and if he donned a pair of glasses, he looked so much like the University president, even Dr. Mezes took notice. So did some mischievous B. Hallers, who convinced Ball into helping them properly “welcome” the freshman class of 1908.

1909 Cactus.Freshmen.1.

Above: A few members of the 1908 freshman class who met “President” Ball.

When the day arrived to register for fall classes, Ball put on his spectacles, procured a table and two chairs, and sat down near the south entrance to the old Main Building. Here, “President” Ball kindly registered unsuspecting freshmen with bogus papers, sold them elevator tickets to Old Main for 25 cents apiece (which did not yet have an elevator), and sent them all over campus for further initiations. Ball was merciless with the male greenhorns, who were ordered to find Mrs. Carothers, the head matron of the Woman’s Building, to be fitted for gym suits. Others were directed to sorority houses believing they’d been assigned a room there. (In 1908, either deed was considered scandalous!) The ones who suffered most, though, were the unfortunates ordered to B. Hall for a medical examination.

B Hall Color Postcard 2

Above: A 1908 postcard of Brackenridge Hall, better known as “B. Hall.” The first dorm for men, it stood near the intersection of the East Mall and Inner Campus Drive.

A freshman would appear in the hall with a slip of paper, signed by the “president,” which entitled the bearer to a required health exam. He was politely escorted to an upstairs room where the usual dorm furniture had been removed and replaced with a desk and semi-circle of chairs, and told to wait there for the “doctor.” As news spread of a victim in the hall, the audience filtered into the room one-by-one, each with their own slip of paper and asking for the doctor. They were directed to sit down and wait their turn. When the chairs were full, the fun began.

The doctor entered dressed in a white jacket (likely borrowed from a chemistry class) and accompanied by an assistant. “All right, who is first?” he demanded in his best professional voice. As the one who had waited the longest, the freshman raised his hand.

First came an endless list of personal questions: name, age, date of birth, weight of birth, sleeping, and bathing habits were all duly recorded, along with the names of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents if possible.

B Hall Residents

Above: Residents of B. Hall posed as a doctor, an assistant, and patients to help “President” Ball welcome freshmen to the Forty Acres.

Measurements were taken, from the distance between the eyes to the length of each finger. A sizeable lock of hair was cut to test for “dandruff bugs.” Next, the freshman was asked to stand with his feet spread apart as far as possible, so that the angle each leg made with the floor could be measured with a protractor. The sine, cosine and tangent of the all important angles were then computed on a slide rule and faithfully recorded.

The finale was the water test. The poor frosh stood in the middle of the room while his waist was measured. He was given a glass of water to drink, and  then his waist was measured again. Comparing the two numbers, the doctor announced the “ratio of the expansion of the diaphragm to the cubic displacement of water”. Always, the results were so astounding the test had to be repeated – and repeated again. This went on until the well ran dry or the victim ran over.

The Great South Mall Controversy

An Extended History of the Littlefield Gateway

Littlefield Fountain

It’s been a topic of conversation for most of the summer. Everyone agrees that the University of Texas campus ought to provide a welcoming atmosphere for all members of the UT community, but the statues of Jefferson Davis and other Confederate soldiers along the South Mall, installed in 1933 as part of the Littlefield Memorial Gateway, don’t exactly fit the bill. Some claim this has been a point of contention for the past quarter century, but an extended look at the history of statues and fountain on the South Mall shows that the controversy is as old as the gateway itself.


The Littlefield Gateway was the result of an ongoing disagreement between two men whose first and middle names were the same as the country’s first president: George Washington Littlefield and George Washington Brackenridge.

George LittlefieldBorn in Mississippi in 1842, George Littlefield’s family moved to Texas when he was eight years old. Along with many of his friends, he enlisted in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, rose to the rank of Major, and then returned to Texas to make a fortune in the cattle business, with extensive ranches in West Texas and New Mexico. Littlefield arrived in Austin in the 1880s and organized the American National Bank, which was eventually housed in the Littlefield Building at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue. Late in his life, Littlefield was appointed to the UT Board of Regents and became the University’s greatest benefactor up to that time. Among his many donations are the Alice Littlefield Residence Hall (named for his wife), the Littlefield Fund for Southern History, and the $225,000 purchase of the John Henry Wrenn Library of English literature. With 6,000 volumes dating from 17th century, it was the University’s first rare book collection and brought international attention to the UT libraries.

George BrackenridgeIn contrast, George Brackenridge was born and raised in Indiana. His father, John, was a local attorney who befriended a young Abraham Lincoln before his family moved to Illinois. Lincoln watched the elder Mr. Brackenridge argue cases in court, occasionally borrowed books from him, and later credited Brackenridge as helping to inspire Lincoln to pursue the law as a profession. George Brackenridge attended Harvard University and moved to Texas with his family when he was 21 years old. During the Civil War, Brackenridge was both pro-Union and war profiteer, shipping cotton through Brownsville and around the Union blockade along the Gulf Coast to New York. After the war, he moved to San Antonio and founded a bank of his own.

Old B HallBrackenridge was appointed early to the UT Board of Regents, served for a record 27 years, and was also an important benefactor. Among his donations: the original Brackenridge Hall (better known as old “B. Hall” – photo at left), an inexpensive residence hall for the “poor boys” of the state; University Hall in Galveston as a dorm for women studying medicine; financial backing for a new School of Domestic Economy (today’s School of Human Ecology); and the Brackenridge Loan Fund for women studying architecture, law, and medicine. Early in the University’s history when funds were scarce, the Board of Regents was ready to sell the two million acres of arid West Texas land granted to it by the state legislature and create an endowment. Brackenridge convinced the regents to wait and had the lands properly surveyed at his expense, a decision for which the University was later very grateful.

Because of their differing views during the Civil War, neither man held the other in high regard. According to UT President Robert Vinson, “Their dislike of each other was profound. When Mr. Brackenridge spoke of the University of Texas, he emphasized the word University. Major Littlefield emphasized the word Texas.” While the two held different ideologies, the animosity may have been exaggerated. In 1917, when Governor James Ferguson vetoed the state appropriation in an attempt to close the University, both Littlefield and Brackenridge pledged to personally underwrite UT’s operating expenses, if necessary. When Littlefield purchased the magnificent Wrenn Library, Brackenridge donated several thousand dollars to publish a catalog for the collection.


In the early 1900s, UT’s enrollment surpassed 1,000 students and was steadily increasing. Brackenridge realized the University would eventually outgrow its 40-acre campus, and in 1910 donated 500 acres of land to the University along the Colorado River at what is today Lake Austin Boulevard, Married Student Housing, and the Austin Municipal Golf course. He had hoped to purchase up to an additional 1,000 acres and eventually move the University to the 1,500-acre site, where it would have room to grow for generations.

AA.1921.Brackenridge Tract.Color

Above: The Brackenridge Tract (outlined in orange), about two miles west of downtown. Map from the Austin American. Color added by the author. Click image for a larger view.

The idea was generally popular with Austinites, but Littlefield, whose mansion was across the street from the Forty Acres, wasn’t eager to see the University relocate to a “Brackenridge campus,” and took measures to keep the location fixed and add additional land instead.

The need of a larger campus resurfaced soon after the conclusion of World War I in November 1918, as thousands of American veterans returned from the trenches in Europe to fill universities across the country. With enrollment in Austin approaching 4,000 students, relocating the University to larger quarters was again being discussed.

Postcard.August 1908.Birds Eye View

Above: This bird’s eye view of the UT campus from 1908 shows a single-lane road that entered from the south, circled past the Victorian-Gothic old Main Building, and then exited at the same location. The entry point was the site George Littlefield chose to develop into a formal gateway. 

To prevent a potential move to the Brackenridge Tract, Littlefield contacted Pompeo Coppini, an Italian-born sculptor then living in Chicago. Coppini, whose friends called him “Pep,” had already worked with Littlefield on the Terry’s Texas Rangers monument on the Texas Capitol grounds. For years, Littlefield had mulled over putting  something at the south entrance to the campus. There was yet no formal entryway, just a single-lane graveled road that led up to the old Main Building and wound its way back to the same point. An unremarkable sign that read “Drive to the Right” marked the entrance to the campus.

In 1916, Littlefield had proposed the idea of a “massive bronze arch” to designate the entrance, on which would be statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Albert Johnston, John Reagan, and former Texas Governor Jim Hogg. Littlefield, as a product of his time, had long been concerned that the University was becoming too “northernized” and that future generations of UT students might not remember their Southern heritage. The idea of such a monument was not an uncommon one. In the 1990s, concerns were raised that the U.S. had no memorial to its veterans who fought in the Second World War. The need to create one before those who had participated passed on provided a sense of urgency. Within a decade, the National World war II Memorial had been installed in Washington. Similar concerns were voiced in the early part of the 20th century over the Civil War as the ranks of the war’s survivors dwindled. Through the 1920s, a surge of  monuments to both the Union and Confederacy appeared in the eastern half of the United States.

Littlefield planned to spend $200,000 (about $4.5 million today) on his gateway. Coppini responded that an arch as the Major envisioned would cost twice that amount, and there the project languished until just after the First World War in 1919.


Pompeo Coppini“I want to build that arch,” wrote George Littlefield to Pompeo Coppini (right) on July 23, 1919, “of which you and I talked over some time ago.” This time, though, it wasn’t just just to enshrine Southern history. Littlefield hoped that by placing a formal gateway on campus, it would help to “nail it down.” Coppini complained that the project was still too costly, but Littlefield was willing to try a stone arch instead of bronze, and sent University president Robert Vinson to Chicago to confer with the sculptor. Coppini believed the cost of the monument might drop to $300,000, still over Littlefield’s budget, but Vinson asked Coppini to go ahead with drawings and plans.

By early September, plans for the arch were ready and a set of drawings sent to President Vinson in Austin. “If you find that the Major is well pleased with our studies,” Coppini instructed, “just wire at my expense: ‘Go ahead with the plaster model plan’ and I will immediately.” Littlefield, though, was not well. He spent the autumn and much of the winter at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas under the care of a team of physicians and nurses, and rarely rose from bed. Vinson notified Coppini of the situation, and the sculptor elected to press ahead with the model.

Coppini Arch.Front View

Coppini Arch.Side View

Above: Recently discovered front and side views of the clay model of Coppini’s “arch” at the Chicago exhibit in April 1920. Click on an image for a larger view. Source: Coppini-Tauch Papers, Box 3R180, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Coppini’s initial design might best be described as an arch in disguise. Though Littlefield had requested it, Coppini strongly objected to the use of arches as memorials, as they were “reminiscent of the Roman Caesarian age,” when empires were “bent on conquering and enslaving other people and reminding them of their yoke, by making them pass under arches in their pompous marches of triumph.” Instead of a portal, Coppini’s arch better resembled a large, free-standing classical niche, constructed from limestone, approximately 40-feet tall, closed at the back and used as the focus of a central display.

Arch Close upWithin the niche, Coppini placed three 11-foot statues which stood shoulder-to-shoulder. Most of the notes and plans for the arch have been lost, but a pair of recently discovered images of the clay model shows the central figure was a woman, with her right arm raised and holding a torch. She is an allegorical figure, possibly meant to represent the spirit of the South. On her left, dressed in a double-buttoned Confederate military uniform, was a portrait statue of Robert E. Lee. The person to her right is unclear, but was probably Jefferson Davis. (Click on an image for a closer view.)

Two life-size portrait statues were placed in front of the arch supports, and another pair at the ends of two extended, curved benches that flanked the arch. These were likely Wilson, Hogg, Johnston, and Reagan, though their exact placement is unclear. In front of the arch was a cascade fountain that emptied to a small pool. Two prominent, vertical spouts of water rose from the pool to frame the central group.

BattleHallPostcard1On top of the structure was red-tile roof, added both to further mask the arch as an imitation from ancient Rome and to better harmonize it with the new architectural style of the campus. A decade before, in 1909, the Board of Regents hired Cass Gilbert from New York as the first University Architect. By 1919, Gilbert had designed a library and an education building – today’s Battle (photo at left) and Sutton Halls – as part of an overall campus master plan which brought a new, Mediterranean Renaissance look to the Forty Acres.

Camp Randall ArchAbove: Coppini and his architects may also have been inspired by the Camp Randall arch in Madison, Wisconsin, just 150 miles northwest of Chicago. Dedicated in 1912, the Camp Randall arch marked the location where 700,000 Union soldiers received their training. It is still an entryway to today’s Camp Randall Stadium at the University of  Wisconsin.

University Methodist Church

Above: Another way to imagine Coppini’s “arch” is to look at the bellfry on the University United Methodist Church at the corner of 24th and Guadalupe Streets. Though the proportions aren’t quite right, the building materials are similar. Designed in 1908 by architect Frederick Mann, the Spanish Colonial style of the church inspired the UT president and Board of Regents, who thought it was an appropriate look for Texas, to follow a similar style for the campus.

A few days before Christmas 1919, Littlefield was at last well enough to dictate a letter to Coppini. Littlefield hadn’t seen the drawings for the arch, he explained, but understood from others in Austin that the cost was far above his initial limit of $200,000. He was willing to go a little higher. “Now $250,000 is all I want to put into this work, completed,” Littlefield told Coppini, and asked the sculptor to try again.

Coppini responded enthusiastically on December 26th. “I will get to work on a new plan … so I can submit it to you when you get back to Austin.” He also cautioned Littlefield, “We must give up the Arch idea, as it would be a sin to sacrifice any sum of money for something that could not be a credit to you or to me. We want to give something that will express a high ideal and an elevated sense of knowledge and true patriotism, rather than a pile of stones.” The process of designing the arch had given Coppini time to reflect on what Littlefield’s memorial gateway would mean to the University in the future, and had given him the idea for a new concept. Though the model would never be seen in Austin, it was on display the following spring at an architectural exhibition hosted by the Chicago Art Institute.


Four months later, on April 15, 1920, Coppini, Littlefield, President Vinson, and other UT officials gathered in Austin to formally discuss the Littlefield Memorial Gateway. Coppini had prepared a new, less expensive design, and replaced the arch with an elaborate fountain. While, per Littlefield’s wishes, the subjects of the portrait statues remained the same, Coppini attempted to recast the gateway as a war memorial.

He explained to Littlefield:

“As time goes by, they will look to the Civil War as a blot on the pages of American history, and the Littlefield Memorial will be resented as keeping up the hatred between the Northern and Southern states.”

Instead, Coppini proposed to honor those who had fought in the World War, as “all past regional differences have disappeared and we are now one welded nation.” Coppini then presented his revised plan for the Littlefield Gateway.

Littlefield Gateway.1920 Design

Above: Coppini’s 1920 redesign for the Littlefield Memorial Gateway.

Coppini’s intent was to show the reunification of America in World War I after it had been divided in the Civil War. The scheme centered on a 100-foot long rectangular pool of water. At its head, in an elevated pool to create a cascade, was the bow of a ship, on which stood Columbia, symbol of the American spirit. Behind her to each side stood a member of the Army and the Navy, collectively representing the U.S. armed forces. The ship was to be pulled by three sea horses. As Coppini saw it, the fountain group showed a strong, united America sailing across the ocean to protect democracy abroad.

Littlefield Gateway ObeliskImmediately behind the fountain, Coppini planned two large pylons or obelisks (37 feet tall), symbolic of the North and the South. In front of each he placed the statues of two “war presidents”: Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy at a time when the country was deeply divided, and Woodrow Wilson, leader of a reunified America during the world war. While these two persons were part of Littlefield’s initial arch, Coppini had transformed them into symbols to compliment the message of the fountain group, not to honor the men individually. The remaining statues of Lee, Reagan, Johnston, and Hogg were staged on either side of the fountain, as a peripheral “court of honor” though less important to the central scheme.

While much of the gateway had a new focus, it was, in a sense, a double memorial, attempting to satisfy both Littlefield’s desires to remember Southern history and Coppini’s wish to honor those who had participated in the recent world war. This made the project a difficult one.

Littlefield agreed to the idea, but Coppini later wrote of the meeting:

“We had people unfriendly to us from the very beginning, and many of the faculty were opposed from the start to a Confederate Memorial on the University Campus. That opposition was freely spoken of to me even at the time we exhibited the studies of the first plans, and if it had not been my advice to the Major to let me combine a World War Memorial with the rest of the men he wanted to commemorate, the University, with all probability would not have the Memorial erected on the grounds. Dr. Vinson at the time helped me in converting the Major.”

A contract was written and signed on April 20th and designated a seven-year completion time. A Board of Trustees, composed of the University president, a UT alumnus, and Gus Wroe, the newly elected chairman of the board of Littlefield’s American National Bank (and who had married Littlefield’s niece) would oversee the project and manage the fund. The $250,000 gift was to be divided, half for the production of the statues and pay Coppini as the sculptor, and the remainder for the construction of the gateway.


The following September, Vinson made a special trip to New York to confer with architect Cass Gilbert. The two discussed the Littlefield Gateway and what impact it would have on Gilbert’s overall campus scheme, but the UT president was also laying plans of his own.

Cass GilbertVinson was acutely aware that the University of Texas had before it a rare opportunity. Cass Gilbert (photo at left) was among the most eminent architects of his time. The Woolworth Tower in New York, designed by Gilbert, was the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1913. Gilbert had extensive planning experience, having won a competition to design the University of Minnesota shortly before the Board of Regents asked him to come to Austin. His two UT buildings, now Battle and Sutton Halls, had quickly become favorites on the Forty Acres.

Vinson also had an unused 500-acre tract of land on which he could let his distinguished architect design a truly remarkable campus, and, he believed, the financial assistance of George Brackenridge. Moving the University to new surroundings would be difficult and expensive, and persons like George Littlefield much preferred to simply add additional land to the original acreage. Though Vinson wanted to move, a larger campus in central Austin was also a win in the president’s view, but the window of opportunity was closing. Despite Gilbert’s reputation, there was growing political pressure within the state for the University to hire a Texan as its architect. The Board of Regents might soon be forced to replace Gilbert, and Vinson had decided to force the location issue, either to move or expand the original campus, when the Texas Legislature reconvened in January 1921.

Vinson was careful not to divulge too much, and spoke to Gilbert only about expanding the existing campus. Gilbert considered what impact the Littlefield Memorial would have on the view of the old Main Building on the hill. The proposed 37-foot pylons would certainly hide any low structure. Prophetically, Gilbert began to sketch a new Main Building with a tower.


Littlefield Casket in Battle Hall.1920In the final months of 1920, Littlefield’s health continued to deteriorate until he died peacefully in his sleep on November 10th at 78 years of age. Two days later, the University honored its greatest benefactor as Littlefield’s body lay in state in the vestibule of what today is Battle Hall. (Photo at left.) For several hours, thousands from the University community visited to pay their final respects. A formal burial was held at the Oakwood Cemetery.

Littlefield HomeThe Major, though, had anticipated what Brackenridge might do, and left nothing to chance. Littlefield’s will included $500,000 toward the construction of a new Main Building, $300,000 and land for a women’s dormitory (now the Alice Littlefield Residence Hall), and $250,000 for the gateway, but all of the gifts were contingent upon the University campus staying where it was for the next eight years. Just hours before he died, Littlefield made one final donation: his turreted Victorian mansion at 24th Street would be turned over to the University subject to Mrs. Littlefield’s life interest, potentially as a home for future UT presidents.

With Littlefield’s passing, Vinson waited only about a month before shifting course.  Convinced the University would receive a large bequest from Brackenridge, Vinson called for a Board of Regents meeting to be held on January 5, 1921 in San Antonio with Brackenridge present. The board intended to publicly announce its support to move the University campus. Brackenridge summoned Vinson to San Antonio on December 15th, and the two discussed at length changes to the Brackenridge will, though Vinson never saw the updated document. As late as December 21st, Vinson alerted Cass Gilbert that “our plans for changing the site of the University campus are rapidly maturing.”

And then, on December 28th, George Washington Brackenridge, just a few weeks from his 89th birthday, died.


Despite the turn of events, Vinson pressed ahead with the dream of moving the University to a larger, riverfront campus. The regents met in Austin on January 5th and authored an extensive report. It outlined reasons why the University needed more room, argued that a move to the Brackenridge Tract would be more economical in the long term, and asked for approval by the governor and Texas Legislature.

AAS.1920.01.06.Brackenridge Fortune

The following day, The Austin Statesman announced “University Gets Brackenridge Fortune” as its top headline. Specifically timed to garner public support for moving the campus, the article claimed an unconditional bequest of more than $3 million was expected, more than enough to counter the Littlefield bequests that would be forfeited if UT left the Forty Acres. Though the Brackenridge will had not yet been filed for probate and made public, the Statesman claimed the information was from “authoritative sources.”

1921 Cactus.Moving the University.2. - CopyAlmost 4,000 UT students met en masse on campus and overwhelmingly approved a resolution in favor of relocation.  A series of editorials in The Daily Texan extolled the serious benefits of the roomier Brackenridge Tract , though the students couldn’t resist putting a lighter face on  the issue.  Cartoons appeared in the Texan and other publications that imagined life on the new campus as a non-stop pool party. Students would jump out of classroom windows for a swim in the Colorado River, and fraternities would live in “frat-boats” on the water.

Cartoon Combo.Moving the University

Above: Student cartoons portrayed the easy life once the University moved to the Brackenridge Tract. Click on an image for a larger view.

A week after the Austin Statesman headline, Brackenridge’s will became public and it did not mention the University as a beneficiary. Though two courts later ruled that Brackenridge had indeed written a new will, he either had second thoughts and destroyed it, or it was otherwise lost. Either way, Brackenridge’s fortune had waned in his final years to about $1.5 million, barely enough to counter Littlefield’s bequest, and something which Brackenridge apparently didn’t disclose to Vinson. The University president took the news hard, but as the campaign to move the campus had been planned and was already underway, Vison decided to “go straight ahead” and see it through.

AAS.1921.01.Vinson HradlineIn mid-January, a bill to relocate the University was submitted to the Texas Legislature and received solid support from outgoing Governor William Hobby, prominent UT alumni, and the local press. But when the dream of a windfall from the Brackenridge estate didn’t appear, a serious opposition developed. Businesses, churches, and boarding houses near the campus, whose customers or congregations were mostly from the University community, would be seriously affected. As the Brackenridge Tract was still outside the commercial and residential development of Austin, moving the campus to a relatively isolated location would require the additional costs of residence and dining halls. And the forfeiture of Littlefield’s generous bequest had to be considered.

Robert VinsonAfter the will was read and debate began, some legislators saw an opportunity. If the campus needed more room, why did it have to remain in Austin? One proposal would have allowed any city that could guarantee 500 acres and $10 million to be placed on a ballot, and a statewide election to decide the location.

Once the possibility of losing the University became known, Austin citizens quickly united against the whole idea, and Vinson (photo at right) was harshly criticized for opening a Pandora’s box. The bill to relocate the campus was defeated. An appropriation of $1.35 million was approved to purchase land east of the Forty Acres and extend the campus north to 26th Street and east to present day Robert Dedman Drive. Texas Governor Pat Neff signed the bill April 1st. The next day, President Vinson suspended classes for two hours for a student parade to the Capitol to thank the governor.

1921.Thanking Governor Neff - Copy

Above: ‘Thank you, Governor Pat!” On Saturday, April 2, 1921, students and faculty gathered in front of the Texas Capitol to personally thank Governor Neff for signing the bill that provided additional lands for the campus.


DSCN4786While the question of moving the campus was being resolved in Austin, Pompeo Coppini had returned to his Chicago studio to begin work on the gateway. He had hoped to start with the 9-foot Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson statues, as they were of a larger scale than the others, but as this was to be the first ever bronze likeness of Wilson, Coppini wanted to acquire some head shots of the president, as well as borrow a suit and shoes to be certain of the correct proportions. On Coppini’s behalf, Vinson contacted Albert Burleson.  A member of UT’s first graduating class in 1884, Burleson had been a U.S. Congressman from Texas for 14 years before being appointed Postmaster General by President Wilson. Vinson sent along copies of the plans for the Littlefield Gateway and asked if Burleson would approach Wilson about the project. President Wilson, though, was less than enthused. While he didn’t formally ask that the statue of him be omitted, Wilson declined to loan one of his suits or send measurements, and reportedly resented the idea of his image standing next to one of Jefferson Davis. (“Possibly because they had so much in common,” wrote Coppini.) Instead, the sculptor saved the Wilson statue for last and relied on published photographs of the president.

Robert E Lee StatueIn 1922, with his reputation as a first class artist continuing to grow, Coppini moved from Chicago to New York City, where he opened a studio at 210 West 14th Street in the present day Greenwich Village District of Manhattan. Locally, The Brooklyn Sunday Eagle published a multi-page feature on the Littlefield Gateway, called the memorial “remarkable and strikingly symbolic” and quoted Coppini, “Though I am Italian born, I am American reborn.” The New York Times regularly followed the progress of the gateway and Coppini’s other projects, which in turn, made the completion of each statue a brief news item that occasionally was picked up nationally. As Coppini finished a plaster model, it was sent to the Roman Bronze Works in New York, considered to be the best foundry in the United Sates. By the spring of 1925, the six portrait statues were ready and shipped to Austin, where they were placed on display in the Texas Capitol rotunda.

Photos: Above, Coppini poses with a model of the central fountain group. Below, Coppini and his student, Waldine Tauch, work on the statue of Robert E. Lee in the New York studio.


Back in Austin, the 1920s was an eventful decade for the UT campus. By 1922, the Board of Regents had reluctantly released Cass Gilbert as University Architect, citing political pressures to hire a Texas firm. Herbert Greene from Dallas was selected. Robert Vinson resigned as UT’s president in 1923 to oversee Case-Western Reserve University in Cleveland; the search for his successor sparked a controversy that almost derailed the ambitious plans to build the football stadium in 1924. Nine months after Vinson’s departure, oil was discovered on the University lands in West Texas that George Brackenridge had so carefully preserved and surveyed, bringing with it the promise of a much grander building program.

Garrison_Hall.1934Herbert Greene quickly proved himself an able architect, but while his UT buildings – Garrison (photo at left) and Waggener Halls, the Biological Laboratories, among others – were generally praised, Greene lacked experience in campus planning. Professor John White, from the University of Illinois, was hired as consulting architect. Over several years, White produced a series of campus master plans, none of which completely satisfied the Board of Regents. Sometimes White included the Littlefield Gateway, sometimes not, or he arbitrarily redesigned the memorial without any prior notice to Pompeo Coppini, which prompted a series of angry letters from the sculptor. Ultimately, Coppini refused to work with either Greene or White, and demanded that his original architects, Morison and Walker of Chicago, remain in charge of the gateway.

John White Birds Eye View.1920s Campus Plan

John White Birds Eye View.Close upAbove and left: A bird’s-eye sketch of one of John White’s campus master plans. Here, the old Main Building has been replaced by a large plaza with a bell tower. While the position of each statue is unclear, Coppini’s entry fountain has become an extended reflecting pool in the center of a circular “South Mall,” though it ignores the grade of the hill. The two obelisks of the gateway, which were supposed to be behind the fountain, have evolved into tall pillars that frame the south entrance to campus. Click on an image for a larger view.


Columbia StatueNot all of Coppini’s experiences with the University were challenging ones. In the spring of 1928, the 15-foot tall rendering of the winged Columbia – the centerpiece of the fountain and focus of the entire gateway – was finished. To celebrate, the New York chapter of the UT alumni association, which called itself The Texas Club, organized an open house at Coppini’s studio for Sunday afternoon, May 6th. Tea was served, music was provided by UT alumni Katherine Rose and Guy Pitner, and more than 400 guests wandered through Coppini’s studio to admire his many works, but especially his latest creation.

The statue of Columbia, as the sculptor’s symbol of a reunited America in the Great War, appealed to a wide audience. A reporter from the Associated Press attended the open house, and then sent a brief article with photographs over the news wires. That the University of Texas was about to install a patriotic war memorial, gifted by former Confederate soldier George Littlefield and sculpted by Pompeo Coppini, was a story printed by newspapers along both coasts and in dozens of towns and cities in between. International Newsreel also attended the event. At a time before television, 7 – 10 minute black and white newsreels were a staple in movie theaters nationwide, usually shown just before the feature film. Coppini and the Columbia statue (along with a mention of the  University) were highlighted in a newsreel in early summer.


University Avenue.1920s.

Above: The University of Texas campus in the late 1920s. The single lane road that curves around to the front of Old Main is still present.

By 1929, with all of the statuary completed, it seemed that the time had finally arrived to install the Littlefield Gateway. “The largest and costliest monumental group on any American university campus has been completed, and the memorial will be set in place this year,” announced the Austin Statesman on April 28th. But as construction estimates began to arrive, Coppini’s longtime fears were soon realized. The prices for building materials had increased over the decade, and the total cost would exceed the $125,000 limit of Littlefield’s bequest.

Over the summer, Morison and Walker reviewed the gateway designs and substituted less expensive granite for some of the limestone pieces. The Board of Trustees took stronger measures. Over Coppini’s protests, the board voted to eliminate the costly 37-foot obelisks from the memorial. UT President Harry Benedict had long been concerned that the pylons would block the view of the old Main Building, while Coppini passionately argued that removing them would destroy intended symbolism. To remain within the budget, however, the trustees opted to cut the obelisks. The gateway now only needed a green light from the Board of Regents to begin construction.

Approval was expected when the Board of Regents met in Austin on Friday, November 8th, and Gus Wroe, chair of the Board of Trustees, was invited to attend the meeting. But the group fell into an extended discussion about the history of the gateway and its size relative to nearby buildings. To everyone’s surprise, Wroe suggested that if the memorial was too large for the south entrance, it could be moved to the east side of campus. President Benedict, as a second trustee, and who still thought the gateway was too large, agreed. With the consent of a majority of the trustees, the regents promptly voted to relocate the entire memorial to the hill northeast of the new football stadium (where the LBJ fountain is today), to serve as the terminus of a planned East Mall that would extend from the Main Building.

Regent Sam Neathery shared the board’s’ views with The Daily Texan: “In changing the location of the memorial, the Board of Regents felt it was too large to fit in with the surroundings afforded by the south entrance location. It is too close to the Main Building.” Neathery then added the underlying core reason, which echoed Coppini’s concerns in 1919:

“The arrangement is out of keeping with the times. The work will keep the antagonism of the South against the North before the people of Texas.”

President Benedict dubbed the gateway a “derelict plane hovering around; no one knows where it is going to land. It approached its landing during the month [of November], but found at the last moment a fresh gust which sent it soaring again.”

DT.1920.11.08.HeadlineNews of the regents’ action provoked an immediate response from Alice Littlefield, George Littlefield’s widow, who was still living in the mansion at 24th Street. Mrs. Littlefield was adamant. The original contract specified the gateway would be installed at the south entrance to the campus, and the Board of Regents in 1920 accepted the gift under those conditions. Wroe, who had first suggested the move, likely angered many of his Littlefield relatives, abruptly changed his position, sided with Mrs. Littlefield, and let it be known that if the University refused to place the memorial as intended, it might be gifted to the city of Austin instead.

By January 1930, Wroe had convinced Dudley Woodward (the third trustee) that the gateway should remain at the south entrance, even though the Board of Regents had already voted to move it. Wroe also informed Coppini, and intimated that the bronze works might simply be placed on the hillside without the fountain. Coppini was livid. “How could the pool of water be eliminated?” Coppini responded. How would it look to have the prow of the ship “appear to navigate on dry land? The joke is not even funny!” Newspapers nationwide had picked up on the story. Some, which the previous year had run photos of the Columbia statue and praised the patriotic war memorial, now incorrectly reported that the regents had rejected it outright, which created a public relations nightmare for the University; others claimed that Wroe, speaking on behalf of the Littlefield family, had given the regents an “ultimatum.” The gateway would be placed as originally agreed or “not at all,” and either gifted to Austin or the state, where it might be installed at the south entrance to the Capitol grounds.

The regents, though, were already reconsidering their actions. Regent Ed Crane, a Dallas attorney, wrote to President Benedict, “I have concluded that neither you as a Trustee of the Littlefield Gateway Memorial nor the Board of Regents can adhere to the conclusion … that the ‘South Entrance’ designated in the will means the East entrance to the campus.” Crane was rather candid about his view of the gateway: “In spite of all the kicks … that our esthetic senses experienced every time we contemplated the erection of the mosquito pond in our front yard, it was a foregone conclusion that Major Littlefield’s wishes should be followed.” The regent continued, “Much of the future of the University … will be determined by the extent to which donations are received by private sources. “ To move the gateway would be to “broadcast to the world” the University’s willingness to break its promise to the dying wish of a generous donor.


Paul CretAt their March 1930 meeting, the regents seemed resigned to the idea that the gateway would need to be positioned at the south entrance, but waited on taking any official action. Instead, the board hired a new consulting architect. The collaboration with John White from Illinois had not worked well, and a national search had led to Paul Cret in Philadelphia (photo at right). Born in Lyon, France, educated at Paris’ Ecole des Beaux Arts (then considered to be the finest architecture academy in the world), Cret had immigrated to the United States and was head of the School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cret met with the regents, expressed his belief that the campus “could be made one of the most beautiful in the country,” and was asked to begin immediately on a preliminary master plan, which included the placing of the Littlefield Gateway. If the memorial had to be at the south entrance, the regents wanted Cret’s opinion on its appearance.

Cret.Charcol Sketch.Campus Master Plan

Above: Charcoal sketch of the UT campus master plan by Paul Cret. Click on image for a larger view.Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

Cret’s office worked quickly. When the regents convened again on May 30th, Cret presented the initial draft of a plot plan, a report that argued for the eventual replacement of Old Main with a new library (today’s Main Building and Tower), and had fundamentally revised the Littlefield Gateway, expanding and melding it to be part of a formal South Mall.

“The Littlefield Memorial,” wrote Cret:

“instead of a small composition, overcrowded with features and designed without regard for its surroundings, was expanded so as to form an entrance to the campus. The portrait statuary was separated from the allegorical figures, as the juxtaposition of these two types was objectionable on account of the difference in scale. The portrait statues selected by the donor gain in prominence when provided with an individual setting instead of being used as accessories to a fountain design.”

Cret had placed the portrait statues along the east and west sides of the mall, which kept them from obstructing the view of the Main Building at the top of the hill. At the same time, they were also separated from the fountain group, and any symbolic meaning Coppini had intended was lost.

Both the Faculty Building Committee and the Board of Regents enthusiastically endorsed Cret’s solution. The regents not only approved the idea, but agreed to fund any additional construction costs. In July, Faculty Building Committee chair William Battle and Board of Regents chair Lutcher Stark journeyed to Philadelphia to visit with Cret, while Coppini was asked to join them. Together, they went over the revised plan. Though Coppini was disappointed, he had great respect for Paul Cret and reluctantly agreed to the new scheme.


Early the following year, in 1931, a minor new wrinkle appeared, as the Texas chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) proposed giving an equestrian statue of George Washington to the University. Cret was asked for an opinion on the best place for it and to “think the matter over.” Several sites were proposed, but Cret advocated the statue join the court of honor on the South Mall. Initially, the D.A.R. project was an ambitious one, with a statue of Washington on horseback. But as the Great Depression of the 1930s worsened, fundraising became a challenge, and then was put on hold through World War II. It wasn’t until 1955 that a standing George Washington was unveiled at the head of the South Mall. Fortunately, Pompeo Coppini, though his work on the Littlefield Gateway had finished decades before, agreed to once again be the sculptor, which preserved an important sense of continuity to the statuary on the South Mall.

Paul Cret Master Plan.Central Group

Paul Cret Master Plan.South Mall

Above: The bird’s eye view of Paul Cret’s campus master plan for the University of Texas, which was completed in 1933. The new positions of the portrait statues extended the Littlefield Gateway to the length of the mall, effectively making the entire South Mall a campus entrance.

Paul Cret Master Plan.George Washington StatueLeft: A close-up of the proposed equestrian statue of George Washington, which was initially placed on the Main Mall.  Click on the image for an expanded view. Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

With Cret’s plan for the South Mall approved by the regents, time was needed for the Morison and Walker firm to once again revise the gateway. There were, of course, inevitable delays: a shallow utility tunnel had to be moved, soil studies were needed before the pump room was dug two stories beneath the fountain, and there were issues with transporting the fountain group – which weighed 18,200 pounds – from New York. (Each wing on the statue of Columbia was 400 pounds of bronze.)

Coppini Dinner.March 2 1932

On March 2, 1932, Pompeo Coppini returned the courtesy that the New York chapter of UT alumni had shown in 1928 by hosting a Texas Independence Day dinner in his studio (photo above). A packed crowd enjoyed the meal, live music, and the warmth of their happy host. Coppini had every reason to celebrate, as construction on the Littlefield Gateway finally began later the same year and was completed the following spring. The fountain and statues (along with nine new campus buildings) were officially dedicated on Saturday, April 29, 1933 as part of a celebration to mark the University’s 50th anniversary.


Above: Robert L. White as UT’s supervising architect, Pompeo Coppini, and architect Paul Cret (seated) at the Littlefield Gateway for its dedication in April 1933.

1937 Cactus.Littlefield Fountain



Alexander Architecture Archives: University of Texas Buildings Collection

Dolph Briscoe Center for American History: UT President’s Office Papers, Coppini-Tauch Papers, George W. Littlefield Papers, William J. Battle Papers, UT Memorabilia Collection

Chicago Institute of Art: Catalog for Annual Architecture Exhibit: April – May, 1920

University of Pennsylvania Libraries: Paul Cret Papers

Library of Congress: Universal Newsreel Archives

New York Historical Society: Cass Gilbert Papers


Benedict, Harry Y., Source Book of the History of the University of Texas (1917)

Coppini, Pompeo, From Dawn until Sunset (1940)

Long, Walter L., For All Time To Come (1964)

Sibley, Marilyn M., George W. Brackenridge: A Life (1973)


Austin Daily Statesman, The Daily Texan, The Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express-News, The New York Times, Alcalde (UT alumni magazine), Longhorn Magazine (UT student publication)

Special thanks to Dr. David Gracy, Professor Emeritis of the UT School of Information. Dr. Gracy is currently writing what will likely be the definitive biography of George Littlefield, and happily shared some knowledge and insights about the Major.