Above: An aerial view of the not-quite-finished UT Tower in 1936. The clock faces haven’t been installed, and the scaffolding on the north side supports a crane to lift the Tower’s bells for the carillon at the top. Down below, on the left is the old Woman’s Building (used for the drama department by the 1930s and burned in the 1950s), and the newly opened Hogg Auditorium on the right.
This month marks the 77th anniversary of the Main Building and Tower. Dedicated on February 27, 1937 as the central library for the University, it was designed by French-born architect Paul Cret, who intended the Tower to be the “image carried in our memory when we think of the place.” For decades, the Texas Capitol and the UT Tower were the defining landmarks of the Austin skyline, and the Tower’s observation deck, located just below the clock faces, was a popular destination for anyone who wanted to see the city.
Originally, the deck was freely open during normal business hours. Accessed by a pair of elevators that are still in use, visitors rode up to the Tower’s 27th floor, then climbed one flight of stairs to the observation deck lobby, staffed by a knowledgeable receptionist. The deck itself, about five-feet wide, also supported the floodlights (both white and orange) that illuminated the clock level of Tower.
The observation deck was sealed for about six months after the Charles Whitman shooting in 1966, but repeated incidents of suicides prompted a permanent closure in 1973. For the next quarter century, there were regular appeals to find a way to reopen the deck, but there were added complications. The central library had been moved out of the Main Building and the Tower was no longer used just for book stacks. Instead, it housed a variety of University offices, and there were concerns over the added traffic on the elevators as well as security issues for the offices. And, of course, there was an overriding fear of future suicides. One plan left the observation deck closed and instead proposed to remodel the the top two floors into a coffee shop, so that patrons could look out the windows.
In the late 1990s, UT President Larry Faulkner wanted to find a way to reopen the Tower, and the decision was made to enclose the deck and make it available during off-hours. The project was led by Steve Kraal, who had task of finding a design that was safe for sightseers, did minimal damage to the building during installation, and would preserve the architectural integrity of the Tower. Along with the enclosure, a special one-story elevator was installed on the 27th floor for visitors who were unable to climb the stairs. Construction was completed over the summer of 1999, and a reopening ceremony was held on the Main Mall at the start of the fall semester.
The observation deck is now open for guided tours during weekends through much of the year, and for a few evenings the week before spring commencement in May. The tours are managed by the University Unions, and more information (schedule, reservations, and guidelines) can be found here.
The Stadium: 1936 and Today
Above: From the vantage point of the Tower deck, the landscape of the UT campus and the city of Austin has changed over the years. Here are views of the football stadium in 1936 and the present day. For a point of reference, part of Gregory Gym can be seen in the lower right of both images.
The Texas Memorial Stadium, initially dedicated to Texans who had fought in World War I, was opened in 1924. The north end zone, which completed the “horseshoe shape,” was added in 1926. Today, the Darrell K Royal – Texas Memorial Stadium is named for both a legendary football coach and for Texans who have served in any military conflict, and can accommodate more than 100,000 Longhorn fans.
Above: From December 2006 to August 2008, the original north end zone of the stadium was replaced with a two-level structure that increased seating, provided new offices for UT Athletics, and a home for the H. J. Lutcher Stark Center of Physical Culture and Sports. This image was captured just before sunset in May 2007.
The South Mall and Downtown Austin: 1936 and Today
In 1936, the Texas Capitol could easily be seen from any direction. The tallest buildings at the time were the Littlefield Building at 6th Street and Congress Avenue, and the Driskill and Stephen F. Austin hotels. Today, protected view corridors, including one from the UT Tower, ensure that the Capitol isn’t completely swallowed up by the growth of downtown Austin. (Click on the images for a larger view.)
Above: A close-up view of the South Mall. The Littlefield Fountain and statues along the mall were dedicated in 1933, while the young live oak trees that line the walkways were obtained from a nursery in (appropriately) Orange, Texas. At bottom center was a boulder – a “monument to a monument.” On the boulder was a brass plaque that announced to the reader the future plans for a statue of George Washington, a gift from the Daughters of the American Revolution. Fundraising difficulties during the Great Depression in the 1930s postponed the project, and the statue wasn’t installed until 1955. Click on the image for a larger view.
To the East-Northeast: 1936 and Today
Looking to the east-northeast in 1936, the smokestack of the Hal C. Weaver Power Plant was easily visible,along with Taylor Hall, which once housed much of the College of Engineering. Today, while the power plant and its smokestack still stand, Taylor Hall has been razed and replaced by the O’Donnell Building on the left and the newly-opened Gates-Dell Complex on the right, both used by the Department of Computer Sciences.
Above: Taylor Hall was opened in 1930 and named for Thomas U. Taylor, the founder and first dean of College of Engineering. The south section pictured was razed in 2011 to make room for the Gates-Dell Complex for computer sciences. Engineering – now the Cockrell School – has moved to the northeast section of campus.
Photo sources: The 1936 black and white images taken from the UT Tower were found at the Portal to Texas History web site produced by the University of North Texas.