The Alumni Center Turns 50!

Alumni Center Dedication Program.Cover.April 1965Above: The front cover of Alumni Center dedication program for April 3, 1965.

AAS.1961.05.11.Air JauntIn September 1961, the Texas Longhorn football team was set to open its season against the Golden Bears of the University of California. The game was to be played at Cal’s Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, and to help get more orange-minded fans in the seats, the University of Texas Ex-Students’ Association chartered its first football weekend excursion. For just under $200, the package included round trip airfare from Austin to San Francisco, two nights’ accommodations in the new Jack Tar Hotel (then billed as the most modern hotel in the world – a television in every room!), ground transportation to Berkeley, and a ticket to the game.  The 80 available spots sold quickly. John Holmes, a Houston lawyer and the association’s president, was one of the first to register.

Cal Alumni House.1952 ModelThe trip also included a pre-game welcome luncheon at Cal’s Alumni House. (Photo at right is of the architectural model.) Opened seven years before, in 1954, the building was called a “house” as it was deemed a place where “alumni throughout the world can come and feel at home – at home because they are in a spot on the campus that belongs to them, was created for them, and in tribute to their accomplishments however large or small.”  Outfitted with staff offices, conference rooms, a lounge, and a kitchen, the Alumni House had become a busy and important gathering place on the campus. It also left a strong and lasting impression on John Holmes. While Texas football won the day 28 – 3, Holmes was excited about the possibility of creating an alumni house in Austin, and spent the return flight conferring on the subject with alumni Executive Director Jack Maguire.

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Old Main.1910s.Postcard.2.The idea of an alumni house was the solution to a long term issue: where to place a wandering alumni association. Founded in June 1885, the Ex-Students’ Association was homeless for its first 28 years until October 1913, when the University designated room 119 in the old Main Building (left) as the “Alumni Room.” Measuring 25 x 15 feet, equipped with tables, chairs, bookshelves, and its own telephone (a luxury in 1913), the walls were crammed with photos of Association presidents, University faculty, class portraits, and athletic teams.

The room, though, was only in use for four years. When Governor James Ferguson threatened to shut down the University over a controversy in 1917, the alumni rallied to protect their alma mater, and set up temporary headquarters in the Littlefield Building downtown. Two years later, after Ferguson had been impeached and World War I ended, the Association moved to the YMCA Building at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe Streets.

Leslie Waggener HouseIn the 1920s, it ventured a little farther into west campus, where it purchased the quaint, Victorian-styled Waggener Home (above right), once owned by UT’s first president Leslie Waggener, at the corner of 23rd and San Antonio. It was here that alumni director John McCurdy and president Thomas Gregory guided the Association through the Union Project, a massive, and at times, heroic, fundraising campaign through part of the Great Depression to build Gregory and Anna Hiss gymnasiums, Hogg Auditorium, and the Texas Union.

When the Union building opened in 1933, the Association returned to campus with office space on the building’s second floor, now used as a student lounge next to the Union Ballroom. But after World War II, when a flood of returning veterans on the G. I. Bill created a boom in college enrollment across the nation, the alumni association soon discovered it needed more space.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Talks with University officials in the late 1950s led to the idea of the Association taking over the Littlefield Home at 24th and Whitis Streets, but extensive renovations would be required before the building was ready. In 1958 as a temporary measure, the staff was moved to the basement of Mary Gearing Hall, then used by the Department of Home Economics and is today the headquarters for the School of Human Ecology. The place was a little roomier, but the “mole hole,” as it informally came to be known, was difficult to find, and was certainly not suitable for the activities of a growing alumni association. After three years in its “temporary” quarters and no movement toward use of the Littlefield Home, a permanent solution was desperately needed.

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John Holmes wasted no time on the Alumni House idea.The day after his return to Texas, Holmes conferred with other Association leaders, named a committee to investigate possibilities, and initiated a conversation with UT administrators. The point of contact from the University fell to UT System Vice Chancellor Larry Haskew, who moved the process along quickly.

Five weeks later, at the end of October, Haskew had prepared a draft report for the Board of Regents, which declared that “an Alumni House of distinctive character and outstanding convenience is of great importance to The University and that one should be provided as soon as possible.” The alumni committee and administration had investigated several options. The Littlefield Home was still a possibility, but serious design and financial obstacles existed. The group also looked at existing homes in the area, including the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house still located just north of campus, but the consensus was that a new facility, designed specifically for the needs of the alumni, was the best solution.

The desired location was the mostly-vacant lot on San Jacinto Boulevard, across the street from the football stadium. The area was still occupied by a pair of temporary men’s dormitories, former World War II army barracks that had been relocated to campus to accommodate the post-war growth in enrollment, but the dorms were scheduled for demolition. The space had been informally earmarked for a second student union building, but Haskew wrote, “This latter use would be enhanced, actually, by location there of Alumni House,” which implied that the alumni association and the Texas Union might join forces again in the future.

Lila Belle EtterTo help financially, the administration proposed using $110,000 from the Lila B. Etter trust fund, a bequest from the daughter (left) of former UT president Leslie Waggener. The alumni could add any amount desired, and the building would be known as the Etter Alumni House. Once completed and occupied, the Association would pay back the $110,000, without interest, at $5,000 per year.

The Board of Regents gave an initial green light to the project at its November meeting, and then formally approved use of the Etter fund and the San Jacinto location on February 3, 1962, a day after the Alumni Council had officially voted its consent. The local firm Jessen, Jessen, Milhouse and Greeven was brought aboard as the consulting architect, and Fred Day, a 1950 graduate of UT’s School of Architecture, was hired to design the building.

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By June 1962, initial ideas had been discussed and approved, but the proposed sketch was unlike anything yet seen on the campus. “I’d feel safer,” Haskew wrote to Chancellor Harry Ransom and UT President Joe Smiley, “if both of you would look at the plot design and building schematics for the Alumni House. … My reaction is highly favorable, but the conception … is unusual enough to warrant advance cognizance of top administration before architects proceed with preliminary plans.”

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Above: Fred Day’s initial plans for the Texas Alumni House. In this image, 21st Street runs along the left border with part of the Moore-Hill Residence Hall at top left, while San Jacinto Boulevard – with the stadium across the street – is at the bottom. Click on the image for an expanded view. Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

Haskew was prudent to call for “advance cognizance,” as Fred Day’s design was a bold one. The building didn’t simply nestle alongside the dappled and meandering waters of Waller Creek; the creek was the centerpiece of the plan. Day’s Alumni House resembled a squared “C” shape, with the central portion spanning the water. The east wing, nearest to San Jacinto Boulevard, contained the main entrance, lobby, and offices for the alumni association staff, while the west wing, on the far bank, housed a series of meeting rooms with creekside views, along with an extended outdoor dining terrace shaded by live oaks. Connecting the two wings was a grand main lounge and dining room, equipped with a catering kitchen. Visitors to the lounge would gaze out of full-length windows on either side to see Waller Creek pass underneath the building.

South and East Facades.Alumni House

Above: The south and east views of the Alumni House.Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

To ensure enough water was present, a small dam was planned just downstream from the building that would both back up the creek and add a waterfall. A second partial barrier installed upstream, in the form of a stepping stone bridge, provided foot access across the creek and created an artificial rapids.

Day purposely located the building near the south edge of the property, where the slope of hill on the west side of the creek was a little less steep. It also reserved the rest of the land for parking and future expansion.

Alumni House First Rendidtion.August 1962

Alumni House.First Rendition.1.August 1962

 Above:Sterling Holloway, Allan Shivers, Harry Ransom, and Jack Maguire show off the first rendering of the UT Alumni House in August 1962. Though it’s difficult to make out much detail, the building’s entrance is in the center, the east wing with offices is to the right, and the main lounge, spanning Waller Creek, is on the left. The footbridge crossed a tributary (that still exists) which would have been redirected to be perpendicular to the creek and behind the downstream dam. Click on an image for a larger view.

 AAS.1961.Alumni House AnnouncedA first birds-eye rendition of the Alumni House was ready in August and a formal announcement made to the press, though the reported cost varied from $250,000 – $300,000. The actual estimate was near $260,000, which required the alumni to raise $150,000 and add it to the $110,000 from the Etter fund.

 

Alumni House Planning CommitteeWith the fall 1962 semester underway and Fred Day at work on formal architectural plans, attention focused on fundraising. John Holmes appointed a fundraising committee. Former Association president Sterling Holloway agreed to chair the group, while former Texas governor Allan Shivers oversaw the acquisition of special gifts. Popular Dean of Student Life Arno Nowotny was named vice chairman. (A complete roster of the planning committee is on the right. Click on the image for a larger view.)

AAS.1962.10.11.Houston Dallas Meetings SetThere were discussions with university officials on whether to concentrate on a few large donations or make a general appeal to all alumni. In the end, both strategies were used. In October and November, luncheons for prospective donors were held in cities throughout the state, including: Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Tyler, Midland, and others. On the agenda were talks by Harry Ransom, Allan Shivers, Arno Nowotny, Sterling Holloway, and Jack Maguire.

Fundraising Luncheon Invite Stationery

Above: Stationery used for luncheon invitations claimed that the alumni association had been “homeless since 1885.”

 In concert with the fundraising luncheons, the November issue of the Alcalde alumni magazine featured a second, more detailed rendition of the building, which was now formally styled the “Lila B. Etter Alumni Center.” Included in the magazine was a general appeal for donations. Members of the Association also received letters which asked if they “could spare 144 bricks?” as a minimum $10 contribution would purchase those materials, a square yard of carpet, or two gallons of paint.

UT Alumni Center.1962.Alcalde Cover

1962 Alumni Center.Main Lounge

Top: A detailed view of the proposed Alumni Center, with some color added by the author to better distinguish the location of Waller Creek and the outline of the building. The east wing, in the shape of a “+,” housed offices for staff and a vault to safeguard the original alumni records, then kept on index cards. Above: A cutaway view of the main lounge, which used about 2/3 of the central wing. Beyond the doors was a smaller dining/meeting room, with a kitchen behind the wall on the far side. Click on an image for a larger view.

 Along with alumni donations, other contributions came from a variety of sources. In January 1963, Allan Shivers, American Airlines president C. R. Smith, and actor Rip Torn, represented the University on “Alumni Fun,” a popular weekly quiz show broadcast on ABC. The team won $4,700, which was donated to the building fund. Along with quiz show winnings, the Canteen Company of America, one of the largest providers of vending machines in the United States, donated a week’s proceeds from three of its most popular coffee machines on the UT campus, and presented the alumni with $410 in dimes.

January 1963.Alumni Fun

Above: Allan Shivers, C R Smith, and Rip Torn compete for the University of Texas in ABC’s Alumni Fun quiz show in January 1963.

By mid-spring, the campaign was a success. More than 3,000 alumni had sent contributions from $1 and greater, including three $10,000 donors, six $5,000 donors, and 25 alumni who gave $1,000 each. The new Alumni Center seemed assured, and a groundbreaking ceremony was promptly scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 6th, on the banks of Waller Creek. A large sign on the property announced the future home of the Ex-Students’ Association and told passersby to expect to see the Alumni Center within the year.

1963.Alumni Center Groundbreaking.Edited

Groundreaking.Sign

Top: A groundbreaking ceremony was held on the Waller Creek site on April 6, 1963. On the right is one of two post-WW II temporary dorms that were scheduled for removal. Groundbreaking participants included UT alumnus and Texas Governor John Connally, Board of Regents chair W. W. Heath, UT President Joe Smiley, and Dean Arno Nowotny.

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The bad news came a few weeks after the groundbreaking. After bids were opened for contractors, the cost of the Alumni Center as designed was far greater than anticipated, specifically the transformation of the western bank of Waller Creek to make room for the west wing and dining terrace, the extensive use of retaining walls, and a redirected tributary to the creek so that it would remain behind the proposed dam. Through the summer of 1963, architect Fred Day attempted to redesign the structure. He shortened the west wing and reversed its direction, and then removed it outright while still preserving the main lounge. Neither brought the costs down to acceptable levels. Unwilling to reopen the fundraising drive, the Alumni Center committee reluctantly abandoned the initial plans and sent Day back to the drawing board.

Alumni Center.Redesign.August 1963

Above: Fred Day attempted to redesign the Alumni Center by shortening the west wing and pointing it towards 21st Street. Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

Through the fall, Day worked on new plans for the building, placed it alongside Waller Creek instead of over it, and preserved the elements used in the initial designs. The single main lounge and dining area was divided into two connected rooms at right angles, and then joined to a larger structure around a simple square courtyard with a fountain. The plan afforded ample light throughout and office windows that faced either the courtyard or outside, while the main lounge and the dining room (today used by the Texas Expresso Café) were nudged close to the edge of Waller Creek for the best views. A walled patio adjoined the main lounge to make room for larger alumni events.

ALumni Center.1965.With Orange Carpet welcome

Above: The Alumni Center, drawn with Jack Maguire’s “orange carpet” welcome.

Alumni Center.Main Lounge.1965

Above: The Main Lounge of the Alumni Center.

Designed in “Early Texas” style – which Fred Day described as a blend of Western and Spanish colonial – the 14,400 square foot textured brick building featured copper chandeliers in the main entrance, lounge, and dining room, that were hand-crafted in Mexico. Terra-cotta tiles, mahogany doors and paneling, vaulted beamed ceilings, and concrete Spanish roof tiles all added to the decor, along with refinished furniture from the 1930s that had originally been used when the offices were in the Texas Union. The Alumni Center, though, was also unabashedly a part of the University of Texas. Brass handles for the two front door were designed in the shape of “U’s” and attached to equally large “T’s” on the door front. The light fixtures were purposely created to evoke images of interlocking “UT’s,” and the orange and white silk-screened draperies, along with the orange carpeting in the staff offices, was hard to miss.

AAS.1965.Alumni Center to be dedicated

Construction finally began on April 27, 1964, just over a year after the groundbreaking. The alumni association staff moved into its new quarters the following February, and it was officially opened Saturday, April 3, 1965. In the morning, the graduating classes of 1940 and 1915 were the first to use the new building to start their 25 and 50-year reunions, and then joined a larger crowd outside in front for the dedication ceremony, which included performances by the Longhorn Singers and the Longhorn Band.

Alumni Center Dedication.1965.04.03

Executive Director Jack Maguire explained to those assembled, “Many years ago, Edgar Guest wrote a poem which began, ‘It takes a heap of livin’ to make a house a home.’ Today we are dedicating a very beautiful house. … It’s a heap of house,and we invite you to do a heap of living in it. The best invitation I can extend to you is a line which was used to introduce the 1915 Cactus. ‘The gate is down – ride through.’ Today the gate to the Lila B. Etter Alumni  Center is down. Ride through it – any and every time you are here.”

Alumni Center.0s.300. - Copy

Upcoming Tours for October

Moonlight Prowl.October 3 2014

Don’t forget!

The next Moonlight Prowl is scheduled for Friday, October 3rd at 8 p.m., and it looks like the weather will be clear and cool!

The Moonlight Prowl is a nighttime campus tour packed with anecdotes of student life, campus architecture, and UT history. With content drawn from newspaper accounts and the University Archives, the Prowl is intended to help personalize the University, explore its history, and have some fun.

You’ll find more info about the Prowl here.

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Architecture Tour.Image

The UT Architecture Tour is an exploration of the architectural history of the University of Texas, from the first “Old Main” building set upon an almost barren forty-acre campus to Paul Cret’s grand master plan and iconic UT Tower. Along the way, we’ll investigate:

  • The UT campus of long ago.
  • Proposed campus master plans and what became of them.
  • The unique designs and uses of some of UT’s most prominent buildings.
  • Symbolism and meaning of campus landmarks and building decoration.
  • Landscaping on the Forty Acres.

Additional information about the tour is here.

Heads Up!

UT Seal StonePsst. Excuse me . . . Excuse me!  The campus would like a word with you.

The buildings, in particular, have something they want to say, if only you would look up!

For those who traverse the Forty Acres on a regular basis, the campus can become a familiar blur of limestone walls and red-tiled roofs. But look closely. The buildings, especially those finished before 1940, are teeming with symbols, images, icons, and quotations. They are the thoughtful creations of architects, University faculty, and in a one case, a UT student. Meant to inspire and inform, the buildings’ designers collectively aspired to make the University of Texas campus a place like no other.

Unfortunately, many – perhaps most – of today’s busy students are oblivious to the messages written on the walls. Time to get to the next class is short, and besides, the live oak trees have grown to obscure the views. But for those who make the effort to look, the buildings have much to tell.

Below is a sampling.

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Biological Laboratories

Biological Labs.1924Opened in 1924, the Biological Laboratories building was originally planned to be in the northwest portion of the original Forty Acres, at the corner of Guadalupe and 24th Streets, but was moved farther east to save the three oldest trees on the campus, now called the Battle Oaks. Intended to house the Departments of Biology, Botany, and Zoology, only botany remains. The building is generously decorated and deserves a close inspection. Between the second and third story windows, terra cotta renditions of Texas flora and fauna adorn the walls, and the University Seal, carved in limestone, guards the main north entrance.

Below: Look close! At each of the building’s corners, just below the eaves, are a pair of terra cotta panels that feature a “shield” divided into quadrants, each depicting an aspect of college life. Clockwise from the upper left, you’ll find: an open book of knowledge; the lamp of wisdom; a ten-gallon hat, representative of local culture (It is the University of Texas, after all.); and – what’s that, an “H?” It’s a football goal post, meant to symbolize extracurricular activities on campus.That a goal post was chosen wasn’t a complete surprise. When the Biological Labs building was being designed, the campus was involved in an extensive fundraising campaign to build Memorial Stadium, today’s Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. (Click on the image for a larger view.)

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Garrison Hall

GarrisonHall.1930s

Named for George Garrison, a distinguished UT history professor, Garrison Hall was opened in 1926 as a social sciences building, and is today headquarters for the Department of History. Designed to be unmistakably Texan, limestone carvings of steer heads, along with terra cotta renditions of lone stars, cacti, and bluebonnets can be seen. Imprinted below the eaves are the names of statesmen from the Republic of Texas, among them: Houston, Austin, Burnet, Travis and Lamar. But Garrison Hall is best known for the 32 cattle brands on the building, carefully chosen from thousands of candidates, to represent various periods of ranching as a part of the history of the state.

Below: The Running W brand of the King Ranch.

Garrison Hall.Running W Brand.King Ranch

Garrison Hall.St Louis Dispatch Article.1926

In the 1920s, as Garrison Hall was under construction, the novel use of cattle brands on a college building garnered national headlines, and the University was highly praised for creating a “permanent monument” to the history of the Southwest. Above is part of an article published in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. The gentleman is holding the oldest known cattle brand used in Texas, owned by Jose Antonio de la Garza and granted by the Spanish government (when Texas was a part of New Spain) in 1762. Today, the brand is found nestled under the west eave of Garrison Hall.

Garrison Hall.de la Garza Brand of 1762

Garrison Hall.Cattle Brand List

Above: A listing of the 32 cattle brands. More on the history of Garrison Hall can be found here. Click on image for a larger view.

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Brackenridge Residence Hall

Brackenridge Dorm.1930s. Processed

Completed in 1932 and named for UT regent George Brackenridge of San Antonio, Brackenridge Hall was the first of a “men’s group” of residence halls, along with Roberts, Prather, and later, Moore-Hill Hall. In contrast to the symmetrical limestone “six pack” buildings that line the formal entrance to the University along the South Mall, the heavy use of brick and an informal composition give Brackenridge a more relaxed, residential quality.

 Above: Brackenridge Hall soon after it was opened in the 1930s. Below: Brackenridge as seen today from the UT Tower observation deck in the late afternoon sun.

Brackenridge Hall from Tower Deck

Brackenridge Hall.Daily Texan Article

Above: A March 24, 1932 article from The Daily Texan. Click on image for a larger view.

The spacing between the top floor windows display icons of Texas ranch life. Unversity student Bob Willson proposed the idea to the Faculty Building Committee, which liked the idea and recommended it to the Board of Regents for approval. Among the images: a cactus, shotgun, a roll of barbed wire for fencing, a pistol in a holster, a boot with a spur, branding irons, a canteen, the all-important chow-wagon, and, of course, a longhorn. Initially, wildlife was to be omitted, though a coyote baying at a full moon and a coiled rattle snake found their way on to the building. Texas wildlife was to be the theme for a future men’s residence hall, but the idea didn’t survive.

Brackenridge Hall.Ranch Life

Above: Cactus, a horse head, and a shotgun are seen above the Brackenridge Hall patio. Below: a Texas Longhorn looks out from the west side of the building.

Brackenridge Hall.Longhorn

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Main Building: The Hall of Noble Words

Tower Consruction 1935.A

The Main Building, with its 27-story tower, initially served as the University’s main library. Today, the building is primarily used for administrative purposes,and most of the books have been moved elsewhere. But a life sciences library still exists here, and visitors can wander through the cavernous reference and reading rooms.

The east reading room, named the Hall of Noble Words, is a hidden gem on campus and a great place to study for those who find it. Massive concrete beams stretch across the ceiling, intricately painted by Dallas artist Eugene Gilboe. Each side of a ceiling beam is decorated with quotes within a specific theme, such as: freedom, education, friendship, and determination. The quotes were suggested by the University faculty at the request of Faculty Building Committee chair William Battle. It was Battle’s idea that the students seated below would occasionally take breaks from their studies, look up, and be inspired.

Hall of Noble Words.2

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McCombs School of Business

Business Economis Building.West Entrance.1962.

Above: The west side of the Business-Economics Building as it appeared in the 1960s. The Graduate School of Business building was added in 1973 and covered the entrance, and sculptor Charles Umlauf’s creation – “The Family” – has been relocated to the south side of the complex.

Designed in the late 1950s and opened in 1962 as the Business-Economics Building, University students quickly shortened the name to “BEB,” and sometimes called it the “Big Enormous Building,” as it was, up to that time, the largest classroom structure on the campus. It was also the first equipped with an escalator, though it only went one direction, upward to the next floor. It was the ongoing joke that the students and faculty would invariably wind up stuck on the top floor by the end of the day.

???????????????????????????????The BEB was divided into three sections: an office building for faculty to the north, a classroom structure to the south, and a connecting passageway that housed the infamous escalators, along with study lounges for students, and mock storefront windows used by marketing classes.

Above the top row of windows of the faculty offices are a series of fifty abstract ceramic reliefs designed by UT art professor Paul Hatgil. His whimsical creations not only added color to an otherwise all-brick facade, their stylistic rows of small, raised circles were meant to be reminiscent of buttons, as the many inventions of the 1950s – from computers to vending machines – had transformed the modern world into what was then called a “push button society.”

Waggener Hall and Business School

Above: Old meets new. To the left, Waggener Hall was the home of the business school from 1930 to 1962. The terra cotta decorations under the eaves portray the exports of Texas at the time, including a tree to represent the lumber industry. To the right is Professor Hatgill’s ceramic panels on the current business building. (More on Waggener Hall can be found here.)