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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

1933.White.Coppini.Cret

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

Sources:

Archival

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

Books

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)

Newspapers/Magazines

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.

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.)

The Littlefield Gateway

Littlefield Fountain and Old Main

The newly installed Littlefield Gateway in 1933, with the old Main Building in the background. This campus scene was a short-lived one. A year later, Old Main was razed to complete the current Main Building and Tower. Click on the image for a larger view.

[August 2015: An expanded history of the Littlefield Gateway was posted here.]

It’s a long-standing question frequently heard on the Forty Acres: why is a statue of Jefferson Davis on our campus, and placed next to, of all people, Woodrow Wilson? The fountain and statues on the South Mall – collectively known as the Littlefield Gateway – have been praised and condemned since they were installed in the early 1930s. Their presence is the result of an extended conflict between two very different University regents who, by chance, had the same first and middle names: George Washington Littlefield and George Washington Brackenridge.

George W LittlefieldBorn in Mississippi in 1842, George Littlefield moved to Texas when he was six years old, and grew to cherish his Southern ancestry. He defended the Confederacy during the Civil War, rose to the rank of Major, and then returned to Texas to make a fortune in the cattle business with ranches in West Texas and New Mexico. He arrived in Austin in the 1880s and founded the American National Bank, which was eventually housed in the Littlefield Building that still stands at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue. Late in his life, Littlefield became a regent and benefactor to the University.

Brackenridge was a decade older than Littlefield, was born and raised in Indiana, and had attended Hanover College, Indiana University, and Harvard University. When Brackenridge was 21-years old, his family moved to southeast Texas, and he became a surveyor in Jackson County. But at the outset of the Civil War, while his three older brothers enlisted in the Confederate Army, Brackenridge became both a Union sympathizer and war profiteer, and smuggled cotton through Brownsville and around the Union blockade along the Gulf Coast to New York. After the war, he moved to San Antonio, founded a bank of his own, and ran the city water works. Brackenridge was appointed early on to the UT Board of Regents, and served for a record 27 years.

Because of the choices each made during the War Between the States, neither man held the other in high regard. According to Robert Vinson, president of the University from 1916-1922, “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.”

In the early 1900s, UT enrollment passed 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. Known today as the Brackenridge Tract, it’s used primarily by the Brackenridge Field Laboratory, married student housing, and the Lions Municipal Golf Course. He had planned to purchase 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. (In contrast, 50,000 UT students today occupy a campus of about 400 acres.)

Littlefield HomeThe idea was popular with Austinites. Local newspapers printed cartoons of UT students jumping out of classroom windows for a quick swim in the Colorado. But Littlefield, whose mansion (photo at left) was just across the street from the University, would have none of a “Brackenridge campus,” and searched for ways to prevent a migration.

The need of a larger campus resurfaced in 1919, after the conclusion of World War I. Veterans returned from the trenches in Europe to fill universities across the country, Texas among them. Relocating the University to larger quarters was again discussed. To head off a potential move, Littlefield contacted Pompeo Coppini, an Italian-born sculptor living in San Antonio. Littlefield proposed to build an arch at the South entrance of the University to serve as a gateway to the campus. On it would be figures important to Texas and Southern history. While it was a memorial in appearance, it was also another nail intended to secure the campus from moving to the Brackenridge Tract.

Coppini built a model of the arch that was featured in an exhibition in Chicago, but the sculptor informed Littlefield that its construction would cost more than the $250,000 Littlefield was willing to spend. Coppini offered the idea of a fountain instead, and at the same advised against a memorial to the Confederacy. “As time goes by,” Coppini argued, “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.” A compromised was reached, and Coppini set out to design 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 were representatives of the Army and the Navy. 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.Original Design.1920.

Coppini’s original 1919 design for the Littlefield Gateway. Steps on either side of the fountain rose to a small plaza, bounded by two pylons, in front of which stood the statues of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson. Click on the image for a larger view.

Immediately behind the fountain, Coppini created a small plaza bracketed by two large pylons or obelisks, 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. The remaining statues of Lee, Reagan, Johnston and Hogg were staged on either side of the fountain, and were Littlefield’s choices of important men in the history of Texas and the South.

The contract was drawn, signed, and accepted by the UT Board of Regents in April 1920. Just in time, as Littlefield’s health was failing badly. He died peacefully the following November, but had anticipated what Brackenridge might do after his passing, and left nothing to chance. His 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 dorm), and $250,000 for the Littlefield Gateway, all of which were contingent upon the University staying where it was for the next eight years. Just hours before he died, Littlefield made one last donation: his Victorian mansion would be turned over to the University subject to Mrs. Littlefield’s life interest.

Brackenridge was unprepared for this turn of events. He had hoped to combine Littlefield’s gifts with his own to build a new campus on the banks of the Colorado. With his diminishing assets at just under $1.5 million, Brackenridge would barely be able to make up for the Littlefield donations that would have to be forfeited if the campus moved. Brackenridge fretted, worried about his money, and grew seriously ill. He died in December 1920, just over a month after Littlefield.

Austin Statesman.Jan 21 1921.pg1.

The debate over whether to move the University campus to the Brackenridge Tract was front-page news in the Austin Daily Statesman for most of the spring of 1921.

Despite the setbacks, UT President Robert Vinson, a longtime supporter of Brackenridge’s vision, was unwilling to give up the dream of moving the University to a spacious, riverfront campus. As planned, a bill to relocate the University was submitted to the legislature in January 1921. It received solid support from the regents, Governor Pat Neff, and the local press. But once the bill was read and debate ensued, some legislators saw an opportunity. If the campus were to be moved anyway, why keep it 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, the citizens of Austin quickly united against the whole idea, and vilified Vinson for opening a Pandora’s box. The bill to relocate the campus was defeated. Land was purchased east of the Forty Acres, and the campus was extended down the hill to Waller Creek. Littlefield had won.

Littlefield Fountain ContructionAlmost 10 years were required for Coppini to complete the statuary for the Littlefield Gateway. The project was delayed by a bronze workers strike, and cost overruns seriously threatened Coppini’s design. To save money, the regents proposed to strike out the planned obelisks, an idea supported by then UT President Harry Benedict, who thought they would block the view of the old Main Building. Coppini passionately argued that losing the pylons would destroy the intended symbolism, but to no avail. The obelisks were omitted.

Photo above: Visitors inspect Coppini’s work at his studio in the 1920s. The figure of Columbia, symbol of the American spirit, carries the torch of freedom in her right hand, and the palms of peace in her left. 

By 1930, most of the statues had been delivered to Austin, and were temporarily on display in the Capitol rotunda. About the same time, the University hired Paul Cret, an architect from Philadelphia, to develop a new campus master plan. Cret was responsible for much of the layout of the campus as it is today. He designed the Main Building and Tower, Texas Union, Mary Gearing Hall, the “six pack” on the South Mall, and many others.

Littlefield Gateway and Old Main

The Littlefield Gateway was installed on the campus in 1932 and the fountain activated for the first time in spring of the following year. In this image, just to the right of Old Main, the Geology Building, now the W. C. Hogg Building, is under construction.

Cret reviewed the plans for the Littlefield Gateway, and thought the six statues surrounding the fountain were too crowded. To give each figure its own space, Cret spread the statues out along the South Mall, but at the same time hopelessly blurred the symbolism of the Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson figures that Coppini had intended. The fountain was finally constructed in the fall of 1932, and was turned on in March 1933.

Years later, in a letter to state senator Grady Woodruff, Coppini lamented, “After years of fighting, I was forced to accept the dismemberment of my original planned memorial, throwing to the four winds my conception and making of the various pieces of bronze just a senseless decoration of the campus.”

Littlefield Fountain 1940

For many years, the Littlefield Fountain contained cattails, lily pads, and other varieties of flowering water plants. Click on image for a larger view.

Cicero Quote

Behind the Littlefield Fountain, and not as well-known to those on campus, a brass door leading to the underground pump room bears the names of 97 persons from the University who lost their lives in World War I. Flanking the sides of the door, inscribed in the limestone, are a pair of quotes by Cicero on patriotism. Here, “Brevis a natura nobis vita data est, at memoria bene redditae vitae Sempiturna,” translates as, “Short is the life given to us by nature, but the memory of a life nobly surrendered is everlasting.” 

How to Borrow a Bell

or, What the Fulmore School gave to B. Hall, and vice versa.

Fulmore School Bell

The Fulmore bell safely resides in the courtyard of the school.

It was the final day of November 1911, as a chilly, peaceful, lazy Thanksgiving morning dawned on the University of Texas campus. The only holiday of the fall term, most of the residents of Brackenridge Hall – or B. Hall, as the men’s dorm was called – expected to enjoy some extra sleep. An inexpensive residence hall intended for the “poor boys” of Texas, B. Hall’s inhabitants didn’t possess many luxuries, and that included alarm clocks. For years, in order to wake everyone in time for breakfast and class, a designated bell ringer strode through the hall with a cowbell promptly at 6:45 a.m. every morning. But the University faculty took a dim view of the cowbell, thought it an unworthy instrument to rouse young college scholars, and at the start of the 1911 academic year had electronic chimes installed as a “more dignified method.” While this eliminated the need for the crude cowbell, the musical chimes turned out to be less than effective on slumbering students, who constantly had to pass up on breakfast in order to make it to their 9 a.m. lectures.

Bong! Bong! Bong! Bong! The morning quiet was abruptly interrupted at the usual 6:45 a.m., but not by a sound usually heard in the hall. A fire alarm? Startled residents rose from their beds and hustled outside to investigate. The noise came from the top of the building. As they peered up to the roof, they discovered a 30-inch brass bell, installed in a makeshift belfry in front of the community room on the fourth floor. How it arrived and who delivered it was a mystery, but the dorm’s inmates weren’t about to let such a gift go to waste. After a noontime Thanksgiving Day dinner, which was universally praised as the “best ever served in the hall,” the 120 residents gathered upstairs for a proper bell dedication. Junior law student Teddy Reese, who was also UT’s head yell leader, provided the oratory, described the history of the cowbells used in the past, dwelled on the failure of the electric chimes to serve their purpose, and expressed the “heartfelt and sincere thanks that is in the bosoms of all B. Hallers for the modest and benevolent donor of the bell, whomever it may be.” Katherine Smith, only the second woman to serve as the hall’s steward, officially christened the bell. “There not being any champagne at hand,” reported The Austin Statesman, “the ‘Belle’ christened the ‘bell’ with a bottle of good old Adam’s ale.” The bell was immediately put to use.

1911 B Hall Group Portrait

Some of the residents of B. Hall in a 1911 group portrait. Hall steward Katherine Smith is standing on the first floor, center, in the white dress.

In a remarkable coincidence, just as the unexpected bell arrived at B. Hall, a similar bell disappeared from the Fulmore School in South Austin. Opened in 1886, the Fulmore School was initially housed in a whitewashed, wooden, one-room structure just off South Congress Avenue. Austin resident Charles Newning presented the school with a bell in the early 1890s. A prized possession, the bell was rung a half hour before classes began every morning, and again as school ended for the day, so that parents knew their children would soon return home. Its familiar peal had been a part of the neighborhood culture for decades.

Early in 1911, the Austin School Board elected to build a new brick building for the Fulmore School, two blocks south of its original location. It was completed over the summer and formally dedicated on November 17, just two weeks before Thanksgiving. A short wooden bell tower, which looked something like a miniature oil rig, was constructed for the old bell, but it hadn’t yet been installed before the bell disappeared.

Fulmore Middle School.1934.

The Fulmore School in the 1930s. The building was completed in 1911, with a wooden bell tower (and brass bell) to the right.

As news of B. Hall’s good fortune spread to South Austin, the custodian of the Fulmore School began to wonder if the hall’s newly acquired bell, and the school’s missing bell, might just be one and the same. In the middle of the afternoon on Thursday, December 7, while most of the hall’s residents were in class, the custodian ventured to the UT campus and took an unwise risk. He entered B. Hall alone, quietly crept up the stairs to the belfry, and tried to examine the bell, which sported a fresh coat of red paint to disguise its former appearance. But the intruder was soon discovered, the bell rung in alarm, and B. Hallers sprinted from all parts of the campus to defend their home. According to accounts, one resident giving a speech in his law class heard the bell, abruptly stopped talking, and dashed from the classroom with no explanation. An engineering student was in the middle of a calculus problem at the chalkboard when the bell sounded. He muttered an apology to his professor – engineering dean Thomas Taylor – then jumped out of the first floor open window and hurried to the hall. Before the frightened custodian could make his exit, he was surrounded by a vocal mob of B. Hallers and doused repeatedly with so many buckets of cold water that he later remarked he’d had his bath for the week. But while the bell hadn’t been visibly identified, its familiar sound was unmistakable.

A week later, Dr. Harry Benedict, then serving as Dean of the University (what would today be called the “Provost”), received a letter from Arthur McCallum, the Austin school superintendent. “At a meeting of the school board yesterday afternoon,” wrote McCallum, “I was instructed to ask that the Bell which someone took recently from the South Austin school be replaced or put where someone can get the bell without suffering the humiliation of being watered.” McCallum explained that the bell had “summoned the children of that community to school for a long-long time, and I believe that the people of South Austin are more attached to the bell than the boys of B. Hall.” Certainly the custodian missed the bell, as he had been forced to improvise and use a cowbell of his own to call the children to school.

Benedict, himself a UT graduate and a former resident of the dorm, passed the note along to B. Hall steward Katherine Smith.

The fall ended with the bell secure in its B. Hall roost. It continued to be employed through the new year and into a chilly January, which included a rare, mid-month snowstorm. But as time wore on, the novelty of the bell waned, and “some embryonic reformer” began to urge his fellow residents that it was time to return the item to its true owner. As related in the Cactus yearbook, “So well did this Luther preach that ere long he had converted enough to make the project possible.” Since no one was willing to admit to kidnapping the bell, residents had to come up with a creative solution that would preserve B. Hall’s dignity.

On January 31, 1912, a letter was delivered to Superintendent McCallum from the “B Hall Boys.” It read, in part:

“Referring to the deplorable and regrettable loss of a bell from one of your ward schools and feeling deeply, but unresentingly, the insinuating remarks that have been made in regard to, and on account of, a certain melodious and more or less valuable bell which now swings in the B Hall belfry, we, collectively, individually, and separately, have unanimously agreed to heap coals of fire on your august heads (except the bald ones) by presenting free, gratis, and for nothing, and without trouble on your part, the same melodious, magnificent and misappropriated bell above referred to. This bell will be sent at our (or your) earliest convenience to the South Austin school which is suffering from ‘cowbellitis’ as once even B Hall did.”

B Hall Bell.Congress Avenue Bridge Crossing

Crossing the new Congress Avenue Bridge, B. Hallers return the Fulmore School bell atop a horse-drawn flat wagon on February 4, 1912.

Clangity-clang! Clangity-clang! The following Saturday afternoon of February 4, amid brief snow flurries, shoppers along Congress Avenue were amused by the ridiculous sight of a horse-drawn flat wagon loaded with about 20 residents of B. Hall, all dressed in various garb. One incessantly rang a bright red bell, and two others, one with a barrel and wooden pole, and other with a tuba, provided musical accompaniment. The sight and noise attracted nearly a hundred local school children, who followed along on foot or rode bicycles. At each street corner downtown, the wagon stopped and yell leader Teddy Reese led the group in “Fifteen Rahs” for the bell. The wagon continued across the bridge, over the Colorado River, and on to South Austin and the Fulmore School, which was three miles south of the University campus. Upon arrival, and with much fanfare, pomp, and ceremony, the bell was presented to the school’s custodian, who graciously accepted the gift.

A century later, the bell still proudly resides at the Fulmore Middle School, minus its coat of red paint.

1911.Teddy Reese Yell LeaderA few years after the incident (and, perhaps, after a statute of limitations had expired), Teddy Reese confessed to instigating the bell’s capture. In 1910, a new Congress Avenue Bridge was constructed to replace the older, unsteady pontoon bridge that once crossed the Colorado. A year later, the city’s electric trolleys extended a line across the bridge and into South Austin, and UT students began to take their dates on the trolleys to the south side for afternoon walks. The weekend before Thanksgiving, Teddy and his date spied the Fulmore School bell on the ground next to the new building, and Teddy decided that it would make an excellent alternative to the chimes used in the hall. Teddy approached his best friend in the dorm, Walter Hunnicutt (who would later compose “Texas Taps,” better known as the Texas Fight song), and together they recruited a crew of about 10 persons, all sworn to secrecy. In the late night hours before Thanksgiving, the group paid the B. Hall chef to borrow his horse and delivery wagon, went to the Fulmore School, carefully loaded the 300-pound bell so it wouldn’t ring, then returned to campus and quietly hauled the bell upstairs, where it was rung at the break of dawn.

Having returned the brass bell, the trusty cowbell was once again heard in B. Hall.