Myth-Conceptions: Some UT Campus Myths

Have you heard? The main library at Indiana University is sinking into the ground at the rate of an inch a year. The fault lies with the building’s designer – a graduate from rival Purdue – as he didn’t take into account the extra weight of the books on the shelves. At Iowa State University, any student who carelessly steps on the bronze zodiac inlaid on the floor of the student union building is thereby “cursed” to flunk their next exam. Undergraduates at Princeton warily avoid exiting through the Fitz Randolph Gate at the campus entrance before they graduate. Otherwise, they may never complete their degrees. And at Columbia University in New York, the famous statue of Alma Mater has an owl hidden within the gatherings of her robes. Incoming freshman are told that the first person to find the owl will become the class valedictorian.

Above: The Alma Mater statue at Columbia University. Looking for the owl? Check the robes just behind the left leg.

These are all campus myths, of course. They’re as endemic to college life as all-night study sessions during final exams. The University of Texas has its own collection of myths and lore. Some have been rooted on the campus for decades, while others are relative newcomers to the Forty Acres. Below is a sampling.

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Myth: When viewed from an angle, the UT Tower looks like an owl because it was designed by a Rice University graduate.

This myth is as old as the Main Building. When the top of the Tower is seen diagonally, two of the faces of the clock appear to be a pair of owl’s eyes, while the pointed corner of the observation deck suggests a beak. This is intentional, as the story is told, because the Tower was designed by a graduate of Rice University, whose mascot is the owl. The same myth has been extended to Austin’s Frost Bank Building downtown. Apparently, Rice alumni are very busy.

Actually, the architect of UT’s Main Building and Tower was Paul Cret, who was born in Lyon, France in 1876 and graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, then considered the finest place in the world to study architecture. When he was hired as consulting architect by the University in 1930, the 44-year old Cret had immigrated to the United States, was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and had his own private practice with offices in downtown Philadelphia.

In 1933, Cret completed a campus master plan that influenced the University’s architecture for decades. The South Mall and its “six pack” of buildings, the West Mall guarded by the Texas Union and Goldsmith Hall, the East Mall with the Schoch and Rappaport Buildings, Hogg Auditorium, Mary Gearing Hall, and Painter Hall are all among the products of Cret’s directions.

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Myth: The Perry-Castaneda Library was designed in the shape of Texas.

University librarians were fielding questions about the shape of the Perry-Castaneda Library well before it opened in 1977. The PCL – informally known as the “PiCkLe” – was planned by the San Antonio architecture firm Bartlett, Cocke and Associates, Inc. and proactively designed to ease the pedestrian traffic around it. Instead of a traditional square or rectangular footprint, corners were trimmed to allow for diagonal pathways in front and behind the building. Other parts were extended to make the best use of available area. The end result was actually meant to better resemble a pinwheel, not the Lone Star State. The Board of Regents approved the plans in March 1974, along with $17 million for construction. (For more about the PCL, see: Forty Years on Forty Acres.)

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Myth: The campus purposely has no North Mall as a Southern snub to the “Yankees.”

This is one of several North vs. South-themed myths which have pervaded the Forty Acres for decades. Another one claims that George Littlefield, the original owner of the Littlefield Home and a Confederate Major, donated the original land for the University campus but stipulated that no building be allowed to face north. None of this is accurate.

A North Mall was indeed planned for UT, a feature of Paul Cret’s 1933 campus design. Extending north from Mary Gearing Hall, where University Avenue can be found today, the mall was to have been the centerpiece of an intended Women’s Campus and bordered by women’s residence halls, Mary Gearing Hall (then used for the home economics department), and the Anna Hiss Women’s Gym. The mall was to have been longer than its counterpart to the south.

Above: An architectural rendering of the women’s campus north of the Tower, with the Alice Littlefield Dorm for freshmen women at far left and Anna Hiss women’s gym toward upper right. In the center, extending north from Mary Gearing Hall, was the proposed North Mall.

Funding issues delayed the mall during the Great Depression in the 1930s and again when World War II diverted the University’s priorities to the war effort. After the war, the needs of the campus had drastically changed. Returning veterans on the G.I. Bill flooded colleges across the nation; UT’s enrollment more than doubled in just three months, from 6,800 students in June 1946 to more than 17,100 the following September.

The land along University Avenue was needed for other purposes, including a Student Health Center at the corner of University Avenue and Dean Keeton Street (opened in 1950 and since replaced by the Biomedical Engineering Building) and a new facility for the College of Pharmacy, which was sharing an overcrowded Welch Hall with chemistry. With the additional traffic, University Avenue was needed for access and parking, and when the Blanton Residence Hall opened in 1955 on the west side of the street, a grand North Mall no longer seemed feasible.

Above: A 1958 view from the Tower Observation Deck. What was to have been the women’s campus now has a Student Health Center (top right) and a Pharmacy Building on the east side of University Avenue, and the Blanton residence hall to the west. The needed parking prohibited the development of a North Mall.

Why isn’t there a mall on the north side of the Main Building? The reason is a boring, practical one. The Main Building and Tower were completed in 1937 as the new central library, and while malls do extend directly from the building to the east, west, and south, one side needed to be left available for deliveries and emergency vehicles.

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 Myth: The Board of Regents refused to name the East Mall Fountain, “Peace Fountain.”

As the story goes, when the East Mall and its fountain were completed in 1969, UT students, many of them engaged in anti-Vietnam War protests, asked the Board of Regents to label the new water feature “Peace Fountain.” Allegedly, the regents sarcastically responded by naming it “Pease Fountain” after Elisha Pease, the 1850s Texas Governor who strongly advocated for the founding of the University of Texas. There is some truth here, but only with the first half of the tale.

Completed in May 1969, the East Mall Fountain was an instant hit on the campus, and briefly became something of a mini-Barton Springs. Bathers, waders, and floaters were common in the shallow pools, while others sat along the upper level with legs dangling over the cascade, or lounged and sunned on the grassy expanse of the East Mall. In true Austin style, skinny dippers were occasionally spotted in the fountain late at night.

At 2 p.m. on the sunny afternoon of August 3, 1969, several hundred “hippies, would-be hippies, and clean-cut American kids” gathered at the fountain. Organized by the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, a brief ceremony  dubbed the structure “Peace Fountain” before the group took full advantage of the cooling waters on a hot summer day. The event was reported in both The Daily Texan and The Austin American.

Less than two weeks later, on August 14, the Board of Regents voted to ban all wading and swimming in any of UT’s fountains. There were numerous complaints of trash, including beer bottles, left in an around the East Mall Fountain. The glass covers of the underwater lights had been removed and broken, and electrical wires torn out, which created a hazardous situation. There were also genuine concerns over someone falling from the fountain’s upper level.

Though wading was prohibited, the unofficial name “Peace Fountain” remained, and the new campus landmark often became a focal point for anti-war activities. When the LBJ Presidential Library was dedicated in May 1971, and with Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon at the ceremony, members of Veterans Against the Vietnam War tossed their military medals and ribbons into the fountain as a protest.

There was never a student request to rename the East Mall Fountain, but “Peace Fountain” was the preferred campus moniker for almost a decade. The Texan regularly used it as late as 1978.

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Myth: The window pattern on Burdine Hall resembles a punch-out computer card because the building was supposed to house the computer sciences department.

Certainly, the window pattern on Burdine is unusual, and this kind of thing is ripe for a campus myth, but it’s not true. Burdine Hall was opened in May 1970 for the departments of Government and Sociology. It’s named for John Alton Burdine, a longtime government professor who also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences (which has since been separated into several colleges and schools).

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Myth: Destined to be cut down for a construction project, the Battle Oaks were saved by Professor William Battle when he sat in one of the trees with a shotgun and defied the administration.

Not a chance. In fact, using a shotgun at all would be very much out of character for the bookish Dr. Battle.

A native of North Carolina, Battle was a newly-minted Harvard Ph.D. when he joined the UT faculty in 1893. A professor of Greek and classical studies, he quickly rose through the academic ranks, served as Dean of the University (today called the Provost), and was appointed President ad interim. Along the way, Battle founded the University Co-op through a $2,300 personal loan (his annual salary was $2,500), compiled the first campus directory, and designed the University Seal.

Perhaps Battle’s greatest contribution to UT was his tenure as chair of the Faculty Building Committee, which oversaw the development of the campus. Battle headed the committee for nearly three decades, from 1920 to 1948, and he took great care to ensure that campus designs and buildings were both appropriate to their setting in Texas and reflected the high aspirations of the University.

Above left: A 1932 photo of Dr. William Battle with a bundle of drawings for the future plans for the campus.

In the early 1920s, plans emerged to build a Biological Labs facility at the southeast corner of Guadalupe and 24th Streets, which would have required the removal of the University’s oldest live oak trees. Students and alumni raised concerns, while a faculty group  presented Battle with a formal petition. Battle agreed that the trees should remain, took the matter up with the Board of Regents and convinced them to move the building farther east, where it stands today. The oaks were later named for their champion.

Above: The Biological Labs building under construction. It opened in 1924.

A potential source of this myth can be found in the UT archives. Among those who advocated for preserving the trees was former law professor (and future Board of Regents chair) Robert Batts. In a letter to Battle, Batts passionately wrote that he would “come down to Austin with a shotgun, if necessary” to save the oaks.

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Myth: The George Washington statue is on the South Mall because Washington appeared on the Seal of the Confederacy.

A decade ago, there were six additional statues along the South Mall as part of the Littlefield Gateway, and four of them were of persons with direct ties to the Confederacy. It’s understandable that a visitor back then might think the likeness of Washington was connected to the same undertaking. It was centrally positioned, surrounded by the other statues, and was sculpted by the same artist. A closer inspection of the dates and inscriptions, though, shows the Washington statue was a separate project with a very different intent.

The statue of George Washington was the dream of Austin resident Frances Campbell Maxey, an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the first historic preservation group in the nation, where Maxey served as the Association’s Texas representative for 36 years. The main visitor gate to Mount Vernon, opened in 1899 as the “Texas Gate,” was built because of Maxey’s fundraising efforts in the Lone Star State.

Maxey read a 1924 newspaper report that claimed Texas was the only state in the Union without a likeness of George Washington. The issue remained with her for years until the D.A.R. began discussions on how to best observe Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932. At Maxey’s suggestion, the D.A.R. asked the University if it might donate a sculpture of Washington for the campus. The UT Board of Regents “heartily” approved of the idea at its September 1930 meeting.

The intent was to have a statue installed by the Washington bicentennial in February 1932, but the Great Depression made fundraising difficult, as well as the Second World War that followed. (The same affected construction of the North Mall as discussed above.) Not until the 1950s was fundraising completed and artist Pompeo Coppini, who’d sculpted the Littlefield Fountain and other South Mall statues, secured for the project. The statue was dedicated in 1955.

While a likeness of Washington did appear on the Confederate seal, it wasn’t the motivation behind the statue on the Forty Acres. (For more about the Washington statue, see: How George Washington came to the University of Texas.)

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Myth: Bevo was named because of the Aggies.

Some myths are stubborn. This legend was debunked more 20 years ago but continues to be told, especially by football fans in College Station.

For decades, the claim was that Texas A&M was directly responsible for naming the University’s longhorn mascot “Bevo.” The steer was a gift from UT alumni, presented to students at halftime of the 1916 Texas vs. A&M football game in Austin. The Longhorns went on to win 21 – 7, but several months later, in February 1917, a group of Aggie pranksters snuck into town late at night and branded the steer 13 – 0, the score of the 1915 game in College Station when A&M prevailed. Thus far, this is accurate.

Aggie fans, though, went on to assert that, in order to save face, UT students altered the brand. The “13” was changed into a “B,” the dash into an “E,” a “V” inserted before the “0,” and thus was born the name “Bevo.” This is a myth.

First, there is ample printed evidence soon after the football game that the steer was already known as “Bevo,” both in the Alcalde alumni magazine and in newspapers around the state. One of the articles was dated December 12, 1916 – less than two weeks after the game – and published in the Bryan-College Station Weekly Eagle (left), the hometown newspaper for Texas A&M!  This was two months before the steer was branded.

Second, there’s no record that the brand was ever changed. No photo of the mascot with “Bevo” on his side, no mention in any newspaper or any other published source. Some might argue, “well, that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” but history requires evidence. Using the same line of thought, we could also claim that Bevo was abducted by space aliens; the lack of supporting proof doesn’t mean it didn’t happen!

Besides, there are several accounts that describe the UT mascot as sporting his original brand. Perhaps the most important is from the Longhorn Magazine, published by UT students. It ran an article about the January 1920 football banquet – in honor of the 1919 team – where the steer, too wild to bring to football games and too expensive to maintain, wound up being the main course for dinner. A delegation from A&M was invited to attend and the history of the mascot was told. The magazine specifically mentioned the original, unaltered brand: “The half of the hide bearing the mystic figures 13 to 0 was presented to A and M with appropriate ceremonies.”

The steer was called “Bevo” months before he was branded and the brand was never changed. (For the story oft he first Bevo mascot, go here.)

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Tower Light, Tower Bright

How the Orange Tower Tradition Began

1.OrangeTower.Lead.

It was a night like no other. On Tuesday, October 19, 1937, as the sun dropped behind the western hills, the azure sky darkened to dusk, and a full moon peeked above the eastern horizon, floodlights illuminated the University of Texas Tower for the first time. Austin was changed forever.

Frank White and Bob Wilkinson, reporters for The Daily Texan student newspaper, stood on the Main Mall in front of the Tower, looked up and took in the scene, but struggled to express what they saw. They eventually agreed upon the phrase “majestic splendor” for the following morning’s issue, but were open to suggestions. “If you can think of any better description for the bath of orange and white light that flooded the Library Building Tower last night for the first time, you should be writing this story. Seriously, the splendor was majestic; so majestic, in fact, that students seeing it with us were entranced with its colorful beauty, and found no words to describe it.”

The splendor was just beginning. For the University, the Tower was an instant icon, purposely designed to be the seminal landmark of the campus. As architect Paul Cret explained: “In a large group of buildings, be it a city, a world fair, or a university, there is always a certain part of the whole which provides the image carried in our memory when we think of the place.” The Tower was meant to be that image.

For the citizens of Austin, the Tower was a radical addition to the city’s skyline. It was the first building to rise higher than the venerated dome of the Texas Capitol, which generated more than the usual share of controversy.

1.5.Austin skyline.Tower.Capitol

The Tower was also built 20 years earlier than planned. It arrived in 1937, at a time when modern, lofty buildings had just come of age in American cities, along with a popular new development: the use of floodlights. Sometimes described as “painting with light,” architects in the 1920s and ‘30s widely experimented with external lighting on the walls of high-rises, often with dramatic colors and dazzling effects. This, in turn, influenced what was a pivotal decision to install floodlights on the Tower.

The Tower lights, especially the use of orange and white, brought with them a great surprise. The sight of the University’s colors, displayed on such a grand scale against the backdrop of a Texas night, transformed the Tower into something more than a landmark. The lights added a new and unexpected dimension to the building, both in its nighttime appearance and in the swell of public affection at the sight of it. Had construction of the Tower waited until the 1950s as intended, it would have been built when new stylistic trends in architecture minimized the use of external lighting. The Tower might not have been floodlit at all, and the University could have missed out on one of its best-loved traditions.

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2.AAS.1937.Skyscraper headline.

3.UT Library.Main Building and Tower.1930s Postcard.In the mid-1930s, construction of the UT Tower was front page news. The Austin American-Statesman described it as “luxurious and palatial,” while the Texan waxed poetic: “Like the shining spire of some fabled city, the new Library Tower will rise in the air to keep company with the birds and airplanes.” Austin was getting a new tallest building, though not everyone was happy about it.

Make no mistake. The Texas Capitol was first in the hearts of Austin citizens. Finished in 1888, the building’s 302-foot dome was taller than the National Capitol in Washington, DC, and affirmed Austin’s role as the seat of Texas government, something the locals didn’t take for granted.

4.Paul CretOn March 8, 1930, after a decade of mixed success in campus planning, the University hired Paul Cret  (image at left) as its consulting architect. A 53-year old native of France, he was a graduate of the Ecole des Beaux Arts (“School of Fine Arts”) in Paris, at the time considered the finest architecture academy in the world. Cret had immigrated to the U.S., opened a private practice in Philadelphia, and was a professor of architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cret was tasked with providing UT with a campus master plan for future development, as well as finding a solution to the University’s acute library space problem. The existing library – today’s Battle Hall – had been judged inadequate for some time. There were several proposals, among them was a new library placed either north or south of the old Main Building, or a sizable addition to the existing library. All of the plans were either too expensive or inadequate.

5.1926 proposed addition to Battle Hall library.

Above: 1926 proposed addition to the UT library. Greene, LaRoche, and Dahl of Dallas. Today’s Battle Hall is on the left, while the extension would have been to the north.

By April 3rd, less than a month into his University employment, Cret sent the Board of Regents a “Report on the Library,” and argued that the best location was on top of the hill in the middle of the Forty Acres, the site then occupied by Old Main. He explained that the library would need to be centrally located and easily accessible. Because of the space requirements for book stacks and reading rooms, it would also be the largest and most monumental structure on the campus, which required a prominent setting. To Cret, the proper location of the new library was vital, as it was quickly becoming the focus of his campus master plan.

6.1933 Campus Master Plan.Paul Cret.

Above: The 1933 campus master plan for the University of Texas. The Tower is the focus, from which malls extend in the four cardinal directions. (The North Mall wasn’t implemented.) UT Buildings Collection, Alexander Architectural Archives, UT Austin.

While University authorities knew that the eventual removal of Old Main was likely, they weren’t prepared for it just yet. After all, the ivy-draped, Victorian-Gothic Old Main was the first building on the campus. It had great historical and sentimental value, especially with the alumni.

To solve the library space problem, keep the desired site, reduce costs, and not offend the alumni, Cret proposed building the library in two phases. The back, lower portion of the library would be constructed first. Officially designated the “Library Annex,” it included a main desk and reading rooms, along with several floors of book stacks. (Today, the area is used by the Life Sciences Library.) The north wing of Old Main would be razed, but it housed an auditorium that had been declared unsafe by the Austin Fire Marshal in 1916 and was unused. The annex would be connected to the rest of Old Main by a hallway.

After a period of time – Cret suggested 20 years, or sometime in the 1950s – when the campus had grown used to the annex and more funds were available, Old Main could be retired. The south façade and stack tower would be finished to complete the new Main Building, which would then assume the role as UT’s central library.

As discussion continued about a proposed tower at UT, the Austin City Council moved to protect the view and importance of the Capitol. The concern was understandable. Through the 1920s, fellow Texas cities of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio had all added near 400-foot tall skyscrapers to their skylines. Some feared that a similar development in Austin could shroud the all-important Capitol dome.

On April 23, 1931, Austin passed its first zoning plan, which limited the height of new downtown buildings to 150 feet. (It was later amended to 200 feet.) Exceptions could be granted. Two days later, on April 25th, the Board of Regents approved Cret’s two-part construction plan. Funding was granted in 1932, and the Library Annex completed the following year.

7.1933.Construction of Library Annex.Phase one of Main Building.

Above: Construction of the Library Annex, which included a reference desk and and two large reading rooms: The Hall of Texas and The Hall of Noble Words. The central tower of Old Main  is on the right. (For more construction images, see: How to Build a Tower.) UT Buildings Collection, Alexander Architectural Archives, UT Austin.

Phase one was to quietly sit behind Old Main for the next two decades, but pressure was mounting to find a way to complete the building early. Despite the economic challenges of the Great Depression, the 1930s were boon years for the University. The discovery of oil on UT-owned West Texas land had caused the Permanent University Fund to balloon with newly-acquired oil royalties, while a special constitutional amendment allowed the University to borrow directly against the PUF and launch a multi-million dollar building program. The Texas Union, Gregory and Anna Hiss Gymnasiums, Hogg Memorial Auditorium, along with new facilities for chemistry (Welch Hall), business (Waggener), architecture (Goldsmith), geology (W. C. Hogg), physics (Painter), and home economics (Mary Gearing) were all included. All of this activity generated an abundance of construction jobs, which helped to spare Austin from the brunt of the Depression.

Wanting to continue the trend, the University hoped to go ahead and finish the library. It applied for and was granted a loan from the Progress Works Administration, one of the many New Deal programs created by President Franklin Roosevelt. The  Austin City Council approved a height exemption for the 307-foot Tower, the only building to receive such an allowance for the next 30 years. Steam shovels began construction on phase two of the library in January 1935, and the completed Main Building was dedicated on February 27, 1937.

8.J Frank Dobie“Austin’s bid for metropolitan fame is progressing,” announced the Statesman. The University’s new Tower was not only five feet taller than the Capitol, the UT site was on a hill farther up the Colorado River valley and higher than the Capitol grounds. All told, the Tower enjoyed a 48-foot advantage in elevation.

Most of Austin’s citizens approved of the new Tower, but not everyone. Famed author and folklorist J. Frank Dobie was pointed: “For a university that owns 2,000,000 acres of land . . . it’s ridiculous. It’s like a toothpick in a pie.”

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9.1923 Thanksgiving Eve.Old Main floodlit.

Above: Old Main floodlit on Thanksgiving Eve, 1923.

Initially, there were no plans to illuminate the Tower. After all, it wasn’t supposed to be built for another 20 years. Floodlights, though, had already been on campus for some time. In 1916, as part of a great homecoming celebration for Thanksgiving weekend, temporary lights were installed in front of the old Main Building. The south façade was brilliantly lit, and Old Main’s Gothic-arched windows and steep rooftops could be seen for miles. It was a first for Austin. The lighting effect was so popular, it became a biennial tradition.

10.1926 floodlighting of Texas Capitol domeNot to be outdone, the Texas Legislature appropriated funds to illuminate the Capitol dome. (Image at left.) In February 1925, more than 90 General Electric floodlight projectors, most of them placed on the roofs of the Capitol’s east and west wings, were aimed at the outside of the dome, while 20 amber-colored lights were placed inside to shine through the windows. Another three amber lights were located in the “tholos,” the glass-enclosed, lighthouse-like room just above the dome. The arrangement was similar to what was then being used at the National Capitol.

The efforts to floodlight the Texas Capitol and, to a lesser extent, Old Main, were part of a much larger, national discourse between lighting engineers and architects on the use of external lighting for buildings. With origins dating back to the late 19th century – the 1889 World Exhibition in Paris featured the Eiffel Tower as a “light tower,” while the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago was famous for its vivid “White City” – the increasing use of electric lights had reinvented the nocturnal urban landscape. As skyscrapers grew ever taller in the 1910s, experiments in external lighting soon followed. By the 1920s and ‘30s, aided by a substantial drop in the price of electricity, thousands of buildings in the United States were illuminated.

11.1893.Columbian Exposition.Chicago.

Above: The 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The use of electric lights to outline the buildings and illuminate fountains had a profound influence on urban planning and the nighttime environment of cities. 

12.Jewels in the Sky.New York scene.Some architects considered floodlights a new building material, and proactively designed their projects to be seen after sunset. “Night illumination attracts attention like a spotlight on a stage,” claimed skyscraper architect Harvey Corbett. “The possibilities of night illumination have barely been touched,” added Raymond Hood. “There is still to be studied the whole realm of color, both in the light itself and in the quality and color of the reflecting surfaces, pattern studies in light, shade and color, and last of all, movement.” The use of floodlights seemed to accessorize what might otherwise have been dark and ominous structures. It gave them bright and cheerful nighttime garments, which transformed the American city. “There is a new Manhattan skyline – a new city of light and color rising above an old one,” reported the New York Times in 1925, which described downtown as “a huge city of illuminated castles in the air.”

Above right: An idyllic image of a 1920s skyscraper with floodlights on the upper levels, described as a “jewel in a setting.”

The lights included colors and special effects. Red, amber, green and blue filters were the standard selection, though colors could be mixed to create different hues. On some buildings, repeating dimmers allowed colors to brighten and darken and blend in an endless variety.

Naturally, General Electric, Westinghouse, and other electric companies encouraged the use of illumination, especially after the onset of the Great Depression, when the sales of electrical appliances had declined. The companies published a series of booklets that not only provided detailed engineering specifications on how to install floodlights, but included essays by noted architects on aesthetics and design. At one point, GE launch an ad campaign that claimed building illumination was a means to counter the gloom of the Great Depression.

13.Floodlighting booklet covers.

Above: In the 1920s abd ’30s, General Electric, Westinghouse, and other electric companies produced booklets with lighting specifications and essays by prominent architects.

14.Dallas.Houston.San Antonio.1920s Skyscrapers.

Above: In the 1920s, other Texas cities added illuminated high-rises to their skylines, all about 400 feet tall. From left, Dallas’ Magnolia Building with its iconic red Pegasus, Houston’s Gulf Building, and San Antonio’s Tower Life Building.

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In June 1934, the Board of Regents met in the President’s Office – then in Sutton Hall – to review the final plans for phase two of the Main Building, which included the south façade and Tower. Paul Cret traveled from Philadelphia to personally present the sketches and drawings, and to answer the regents’ many questions. After a lengthy discussion, the designs were enthusiastically approved. Contracts were awarded in November, and construction began the following January.

Among the plans was a recommendation by the Faculty Building Committee. Influenced by national architectural trends, knowing the impact the Main Building would have on the Austin skyline as a counterpart to the State Capitol, and in deference to the much-loved tradition of illuminating Old Main, floodlights were proposed and approved for the Tower. The decision received scant attention for more than a year, until well after construction was underway. The Texan mentioned: “An indirect lighting system accomplished through the use of flood lights at strategic points along the ascension of the tower will render it visible at night for many miles around Austin.”

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15.Carl Eckhardt.The person assigned to oversee the floodlight project was 34-year old Carl Eckhardt, Jr. (Image at right.) Twice a UT graduate, he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1925 and a master’s in 1930. Eckhardt joined the engineering faculty as an instructor in 1926, was promoted to adjunct professor when he completed his master’s degree, and was made a full professor in 1936.  An avid collector of the writings of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Byron, Browning, Thomas Paine, and others, he made it a habit to end each of his engineering classes with a tidbit of prose or poetry as a thought for the day. “In my opinion,” Eckhardt explained, “an engineer should be as cultured as anyone else, even more so.”

Along with his faculty responsibilities, Eckhardt took on several demanding roles on the Forty Acres. He was appointed Superintendent of Power Plants in 1930, and then was promoted to Superintendent of Utilities in 1936, just as he was named a full professor. In 1950, he helped to organize the physical plant department and served as its inaugural director for two decades. Eckhardt was, quite literally, in charge of the campus. His hours were legendary. Eckhardt usually arrived for work at 7 a.m., and, but for two half hour breaks for lunch and dinner, usually stayed until 10 p.m.

16.Spring Commencement Maces.For anyone who has spent some time on the Forty Acres, it’s difficult not to encounter one of Eckhardt’s many contributions to the University. Starting in 1956, he originated most of the ceremonial maces used for commencement. (Image at left.) Some made from pieces of Old Main, each one is full of imagery pertaining to the schools and colleges, University leadership, and alumni.

In 1958, as part of UT’s 75th anniversary celebration, Eckhardt oversaw the reconstruction of the Santa Rita oil pump on the south side of campus. Until recently, an audio recording at the pump relayed the story of the oil well and its effect on the University. Eckhardt was the voice of the narration.

He planted trees across campus, including many of the cypress along Waller Creek, advocated for an annual Service Awards program to recognize the efforts of UT’s non-teaching personnel, and self-published six booklets on University history, on topics that ranged from portraits of UT’s first 20 presidents, a volume about the University’s early years, and a booklet that explains the symbolism of each of the commencement maces.  (The works are in the library, and can still be found in local used book stores.) In 1980, a then-retired Professor Eckhardt was awarded UT’s Presidential Citation. The University’s Heating and Power Complex is named for him.

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17.DT.1936.03.03.Amber and White Lights.

18.Tower.Proposed use of Amber for top.To start, Eckhardt’s crew reviewed all of the literature they could find on external illumination, including the booklets published by the electric companies, and especially those by General Electric. The University would use GE’s “Novalux” light projectors (image below right), similar to what had been employed at the Texas Capitol.

Along with white lights, the available colors were red, green, blue, and the popular amber. Initially, Eckhardt considered amber to highlight the upper portion of the Tower,  (image at left) particularly around the Doric columns that enclosed the Tower’s belfry. Amber, though, is a yellow-orange hue. One look, and Eckhardt immediately realized that amber was too close to orange not to go ahead and use the University’s colors. Orange wasn’t a standard choice, however, and GE first proposed alternating red and amber lights to acquire an orange tint. But this meant extra lights would need to be installed, and, besides, the shade of orange wouldn’t be consistent along the surface of the building. Instead, Eckhardt ordered custom orange covers for the floodlights.

19.General Electric Novalux floodlight projectorThe floodlights arrived May 1937, the last significant piece of the Main Building, and were installed and individually positioned through the summer. While the building had already been dedicated on February 27th, the University wasn’t to officially occupy the space until the fall.

In all, 292 floodlights, half orange and half white, were placed on the four recesses, or “setbacks” of the Tower. The largest were the 96 1,000-watt lights at the Tower base, another 64 250-watt lights placed on the observation deck, 48 500-watt projectors to illuminate the belfry, and 84 100-watt bulbs around the parapet at the top. There were two circuits at each setback: one for all-orange lights, the other for all-white. Switches on the ground floor of the Main Building permitted the choice of color for each level.

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20.Tower.First use of floodlights.Oct 19 1937.The evening forecast for Tuesday, October 19, 1937 was postcard worthy: clear, cool, star-filled skies with a full moon. Everything was ready. At dusk, just before 6 p.m., the Tower was officially illuminated for the first time.

Eckhardt’s crew didn’t go for a simple, all-white or all-orange Tower. For this first attempt, they opted for something more subtle and elegant, and practical at the same time. Perhaps inspired by the images of multi-colored buildings in the floodlighting booklets, the crew wanted to try out more of the available palette, which, in this case, included a shade of light orange by combining orange and white lights together.

21.Orange Palette

On the night a floodlit Tower made its debut, the lower portion remained white, while the area just above the observation deck – which included the clock faces – was bright orange. Above that, the belfry displayed a light orange tone, while bright white shown from the crown.  (Image above left.) Today, the colors might be likened to an orange creamsicle.

The lights drew raves on and off campus. The following morning, Texan reporters Frank White and Bob Wilkinson called it “majestic splendor.” Their fellow students, “seeing it with us were entranced with its colorful beauty, and found no words to describe it.” The Statesman’s gossip columnist “Peeping Peggy” Harding gushed, “that the University colors of orange and white could blend so perfectly as they did that first night in the lights on the tower was a surprise to me; but the shading from bright orange at the base of the clock to white at the peak was a splendid sight. I think that experiment after experiment may be tried but none will be as effective as it was the first night.”

22.Peeping Peggy Harding.column heading.The experiments to which Harding referred were a seemingly endless variety of Tower lighting schemes that began October 19th and continued for nearly a year. In her column, she praised “Carl Eckhardt, supervising engineer of the beautiful doings taking place on the tower of the administration-library building on the campus. The effects gained with the various combinations that have been shown are wonderful, and at night as the hills lift their purple crown over the city, heads turn in the direction of the university to see the beauty there.”

Which design (or designs) University officials favored remained a mystery. “Tonight you may see an entirely different lighting arrangement,” stated the Texan, “depending upon the mood of the experimental crew. Acceptance of the lights is pending University approval, and what you see for the next few nights is definitely not definite.”

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23.UT Football Coach Dana X BibleFor UT football fans, the 1937 season was a long one. First-year head coach Dana Bible (image at left), recruited from the University of Nebraska to serve as both athletic director and coach, said that he would need five years to turn around what was then a lackluster football program. By the end of the season, it looked as if he might need all of it, and then some.

Texas opened with a win. Under cloudy skies and in front of a sparse 12,000 fans in Texas Memorial Stadium, the Longhorns scored a dozen points in the final quarter to beat Texas Tech 25–12. The undefeated streak, though, was short one. A trip to Baton Rouge, Louisiana the following week resulted in a 0-9 drubbing from LSU, and the third game of the season ended in a 7-7 tie with rival Oklahoma at the Cotton Bowl. Texas then posted three consecutive losses to Arkansas, Rice, and Southern Methodist.

24.1937.Texas 9.No 4 Baylor 6.

Above: 1937 Texas (in white jersey and helmets – with no face guards!) vs. Baylor.

25.1938.West Mall.First Color ImageThe great bright spot of the season came Saturday afternoon, November 6, in Waco, when a late field goal launched the Longhorns over the 4th-ranked Baylor Bears 9-6. Celebrations in Austin continued well into the night, especially on campus, where the weekly All-University Dance was held in the Texas Union Ballroom. Just a few steps from the Union, up the West Mall, the Tower base glowed white with the top portion bright orange. Like a giant victory flame in the middle of the Forty Acres, it reflected the jubilant mood of the University.

This has often been recorded as the start of the orange Tower tradition. While it’s true that the Tower was floodlit orange on the night of a Longhorn win, the former didn’t yet depend on the latter. Floodlights had been used for less than three weeks. No guidelines had been set, even the idea to use the orange lights in such a way hadn’t yet occurred to the lighting crew. The Tower was already set-up and scheduled to shine as it did, regardless of the final score in Waco. As Eckhardt later explained, “At the time we attached no importance to it. Like so many things that have become traditions, it only became important later.”

Above right: From 1938, one of the earliest color photographs of the Tower and Texas Union on the West Mall.

26.Tower.Top floodlight orange.Eventual victory lights.The campus was jazzed all week after the Baylor game. Was it a fluke, or had the Longhorns turned a corner? With Texas Christian University coming to Austin the next weekend, a Friday night football rally was scheduled on the newly-paved Main Mall, which hadn’t yet been landscaped with hedges and oak trees. On the morning of the rally, the Texan reported, “Even the University administration has gotten into the spirit of things. Bright orange lights, at special expense, will be diffused around the Tower tonight.”

Just after 7 p.m. Friday evening, a torchlight parade led by the Longhorn Band set out from the front of the Scottish Rite Dorm, marched down Guadalupe, turned east on 21st Street, and then up the South Mall to the Tower, which was floodlit in the same way it appeared the previous Saturday, with the top portion orange. (Image upper left.)

27.1937.TCU Football Rally on Main Mall.

Above: A crowd gathers on the Main Mall for the Beat TCU football rally. The familiar hedges and oak tress haven’t yet been planted. Below, Bevo III at the rally. 

28.1937.TCU Football Rally.Bevo III.More than 2,000 fans, Coach Bible, the football team, Austin Mayor Tom Miller, and Bevo III (image at right) made it the largest and loudest rally of the season. Unfortunately, Texas went scoreless on Saturday while TCU prevailed 0-14. The next week in College Station, Texas A&M beat the Longhorns 0-7, and the soon-to-be-forgotten 1937 season ended at 2-6-1.

Still, the win over Baylor and the TCU rally planted an idea with Eckhardt: what if the orange floodlights, instead of being used every night as part of a standard lighting scheme, were instead reserved for special occasions?

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29.60_000 Ways Headline

30.Tower.Light orange base.Orange and white top.The Tower light show continued into 1938 and was gaining a fan base both inside and out of the Austin city limits. “When lighted at night, the Tower can be seen in Round Rock, Manor, and other surrounding towns,” reported the Statesman. “Persons at San Marcos say it can be seen from the hills around San Marcos.” The best view was from the south, when entering Austin along present-day South Congress Avenue. “From the crest of the hill (today’s South Congress at Ben White Boulevard), the lighted Tower behind the lighted dome of the Texas Capitol offers a breath-taking sight.”

University officials boasted that, just by changing a single bulb, there were an estimated 60,000 possible lighting schemes. Among them, as the Texan described, “Some nights the main body of the Tower is white with a faint orange tinge. Solid white light plays on the clocks and deep orange lights on the area above.” (Image above right.)

31.Mary Lou HumlongAt other times, the lower part of the Tower was left dark, with only the upper portion lit up in some combination of oranges and white. From a distance, the effect made it seem as if the illuminated clock and belfry were disconnected from the rest of the Main Building, suspended over the campus. More than a few students voiced their support for the idea. Journalism major and track team sprinter Hiram Reeves said, “I don’t like the whole Tower flooded with light. The two sections at the top are enough. The first one should be orange and the next white.” Anida Derst chimed in, “Isn’t it beautiful? I think only the top should be lighted. I like orange and then white.” Mary Lou Humlong (image upper left) agreed with order of colors, but wanted to go bigger: “I would like to see them flood the complete lower part of the Tower with orange, and use white only at the very top.” The use of white lights on the upper portion also highlighted the extensive gold leaf that was originally placed around the clock and the belfry. (See: The Tower Gold Rush.)

At one point, the lighting crew attempted a striped Tower, with a center white stripe and orange along the sides. Students, though, claimed it reminded them of a barber pole, and joked that the University was advertising itself as a barber college. The stripes didn’t work all that well anyway, as the lights diffused and blended with height, which blurred the vertical lines. Alternating each of the four sides of the Tower in orange and white was also tried.

32.Full Tower Graphic.1.

Above: Some of the early Tower lighting experiments. From left: the “creamsicle” Tower seen on the first night, the top-lit only Tower, a vertically striped Tower, and a horizontally striped Tower with alternating orange and white levels..

 As winter warmed into spring, and on into summer, the Tower lights continued to entertain, but were more often seen in four basic configurations: all-white, with an orange base and white top (as Mary Lou Humlong preferred), with a white base and orange top, and all-orange. While light orange was popular and still made an occasional appearance, the use of both orange and white lights on the same setback made that section a little brighter than the rest and created an uneven composition.

33.Full Tower Graphic.2.

Above: The four basic lighting patterns that began to appear in the summer of 1938.

34.Tower.Alternate white and orange base to top.At the same time, the crew determined that lighting the upper portion of the Tower more than one color was difficult to see from greater distances. For example, the four levels of the Tower could be lit – and was, as one of the experiments – alternately white and orange from bottom to top, with an orange crown. (Image at left.) On campus and nearby, the design was easy enough to see, but from two miles away and farther, the details were harder to discern. Eckhardt determined it was best to light the entire upper portion of the Tower a single color.

As the fall semester opened, an all-white Tower was more often seen. Eckhardt began to use the orange lights sparingly, as reported by the Statesman, “confined to those times when the campus is visited by out-of-town and out-of-state groups, or when the university sponsors some annual event.” This included the June 1938 commencement ceremonies, held for the first time on the Main Mall, when the top portion of the Tower glowed orange to honor the graduates.

While the lighting experiments had slowed, there was still no set policy on the use of the Tower floodlights. Why so long to make a decision? At the time, the University was without a formal president. The much-loved Harry Benedict, who‘d served as UT’s chief executive for a decade, died unexpectedly in May 1937. The Board of Regents appointed John Calhoun, a math professor and the University’s comptroller, as president ad interim. Calhoun was a longtime and influential member of the Faculty Building Committee and had suggested the inscription that was carved on the front of the Main Building (See: The Inscription), but opted to leave the final decision on the Tower lighting to his successor.

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35.1938.Coach Bible at football practice.

Above: Coach Bible at a Longhorn football practice.

If the 1937 football season was bad, 1938 was worse.

At the start, the Longhorns suffered a frustrating, one-point, 18-19 defeat at the University of Kansas. LSU came to Austin the following week. The Tigers picked up where they left off the previous year, and handed Texas a second, 0-20 drubbing. Oklahoma was next on the schedule.

On Tuesday morning, October 4th, a few days before the showdown with the Sooners, the Statesman printed its popular and chatty “Town Talk” column by Editor-in-chief Charles Green.

36.Town Talkk Header“They’ve been having such a good time out at the University of Texas with the tower on the administration building that it seems a shame to say anything” wrote Green. “But why not have a little meaning in the change of the lights of the building – at least during football season? How would it be to flash on the orange lights and white lights when Texas had been victorious so that everyone would see and know and each night see and know again? And, on the other hand, when Texas goes down in defeat, light the tower in the calm white light? So that football players, as well as others, would see it every night and remember just what it meant.”

“Well, it’s just an idea,” Green continued. Maybe it’d be an inspiration. But any way you take it, that tower agleam with light is something to look at.”

The Texan responded. “One of the good ideas “Town Talk” in a downtown paper developed the other day was a new lighting system for the Tower. The plan called for lighting the Library shaft with the orange and white lights the following week if Texas won the football game and using solid white ones if we lost. The lighting effect would remind players as well as other students of the game the previous week and might help get them in the mood to keep the lights from being all white.”

While the time periods were different – Green proposed using orange lights only for the night of the football game, while the Texan had orange lights on the Tower for a week – the basic idea was the same. It fit perfectly with Eckhardt’s notions for making the orange lights special, and he welcomed the suggestion.

37.Tower.All orange.The “victory lights,” though, would have to wait a while. Texas was blanked by Oklahoma 0-13, and the Longhorns followed it up with losses to Arkansas, Rice, SMU, Baylor, and eventual national champion TCU. Only one game remained. The lone chance to redeem the season was the Thanksgiving Day bout with Texas A&M in Austin.

As had been the custom when the game was played at UT, alumni turned it into an unofficial homecoming and invaded Austin in droves. This was also the first home game versus the Aggies when the Main Building and Tower were fully operational. In the spirit of the prior tradition of floodlighting Old Main, Eckhardt ordered a distinctive all-orange Tower for the alumni the nights before and of Thanksgiving. (Image upper left.)

38.DT.1938.11.24.HeadlineWednesday night’s Thanksgiving Eve began with a football rally of 4,000 in front of Gregory Gym, followed by a second, bonfire rally on present-day Clark Field, and then a march en masse to Sixth Street downtown. Thanksgiving Day was a holiday for most, but much of UT held an open house in the morning to accommodate the surge of visitors. The president’s and deans’ offices, library in the Main Building, Tower observation deck, and campus museums were all available until 1 p.m. The Texas Union, then headquarters for the alumni association, was open all day. Kick-off for the game was at 2:30 p.m., and the University-wide Thanksgiving Dance was set for Gregory Gym that night.

More than 35,000 fans packed the stadium as an inspired Longhorn defense kept the game scoreless for three quarters. Early in the fourth, halfback Nelson Puett made a dramatic dive over the goal line to give Texas a touchdown, and while UT hadn’t converted an extra point all season, Wally Lawson found his mark to give the Longhorns a 7-0 lead. The win seemed assured until, with less than 20 seconds left, a botched Longhorn play meant to run out the clock resulted in a fumble that was recovered by the Aggies in the end zone for a score. Texas, however, managed to block the extra point as time – and the season – ran out, leaving the final tally 7-6. Jubilant fans rushed the field.

39.1938 Texas vs Texas AandM in Austin.Winning Touchdown

Above: The Longhorn’s winning touchdown to beat the Aggies.

As had happened the year before with the upset over Baylor, campus reveling continued well into the night, though this time centered at the Thanksgiving Dance in Gregory Gym. An all-orange Tower presided over the Forty Acres, and while it would have been orange regardless of the score, by now, too many people connected the floodlights with the football win. What Green had suggested in the Statesman, combined with Eckhardt’s own thoughts on the use of the orange lights, as well as the lighting crew’s year-long experiment on how best to light the Tower, had all matured into a new University tradition.

40.1941 Cactus.White Tower for 1940 losses.Orange Tower for wins.And this time, the UT football program had truly turned a corner. The following 1939 season would be a winning one. Newly-appointed President Homer Rainey formally approved the idea of victory lights (with an all-orange Tower reserved for wins against A&M), and left the use of orange lights for other occasions at Eckhardt’s discretion.

Which made Eckhardt a very popular person.

Above: From the 1941 Cactus. In a recap of each game of the 1940 season, an image of a white or orange-topped Tower signified wins and losses. 

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“Dear Professor Eckhardt, Would you please light the Tower orange for . . .”

Over the next several years, the Tower victory lights for football, spring commencement, and a few other dates became a well-established tradition, and seemed to have everyone’s attention. “If anything is wrong after some football game or some other event,” Eckhardt explained, “I get as many as two or three hundred calls at home.” There was, though, still no formal schedule for the lights, and Eckhardt constantly fielded requests, or, as he described it, “a great host of individuals who possessed a wide variety of reasons for wanting to call attention to a function in which they were participating.” Among the functions were alumni meetings and retirement parties, academic conferences hosted in Austin, fraternity formals, milestone birthdays, and championships won in sports other than football. Occasionally, Eckhardt acquiesced (always, of course, if the request was made by the president), but most were politely refused. Orange lights on the Tower were supposed to be rare and distinctive.

41.Texas Ranger.September 1942.In 1941, soon after the U.S. entered the Second World War, Austin was deemed too close to the Gulf coast and within range of enemy bombers. An air raid siren was installed on the top of the Tower, and the city formally placed on a nighttime blackout. From January 25, 1942 to November 1, 1943 – about 19 months – both the Capitol dome and Tower were dark, though the Tower was allowed to shine for spring commencements and a Thanksgiving Day victory over Texas A&M.

Image at right: Cover of the September 1943 Texas Ranger student magazine. A UT freshman during wartime is portrayed as a paratrooper, landing on the Forty Acres next to a dark Tower under blackout.

When the blackout was lifted, student Mary Brickerhoff (image below left) cheered via the Texan. “The Tower isn’t a building. You thought it was? That’s natural, but the building part is only an optical illusion . . . The Tower is Texas, symbolically speaking, and it is at its most impressive and its most Texan when it is lighted up at night.”

42.Mary Brinkerhoff“That tall column of stone,” Brickerhoff continued, “silhouetted against a blue-black night sky and looking as though it were lighted from inside transparent walls instead of from the outside, has been affecting many very different people in the same way for a long time. In our mind’s eye – or in what we have left of it after four years of study – we can see the Tower from a dormitory window on a night of our first year here. It was several blocks away then, and it looked big and impressive. But it wasn’t unfamiliar. Something about it said, “Don’t be scared. You’ll have both fun and trouble in this place, and when it’s all over you won’t want to go back and change anything. And the Forty Acres will mean more to you than anywhere you’ve ever been.”

Brickerhoff expressed what many of her fellow students felt – and what future generations of UT students would feel – about the Tower, especially freshmen, who were both on their own for the first time and adjusting to college life. During the day, the Tower could be seen (and heard) from almost any spot on campus, but at night, standing proudly under a starry sky or buffeted by a Texas thunderstorm, the illuminated Tower was an image of stability and purpose in an otherwise hectic college student’s life. Had the decision been made not to use floodlights, to leave the building dark after sunset, the Tower would still have been the iconic campus landmark, but wouldn’t have engendered the same kind of passion Mary Brickerhoff described.

43.1940.UT Tower at night.postcard.

Above: A 1940 postcard image of the UT Tower at night.

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After years of endless special requests, Eckhardt at last decided that a formal lighting schedule was needed. Late in 1946, with the president’s approval, a seven-member committee discussed the issue at length, and announced their guidelines in October 1947.

44.UT Tower.Top OrangeThe victory lights – with the top portion of the Tower orange – were to be lit on nights when the football team won, or when the men’s baseball, basketball, track, swimming, golf, and tennis teams secured a Southwest Conference championship. The lights would also be used for spring commencement and various holidays: Easter, Christmas, Texas Independence Day (March 2), San Jacinto Day (April 21), Victory in Europe Day (May 8), Victory in Japan Day (August 14), and Armistice Day (November 11). As the Second World War had ended only recently, and the University campus was crowded with veterans who’d enrolled through the G.I. Bill (See: Life in Cliff Courts), the last three holidays were still widely observed.

An all-orange Tower was to be a rare sight indeed, seen only on Thanksgiving nights when the Longhorns defeated the Aggies. A great many students, though, were out-of-town for the holidays and missed out on the view. After a decade of complaints, the policy was amended in 1957 to include both Thanksgiving night and the following Sunday evening to greet returning students.

45.1952 Flashcard Section.Daytime and Orange Tower.

Above: The 1952 flashcard section flipped from a daytime to a nighttime orange-topped Tower, with the moon in the upper left corner. Courtesy Bob and Lou Harris. 

As the years passed, the lighting schedule continued to evolve. The World War II-related holidays were eventually replaced with Memorial and Veterans’ Days. It was also quite obvious to everyone that the victory lights were reserved only for men’s sports. In 1952, Jaclyn Keasler, president of UT’s Cap and Gown, a senior women’s organization, wrote to Eckhardt about the possibility of using the lights for Swing Out. An annual spring event since 1922, part of the program involved transferring a long bluebonnet chain from the shoulders of the graduating seniors to the juniors, symbolic of passing the campus leadership roles and traditions on to the succeeding class. Eckhardt was receptive to the idea and brought it to the committee, which agreed. On May 1, 1953, the top of the Tower finally glowed orange for a women-only activity. Almost 20 years later, with the passage of Title IX in 1971 and the creation of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) in 1972, the University began to sponsor competitive women’s sports. By 1976, the victory lights were shining for their achievements as well.

46.1923.Swing Out and Bluebonnet Chain.

Above: 1923 Swing Out and Bluebonnet Chain ceremony on what today is the South Mall.

47.1963.Orange Tower with UT.On Thanksgiving night 1962, Longhorn fans were in for a surprise. The football team had not only defeated Texas A&M, but had completed its first no-loss record in over 40 years. If not for a mid-season, 14-14 tie game with Rice when Texas was ranked number one, UT would have earned the national championship.  In honor of the team’s success, and in the spirit of the lighting experiments of the 1930s, Eckhardt ordered an all-orange Tower and had his crew spell out “UT” in the windows, the first time the windows were a part of the display.

 

48.1963 National Football Championship.Tower with 1.

The next year, the football team finished the 1963 season undefeated and ranked first, then soundly defeated number 2-ranked Navy in the Cotton Bowl on New Year’s Day to clinch the University’s first national football championship. To celebrate, the Tower was orange for three nights, from January 1 – 3, 1964, with a “1” lit in the windows on each side. To prepare, Eckhardt’s crew spent two days sealing more than 100 windows with sheets of black plastic, and then left reminders in the appropriate offices to leave their lights on for the night. Today, a specially designed pull-down shade makes the process quicker and easier.

49.UT Tower 75th Annivesary.Logo and Tower.

On February 27, 2012, the Tower turned 75 years old. Students distributed birthday cake on the West Mall, the Alexander Architectural Archives, housed on the ground floor of Battle Hall, sponsored an open house with some of Paul Cret’s Tower sketches and drawings on display, and a historical tour of the Main Building was conducted in the early evening. Thanks to special approval by UT President Bill Powers, the Tower glowed orange that night with a “75” in the windows – the first time the Tower was lit orange to celebrate itself!

50.2019 and 2020 Spring Commencement.

Above: The 2019 Spring Commencement was the 25th year fireworks were launched from the Tower. The pandemic interrupted the 2020 ceremony, though the Tower still sported a “20” in its windows. Photos by Marsha Miller. 

By the 21st century, the Tower lights were thoroughly enmeshed in the University’s culture. Today, the Tower shines orange to recognize academic pursuits, including Honor’s Day, as well as faculty, staff, and alumni awards. The Tower lights not only mark the achievements of UT’s athletic teams, but national titles earned by the sports clubs under the Division of Recreational Sports. At times, the Tower is darkened in memoriam for members of the University community who have passed.

Best known, perhaps, is the use of the Tower for Spring Commencement, the signature event of the academic year. Held on the Main Mall since 1938, it was a somewhat staid ceremony with average attendance. In 1995, UT President Bob Berdahl asked that commencement be reinvented with more pomp and excitement. Special lighting effects were added to illuminate the Tower the designated color of each school and college, and the graduation year was lit in the windows. The most significant change was the addition of fireworks at the end of the ceremony. In just a few years, Spring Commencement was attracting overflow crowds of more than 20,000 persons.

The Tower lights, added almost as an afterthought to a building that was constructed 20 years early, has matured well beyond its “majestic splendor” and become a vital part of the University’s identity.

  • Sources: William J. Battle Papers, Carl Eckhardt Papers, and the UT President’s Office Papers in the University Archives, preserved at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History; Robert Leon White Papers in the Alexander Architectural Archives; UT Board of Regents minutes; Architecture of the Night by Dietrich Neuman; various booklets on floodlighting published by General Electric and Westinghouse in the 1920s and ’30s. The Daily Texan and Austin American-Statesman newspapers; Texas Ranger and Alcalde magazines.
  • Special thanks to the Austin History Center for helping to determine the height and site elevations of the Texas Capitol and UT Tower.

The Old Main Cornerstone

Above: The cornerstone of the Old Main sits in the front loggia of the current Main Building. The stone was supposed to be placed on November 16, 1882, but a rainy cold front postponed the ceremony to the 17th. Austin stonemason Ben Muschamp, who’d carved the letters in the cornerstone, didn’t have time to create a new one with the corrected date. 

It was a wretched morning. A cold front the day before had brought with it a frigid gale and steady rain, which forced a postponement of the ceremonies. Conditions hadn’t improved much overnight. For the moment, the rain had stopped, but a brisk wind enforced the damp chill of the autumn air, and the cursed clouds threatened to douse the city again. It was hardly the kind of day anyone had imagined to celebrate the beginnings of a new university.

On Friday, November 17, 1882, in defiance of the raw elements, a crowd of several thousand turned out in Austin to watch the laying of the cornerstone for the University of Texas. Just before noon, a parade assembled at the head of Congress Avenue, in front of the Capitol grounds. The place was nearly vacant. The old capitol had burned nearly a year ago, and construction of a grand new building hadn’t yet begun.

Leading off the parade was the popular George Herzog Marching Band. With their crisp, red and gold uniforms and brass horns, the group splashed through the muddy streets playing “souls stirring and foot stomping music.” Behind them, a long procession of horse-drawn carriages carried the governor, the University regents, the Mayor of Austin, and other state and city dignitaries. Following on foot were many of the city’s civic groups, dressed in uniform or their finest attire. Members of the Knights of Honor were joined by the United Order of Workmen and the Knights of Pythias.  The polished wagons of the Austin Fire Department came next, along with the Germania Association and the Austin Greys.

At the west entrance to the campus along Guadalupe Street, the procession was met by Austin schoolchildren, who joined the group as it climbed the hill. The assemblage gathered near the top, where the foundation had been laid for the west wing of the University’s first building.

Above: The cornerstone ceremony for the old Main Building. The stone is held by a hand crane just right of top center. In front was supposed to be seating on long planks supported by wooden barrels, but most elected to stand and huddle together in the cold. Click on an image for a larger view.

A crude, wooden platform was hastily erected at the construction site, upon which were seats for the distinguished guests. For the audience, benches had been improvised with long planks supported by wooden barrels. Most of the spectators, though, in order to keep warm (and avoid splinters), elected to stand, and huddled together against the cold.

Dr. Ashbel Smith, the 75-year old chairman of the Board of Regents, spoke at length. “We have come together to do a great work,” boasted Smith. “The corner stone of the University of Texas . . . far surpasses in solemn importance and in weighty, widely diffusive and long reaching consequences, any corner stone of any building hitherto laid, or likely hereafter to be laid, in the broad territory of the future millions of Texas.” A feisty orator, Smith was neither modest nor short of words. His speech lasted well over an hour, and he predicted a wonderful future for the new university.

Following Dr. Smith’s address, a few “official” items were placed in a small lead box that would be sealed inside the cornerstone: copies of Texas newspapers, a list of the Board of Regents, and a proclamation written by Governor Oran Roberts. But there was room for more, and the public was invited to contribute.

The crowd was ready, and the box was filled with an odd assortment of items. Business cards, police badges, a Bible, rosters and constitutions of local organizations, a piece of sheet music from a member of the George Herzog Band, locks of hair from several Austin debutantes, a cigar, and coins of all types were donated. Former Texas Governor Frank Lubbock contributed a lucky charm – a brass button – that he’d carried for over 40 years to ward off rheumatism, presumably to keep the University agile as it aged. Lastly, of all things, was a picture of Queen Victoria, clipped from a Harper’s magazine and mailed to the regents by “an unfortunate man in jail.” Once filled, the lead box was closed and set, and the hollow cornerstone lowered over it by a hand crane.

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Above: Some of the onlookers gather to watch the removal of the of the Old Main cornerstone in 1934, some sitting on the balconies of Battle Hall. In front, UT President Harry Benedict is fourth from right in the white hat. The camera on the tripod at front right took the image below. 

Above: The Old Main cornerstone is removed from its perch on the southeastern corner of the building, then taken to the president’s office to be opened.

Just over half a century later, on the sweltering summer afternoon of Saturday, July 21, 1934, UT President Harry Benedict, Board of Regents Chair Beauford Jester, and about 100 others gathered near the same spot to witness the cornerstone’s removal. Old Main was about to be razed to make room for the current Main Building and Tower.

Unlike the highly organized 1882 ceremony, the 1934 event was very informal. There were no planned speeches, though among the spectators was 64-year old Arthur Stiles, the only person present to have seen the cornerstone set in place. He recounted the colorful parade that braved a true Texas Norther and the “rotund bearded figures” who spoke glowing terms of the University’s future. As the cornerstone was removed from its resting place, a lone trumpeter at the top of the building’s central tower sounded “Taps,” which officially closed Old Main. The lead box was recovered from inside the stone and taken to the president’s office, where the contents were examined, recorded, and then replaced.

Above: The cornerstone as it appeared in Old Main. The carved letters were filled with paint to make them easier to read. One side listed members of the Board of Regents, the other displayed the names of the building’s architect and construction contractor.

Above: A crowd in the president’s office, then on the first floor of Sutton Hall, to see the contents of the Old Main cornerstone. The open lead box is on the right side of the desk. Click on an image for a larger view. 

When the present Main Building was dedicated on February 27, 1937, the box was placed inside the new cornerstone, complete with a lucky charm to fend off rheumatism.

Among the contents of the 1882 Old Main cornerstone:

  • The Austin Daily Statesman, Friday, November 17, 1882
  • The Galveston Daily News, Thursday, November 16, 1882
  • Dallas Daily Herald, Friday, November 10, 1882
  • Fort Worth Daily Gazette, Friday, November 10, 1882
  • The Daily Post (Houston), Thursday, November 16, 1882
  • “Governor’s Message” – Proclamation or Governor Oran Roberts,
  • to convene a special session of the Texas Legislature,
  • Executive Office, Austin, Texas, March 1, 1882
  • One picture card advertisement: George A. Brush, Austin, Texas, Dealer in Stoves, etc
  • One package of cigarette papers, belonging to N.P. Houx
  • A poem called “The Book of Life,” by Lee C. Hasby, Houston, Texas, November 14, 1882
  • “Constitutions of Grand and Subordinate Lodges of the Knights of Pythias of Texas,” adopted, Galveston, April, 1882.
  • Handwritten copy of the Roster of Mount Bonnell Lodge, No. 34, Knights of Pythias, April, 1882
  • “The Constitution and By-Laws of the Kindred Association of Texas,” 1882
  • A handwritten copy of the Board of Regents of The University of Texas, November, 1882
  • Printed Booklet: “Plan of Organization and Rules and Regulations for the Government of the Public Free Schools of the City of Austin for 1882-1883.”
  • A copy of “Form of State or Provincial Constitution Recommended for the Association of a State or Province,” and handwritten on the cover, “Return to James Down, Secretary and Treasurer, Austin Y.M.C.A.”
  • A handwritten letter to Alexander P. Wooldridge, Secretary to the Board of Regents. Dated November 16, 1882, the letter was from F.W. Hanks, then an inmate at the Travis County Jail. Enclosed in the letter was a picture of Queen Victoria, clipped from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.
  • Muster Roll, Company “A” 2nd Regiment, Texas Volunteer Guards
  • Muster Roll of Terry’s Texas Rangers
  • Printed Booklet: “Reminiscences of Persons, Events, Records and Documents of Texian Times” by Mrs. W. A. C. Wilson, Austin, 1882
  • Drawing of the “New Capitol of the State of Texas,” by S. B. Hill, 818 Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas
  • An envelope containing the names of the artisans and mechanics employed in the construction of the University’s Main Building, a drawing of the completed building, and a photograph of its architect, F. E. Ruffini.
  • Advertising pamphlet for “Bandy and Parker, Manufacturers and Dealers in Saddles and Harnesses,” East Pecan Street, Austin, Texas
  • A piece of an envelope with the return addresses printed: J. W. Graham, Druggist, 918 Congress Avenue, Austin, Texas”
  • The business card of “J.A. Southern, Austin, Texas, Hack No. 12” (a horse-drawn taxi)
  • Locks of hair from: Miss Stella Wooten, Miss Etta Wooten, Miss Maud Wooten, Miss Tommie Wooten, Miss Tully Folts, Miss Mary Goldwyn, Miss Will Elle Hardeman.
  • A copy of the music to “Allegheny,” by I. J. Heffley with the words “Herzog Band” written on top in pencil.
  • A one hundred dollar Confederate bill
  • A sergeant’s badge from the Austin Police Department
  • A copy of “The Holy Bible,” printed in New York, 1882
  • One U.S. Silver Dollar, 1881
  • One Peso, Republica de Chile, 1876
  • A round whistle
  • A cigar
  • Three pecans
  • One brass button (a lucky charm donated by Governor Frank Lubbock)
  • 8 street car tokens for the “Austin City Railroad Co.”
  • A 50 Centavos coin, Republica Mexicana, 1879
  • 2 U.S. quarters, dated 1853 and 1877
  • A U.S. nickel, dated 1876
  • A U.S. two-cents coin, dated 1865
  • 7 U.S. pennies, dated from 1857 – 1882
  • One dozen marbles

Sources: Photos of the cornerstone removal are found in the Alexander Architecture Archives of the University of Texas at Austin, Main Building and Library Extension files, Box D171.

The Misadventures of Bevo’s Head

For the burnt-orangest of Longhorn fans, the story of the first Bevo mascot is as familiar as the scent of fresh breakfast tacos on game day morning, and the sight of an orange tower that night.

In 1916, UT alumnus Stephen Pinckney, with some help from fellow alumni, purchased a West Texas longhorn steer and had him shipped to Austin on a train in time for the Thanksgiving Day football bout between the University and the A&M College of Texas. The steer, chosen because of his orange-shaded hide, was presented to the students at halftime (photo above) and then taken to a South Austin stockyard for care and safekeeping. Texas went on to win the game 21 – 7.

The steer was named “Bevo.” It was likely a play on the word “beeve,” which is both the plural of beef and a slang term for a cow or steer, followed by an “o,” though it was also the name of a non-alcoholic beer introduced by the Anheuser-Busch Company at the same time. (Think of it as “Beeve-o” or “Beef-o.”)

An on-campus debate ensued over what to do with the steer. Some wanted to brand Bevo with a “T” on one side and the winning “21 – 7” score on the reverse. Others thought that was animal cruelty and advocated for putting the steer out to pasture. The discussion was settled months later on February 12, 1917, when a group of Texas Aggies broke in to the stockyard and branded Bevo with the numbers “13 – 0,” the score of the 1915 football game A&M had won the previous year. With rumors swirling that the Aggies planned to return and kidnap the steer outright, Bevo was hurriedly moved to the Tom Iglehart Ranch west of Austin.

Six weeks later, in early April, the United States entered the First World War, and thoughts of mascots quickly took a back seat to the war effort until the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918.

When peacetime again returned to the campus, University officials considered the Bevo situation, and declared the steer was simply too wild to attend football games. Besides, many UT students had lost interest in Bevo; he had, after all, only made a single public appearance two years previously, and those who remembered him thought the mascot had been “ruined” by the 13 – 0 brand still on his side. Besides, the students already had a huggable, pettable live mascot in the form of Pig Bellmont. As it was costing 60 cents a day to keep an unsuitable Bevo on a ranch, the athletics department decided to make the animal the barbecued main course of the January 1920 football banquet for the 1919 Longhorn team.

Both Pickney and Iglehart attended the event, along with a delegation from A&M. “The branding iron was buried and the resumption of athletic relations, after an unhappy period . . . duly celebrated,” announced the Longhorn magazine, a monthly published by UT students. “The half of the hide bearing the mystic figures 13 to 0 was presented to A and M with appropriate ceremonies.” Bevo’s head and horns were mounted by a taxidermist in New Braunfels, and it and the other half of the hide were to be kept on the Forty Acres.

So, whatever happened to Bevo’s head?

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Above: The Victorian-Gothic Old Main Building.

A visitor to the University of Texas campus in the 1920s would have discovered a jumble of buildings whose disparate styles sent a mixed message for what was supposed to be a “university of the first class.” At the top of the hill stood the Victorian Gothic old Main Building, stately and elegant, its pointed windows and rooftops softened by the deep-green ivy that draped its walls. Nearby, the library and education building (today’s Battle and Sutton Halls), along with the Biological Laboratories and Garrison Hall, boasted Mediterranean facades with red-tile roofs, a style the Board of Regents thought was both appropriate for the bright Texas sun and honored the Spanish heritage of the state. Decorations on these buildings ranged from ancient classical symbols to contemporary images, and brought an air of sophistication to the Forty Acres.

And then there were the shacks.

Starting in 1911, with the University expanding faster than its funding allowed, and without monies for conventional classroom buildings, UT President Sidney Mezes had cheap, temporary facilities constructed. They were made from pinewood, without proper foundations, and outfitted with potbelly stoves for heat. Mezes ordered the “shacks” – as they were informally known – to be left unpainted in the hope that their appearance would be so embarrassing, the state would quickly replace the shacks with adequate buildings. It didn’t work.

Entire academic departments were housed in the shacks, which were summarily labeled with letters of the alphabet. Professor Spurgeon Bell, the founder and first dean of UT’s business school, taught his initial accounting classes in “G” Hall (photo at left). On chilly winter days, in order to warm the classrooms before students arrived, Bell’s daily routine began by stoking the coals in the stove left by the custodian the night before, and then hauling in firewood from a stack behind the building. The visible contrast of unpainted shacks standing next to the library or Old Main was striking, and was certainly not the impression UT administrators hoped to convey for an aspiring first class university.

In 1918, during the First World War, a row of additional shacks was built along the eastern edge of the Forty Acres next to Speedway Street. They were first used as barracks for the Student Army Training Corps as part of the University’s war effort (see “To Serve the Nation”), but were re-purposed as classrooms and offices after the war.

The shack at the south end of the row, perched on the corner of 21st and Speedway (where the business school is headquartered today), was “Z” Hall, home to UT’s Department of Men’s Athletics.

Above: A row of pinewood shacks on the east side of campus, where Waggener Hall and the business school are today. Speedway Street runs behind the buildings. Closest, at bottom right, is part of “Z” Hall, used by the athletics department.

The front door was on the west side, and upon entering, a visitor first encountered a long corridor filled with displays of banners and trophies, as well as footballs, baseballs, basketballs, and track relay batons from important contests. Here, too, were rows of team photos and framed portraits of those who had earned varsity letters (“T” Men), with a special section for athletes who’d lettered in three or more sports.

Above left: One of the trophy displays in “Z” Hall. 

Past the coaches’ offices, whose walls were crowded with still more team photos, action shots, and Texas pennants, a suite of rooms in the rear of the building was reserved for Athletic Director Theo Bellmont. Along with space for an executive assistant and Bellmont’s own office, an adjoining conference room was used for Athletic Council meetings. Here, mounted on one of the conference room walls, was the head and hide of the first Bevo.

By the mid-1920s, Bevo was largely forgotten by the University community. Few, if any, of the students were on campus when the steer made his 1916 debut or knew of his integral contribution to the football banquet a few years later. Bevo, though, wasn’t simply gathering dust. In “Z” Hall, a place overflowing with awards and mementos, the steer’s four-foot two-inch horns were put to good use. From each horn, a prized football was hung. One was the ball used at the 1923 Texas vs. A&M game, still splattered with mud from Kyle Field in College Station, when the Longhorns won 6 – 0 to cap an 8 – 0 – 1 season. The other football was saved from the A&M game of the following year, on Thanksgiving Day 1924, when the new Texas Memorial Stadium was formally dedicated. The Longhorns earned a 7 – 0 victory over the rival Aggies.

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“Texas spirit, which by many had been acclaimed a thing of the past,” announced the Cactus yearbook, “was officially revived this year by an exceedingly capable yell leader.”

In the fall of 1928, Lynwood Boyett (photo at left) was full of new ideas. Elected head yell leader in the campus-wide elections, Boyett worked hard to improve the measure of Longhorn spirit around the Forty Acres and at football games. He tapped in to the energy of the freshmen class and created a special “Rooter Section” in the stadium just for the greenhorns. So that the section would be unmistakable, Boyett asked the frosh to wear uniforms of long-sleeve orange shirts and bright white suspenders, with the traditional freshman class green caps. The University Co-op agreed to sell the rooter uniform at cost, and by the first game of the season, hundreds of first-year students had registered for the rooter section and purchased their uniforms. Along with leading the rest of the stadium in the Rattle-de-Thrat and Lollapaloose  yells, Boyett had the freshmen perform “card stunts,” better-known today as a flash card section.

Above: The freshmen rooter section performs a “card stunt.”

Boyett also hoped to add some pizazz to the football rallies, which were then held at the campus Open Air Theater, an amphitheater just north of the old Law School. (Today, it’s the hill just north of the Graduate School of Business building that leads up to Garrison Hall.) He bolstered the line-up with more speakers and performers, and worked to increase attendance not only of the students, but of local alumni and Austin citizens.

Before he was elected head yell leader, Boyett had served two years as an assistant yell leader. He’d dropped by “Z” Hall to see the Athletic Director Bellmont many times, attended meetings in the Athletic Council conference room, and learned the history of the steer hanging on the wall. As head yell leader, Boyett wanted Bevo to be a part of the football rallies by mounting him on the wall at the back of the stage. Having the original longhorn mascot on the backdrop, where everyone could see him, would certainly add to the atmosphere of the event, and it would elevate Bevo out of obscurity to a more “mainstream” University tradition. Boyett approached Bellmont about the idea.

Bellmont was hesitant at first.  Moving the steer head could damage it, or, away from the protective confines of Bellmont’s office, something worse might happen. He eventually agreed to allow it for the rally set for Friday, October 19th at 7:15 p.m., the night before Texas opened Southwest Conference play against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Above right: Yell leaders address the crowd at the football rally before the UT vs. Arkansas game.

The rally was a great, standing-room-only success. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) news reel crew recorded it and Saturday’s game, and highlights of both were later shown in movie houses nationwide. (Unfortunately, the film hasn’t survived.) Texas defeated Arkansas 20 – 7. Two weeks later, Boyett again received permission to borrow Bevo for the “Smash S.M.U.” rally slated for Friday, November 2nd.

It was the largest rally of the fall and featured baseball coach Billy Disch, who made his first speaking appearance of the season. “If you will just do your share tomorrow,” Disch told the cheering students, “the team will go forward to victory. The very atmosphere seems to spell it. You are going to help put the boys over the top!” A quartette from the UT Glee Club performed, Longhorn team captain Rufus King gave a pep talk, and the assembly practiced their yells for Saturday’s game against Southern Methodist. All the while, Bevo looked out to the crowd from his mount on the stage backdrop.

Above: The Glee Club quartet performs at the “Smash SMU” football rally, with Bevo mounted on the stage backdrop.

When the rally was finished and the lights turned off, Boyett and a student helper – identified only as “Freshman Harkrider” – were to carry Bevo to the law school library in the Law Building, just a few steps behind the stage. The athletics offices were already closed and locked, and the library staff volunteered to keep the steer safe until the next morning, when he could be returned to his usual haunt in the conference room.  The Daily Texan, though, needed a quick interview to complete a story on the rally before the newspaper’s deadline. Instead, Boyett and Harkrider, with Bevo in tow, headed north to the Texan’s offices, finished the interview in a few minutes, and then left for the Law Building shortly after 9 p.m..

Half way to their destination, Boyett and Harkrider were ambushed in the dark by five men. Bevo was wrestled away. The abductors made their escape in a car that Boyett could tell “had a rumble seat” and went the wrong way on the single-lane campus drive.  It exited the Forty Acres near the present day Littlefield Fountain and sped off into the night.

Boyett and Harkrider ran back to the Texan to report what had just happened, phoned the Austin police, and then went downtown to inquire at the hotels. No one had seen Bevo. It was a clean getaway. To add to the misery, the Longhorns lost to S.M.U. 2 – 6 on Saturday.

For the next two weeks, rumors swirled about the location of Bevo. A witness in Waco claimed to have seen an overcrowded car heading north to Dallas the Sunday after the game. Someone in the rumble seat had an orange Texas blanket covering “something suspicious.” An S.M.U. fraternity was allegedly openly boasting it had the kidnapped Bevo. The abductors were rumored to have been five freshmen – possibly fraternity pledges – who were ordered to drive to Austin and steal the steer. The S.M.U. student newspaper, The Daily Campus, printed a pair of articles: one claimed that engineering students were behind the Bevo heist, the second reported the steer had been seen at S.M.U.’s football rally before its game against A&M. All the while, Dallas area alumni were quietly making inquiries and reported what they learned back to the athletics department.

On Friday, November 16th, as the football team and yell leaders arrived in Fort Worth for Saturday’s game against Texas Christian University, word reached Boyett that Bevo was being held in a rooming house near the S.M.U. campus. A quick excursion to Dallas proved to be fruitful, as a rescue party composed of the yell leaders and a few local alumni safely recovered the steer without incident.

Bevo was triumphantly shown at a pre-game gathering of Longhorn fans on Saturday, and Texas won out over T.C.U. 6 – 0. After his brief “tour” of North Texas, Bevo at last returned to the serenity of the Athletic Council conference room, permanently retired from football rallies.

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Above: An almost-completed Gregory Gymnasium in 1930.

At 11 a.m. on Friday, April 11, 1930, the Longhorn Band met in front of the old Main Building, then proceeded to march down what today is the South Mall, turned left on to 21st Street, and continued to the corner of Speedway. Several thousand students, faculty, and staff followed along, as UT President Harry Benedict had declared classes cancelled for the rest of the day. The occasion was the official dedication and open house of Gregory Gymnasium.

The gym was the first of phase of the “Union Project,” an ambitious and unprecedented $600,000 fundraising campaign by the Texas Exes to build Gregory and Anna Hiss Gyms, the Texas Union, and Hogg Auditorium. The project was launched in 1928, but the stock market crash the following year and ensuing Great Depression made the going difficult. Some alumni were only able to contribute a single dollar, as that was all they could afford, while others wrote that they’d skipped meals in order to save enough for pledge payments.

Gregory Gym was intended to be both an athletic facility and auditorium, and it initially served UT and the citizens of Austin. In its first decade, jazz greats including Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller performed for all-University dances (photo at left), but so, too, did the Austin symphony and opera. The gym was home to the men’s swimming and diving, and basketball teams, and was headquarters for UT’s intercollegiate athletics, recreational sports, and physical education. The coaches and staff in “Z” Hall were happy to vacate the old shack and move across the street.

In the main foyer, glass cases were filled with trophies and photos, and Bevo, removed from his confines in the conference room, was reverently hung above the center doorway, where everyone could look up and see him as they passed through the foyer and entered the gym. There he remained for over a decade.

“Again calamity and shame have befallen on Bevo I,” announced the Texan on Wednesday, November 24, 1943, just a day before the Thanksgiving football game with Texas A&M. The University community discovered at the stadium and near the Tower “there was evidence that someone had been quite busy with generous amounts of whitewash.” The anonymous painter had left messages on how badly Texas would lose to the Aggies in College Station on Thursday.

Worse, though, was the outright destruction found in Gregory Gym. The horns of Bevo’s mounted head had been physically torn off, leaving only ragged edges. Whitewash can be cleaned; this was permanent damage to something irreplaceable.

“We do not know who is responsible for either prank; they left no clues,” wrote Texan associate editor Marifrances Wilson (photo at left). “Those who played these tricks were moved by a theory which is now out-of-date on this campus. They thought that by doing these things they could make the University of Texas students mad – fighting mad. They thought that they could dig up out of the dirt some of the old worn-out traditions – the same old UT – A&M hatred, reprisal vandalism, fights at the game, and so forth.”

At the time, the people of Texas, along with the rest of the nation, were thoroughly enmeshed in the effort to win the Second World War; a cross-state rivalry took a back seat. The football game was to be broadcast on short-wave radio to U.S. Armed Forces everywhere. “There isn’t time this year to hold old grudges,” Wilson continued, “it just isn’t worthwhile when we remember that all over the world, on fields other than Kyle, Aggies and Longhorns are fighting together.”

Texas won the game 27 – 13, and what was left of Bevo’s head was removed and rumored to have been placed in the storage area underneath the front stairs of Gregory Gym. Both the head, and the hide, have long since disappeared.

The Hall of Noble Words

On the University of Texas campus, it’s a place like no other. A room where the ceiling seems almost anxious to speak with visitors, to offer a nugget of wisdom, share a spiritual proverb, or proffer encouraging advice.

Here, over 80 years ago, the University’s faculty and staff came together hoping to inspire the students of their day and future generations.

When you visit, be sure to look up. It’s the best way to appreciate the Hall of Noble Words.

~~~~~~~~~~

Opened in 1934, the hall was part of the first phase of construction of the Main Building as the new central library (see “How to Build a Tower“) and one of a pair of spacious reading rooms. Embellishing the ceiling with quotations was the brainchild of Dr. William Battle, the chair of the Faculty Building Committee. Battle joined the UT faulty in 1893 as a classics professor, and had served as Dean of the Faculty (what today would be called the provost) and as Acting President. Along the way, he founded the University Co-op and was responsible for the design of UT’s official seal.

Above left: William Battle (left), poses with UT’s consulting architect Paul Cret (center) and supervising architect Robert White. 

With construction of phase one well underway, the Faculty Building Committee met in May 1933 and heartily approved of Battle’s idea for the east reading room, and then compiled a list of possible of citations as a starting point, “to serve as a basis for discussion.” It was hoped that the quotations on the ceiling would provide a source of inspiration for students studying below, who might occasionally glance up during breaks in their studies. The committee, though, wanted input from more of the campus, so that the final result was truly a University-wide effort.

Above right: Construction of phase one of the Main Building and Tower. The future Hall of Noble Words is on the second floor of the east side – the far side in this photograph. Click on an image for a larger view.

In early June 1933, Battle sent mimeographed copies of a letter to selected members of the faculty and staff. “Dear Colleague,” wrote Battle, “As a part of the decoration of the ceiling of the east reading room of the new library, the Building Committee contemplates the use of noble and inspiring utterances appropriate to the function of the room as an educational agency. The concrete beams offer long, broad surfaces well adapted for such a purpose . . . We might, with propriety, call the reading room The Hall of Noble Words.”

“The Committee would be greatly pleased if you would suggest utterances that seem to you appropriate,” Battle continued. “Perhaps the thoughts expressed may occasionally find lodgment in the minds of users of the reading room.”

Battle didn’t have to wait long for submissions, and they arrived from all parts of the campus. “I am much pleased by your suggestion for the use of noble utterances,” wrote accounting and management professor Chester Lay from the College of Business Administration. “I have myself often remembered and pondered such a quotation in the main reading room of the Harper Memorial Library at the University of Chicago:”

“Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider.” – Roger Bacon

“I like the idea of using inspiring inscriptions,” responded home economics professor Lucy Rathbone, “The thing that impressed me most in the Library of Congress was the quotations carved on the columns.” Rathbone offered:

“The strength of a man’s virtue is not to be measured by the efforts he makes under pressure but by his ordinary conduct.” – Blaise Pascal

History professor Ed Barker submitted Martin Luther’s “Heir stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders.” (Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.) Anthropology professor James Pearce suggested an Issac Barrow quote: “He that loveth a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter.” And Mattie Hatcher, an archivist in the University Library who specialized in the Spanish and Mexican eras of Texas history, provided a regional offering with a quote from Stephen F. Austin: “A nation can only be free, happy, and great in proportion to the virtue and intelligence of the people.” All of the above quotations found their way onto the beams in the reading room.

Above: The quote from Republic of Texas President Mirabeau Lamar’s 1838 address, “Cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy,” became the University’s motto and appears in Latin on the official UT seal as Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis, or “Education is the safeguard of democracy.”

Architect Paul Cret also offered his support. “The idea of inscriptions on the beams of the east room is excellent.” He encouraged the use of bright, intricate, and interesting designs to accompany the words, and counseled, “Do not be afraid of having the color scheme too high in key at first. It will become subdued with age – like all of us.”

Of course, Battle received far more suggestions that could be used, and the Faculty Building Committee spent the month of July making difficult choices. The end result, though, was a list that was both varied in content and well-represented across the Forty Acres.

Eugene Gilboe, the celebrated Dallas painter and interior designer, perhaps best-known for his murals in theaters throughout the state, was recruited to paint the ceiling. He used stencils for the letters and freehand for the surrounding designs. On campus, Gilboe was also hired to paint the beams in the Texas Union Presidential Lobby and the ceiling of Hogg Auditorium.

~~~~~~~~~~

In the Hall of Noble Words, each side of the eight ceiling beams has a designated theme, under which appropriate quotations are grouped. Freedom, education, and wisdom are among the topics, along with friendship, determination, law and mercy, and the value of books. Citations from Shakespeare, Tennyson, Kipling, Aristotle, and the Bible are here, as well as a passage from Alice in Wonderland.

The side of one beam was designated “Appeal of the University of Texas” and displays a single quote from Yancey Lewis, an 1885 UT law graduate (right):

“Let us in this University strike hands with the ancient and goodly fellowship of university men of all time . . . and pledge ourselves, as university men and Texans, to love the truth and seek it, to learn the right and do it, and, in all emergencies, however wealth may tempt or popular applause allure, to be sole rulers of our own free speech, masters of our own untrammeled thoughts, captains of our own unfettered souls.”

The brackets that support the beams display printers’ marks from the 15th and 16 centuries. Among them is the Aldine Press, founded by Aldus Manutius of Venice, Italy. Known for publishing Greek, Roman, and Italian classics in their original languages, Manutius was famous for his new italic typeface, emulated by his peers across Italy.

Aldus’ printer mark (left) displays a swift-moving porpoise wrapped around a ship’s anchor with the cautionary motto “festina lente,” or, “Make haste, slowly.”

Above: A quote from Sa’di of Shiraz (Saadi Shirazi), a distinguished Persian poet and author from the 13th century. To the lower right, the bracket displays the printer mark of Antonio de Espinosa, who immigrated to Mexico City from Spain in 1550 and founded one of the first printing houses in North America. Click on an image for a larger view.

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The Hall of Noble Words opened to rave reviews in 1934, though students sometimes complained that the chandeliers didn’t provide enough light in the evenings. In the 1950s, fluorescent lights replaced the original fixtures (photo at right), though the new lights were installed directly on to the painted ceiling. Just over half a century later, in 2007, the room was restored much as it was in the 1930s, with new – and brighter – chandeliers, though the removal of the fluorescent lights left permanent scars.

Left: The Hall of Noble Words soon after its 2007 restoration. Click on an image for a larger version.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presidential Poetry for the Holidays

UT President Harry Benedict was a poet – and sure did know it!

Above: A Christmas greeting, authored by UT President Harry Benedict, was sent on a one-sided postcard to all University alumni in 1927.

In 1927, Dr. Harry Benedict was the first University of Texas graduate to be appointed its president. He served in that capacity for a decade, still the record for the longest sitting UT chief executive. Benedict’s involvement with the University was deep. He’d earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from UT (as well as a Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard), then joined the faculty in 1899 to teach applied mathematics and astronomy. During his career, Benedict was chair of the Athletics Council, president of the University Co-op, and was twice elected president of the alumni association. He was the first Director of University Extension, and later served concurrently as Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and as Dean of Men before the Board of Regents asked him to take on presidential duties.

Academically, Benedict’s interests were broad and varied. “Dr. Benedict can right now engage a specialist in any one of half a dozen different fields in conversation,” wrote good friend and Texas naturalist Roy Bedicheck. Benedict was well-versed in economics, sociology, anthropology, geology, and history, along with math and astronomy. He was an expert on Texas flora and fauna, collected bird eggs with a passion, and took fellow UT professors fishing and camping along Bull Creek in northwest Austin and in to the Texas Hill Country.

Benedict could also write, and as president enjoyed composing an annual holiday rhyme – from him and his wife, Ada – for his official UT Christmas cards. Because of his popularity on and off campus, the cards were often sent to faculty, staff, and alumni across the state. Here are a few samples, discovered several years ago at an Austin book and paper show.

Above and below: The 1929 Christmas card featured a drawing of the Texas Capitol as seen from the Forty Acres, with Sutton Hall on the left. The artist was Professor Samuel Gideon in the School of Architecture. 

The 1930 card featured a photograph of a snow-encrusted old Main Building (where today’s UT Tower now stands) and some distinctly astronomy-themed verse (see below).

Click on an image for a larger view.   

The University’s Guardian Angel

James Clark’s Christmas Dinners for stranded students were legendary.

He was the youngest “old man” on the campus. The genuine friendships he forged with students and faculty were to him an elixir of perennial youth. For the alumni, he was among the most cherished memories of their college years. His kindness, humor, patience, and counsel, were invaluable, as was his courage to take on a staggering array of vital responsibilities. For more than two decades, James Benjamin Clark was the indispensable guardian angel of the University.

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Born in North Carolina, raised in Mississippi, and an 1885 graduate of Harvard University (photo at right), Clark settled in Bonham, Texas in 1873 with his wife, Florence, and opened a successful law practice. A decade later, Governor John Ireland asked Clark to serve on the Board of Regents for the soon-to-be-opened University of Texas. He accepted, but didn’t remain a regent for long. Ready to move again, and excited at the prospect of being involved with the initial development of a university, Clark offered to take on the duties of proctor. His fellow regents agreed. In July 1885, Clark resigned as a regent, moved his family to Austin, and at 50-years old took up the only non-teaching position on the Forty Acres.

For $2,000 a year, Clark was, in practical terms, the entire University staff. Along with his formal duties as “Secretary to the Faculty and the Board of Regents,” Clark served as registrar, bursar, academic counselor, groundskeeper, and librarian. He was also the campus financial advisor. “Parents are warned against the serious dangers connected with extravagance in the supply of money to students,” cautioned the University catalogue, “and are strongly advised to deposit the funds of their children either in the hands of a discreet friend, or with the Proctor of the University.”

From his home at the corner of 26th Street and University Avenue – where the Student Services Building stands today – Clark looked after the University community as if it were his own family. A student who missed class because of illness often received a personal visit. “After I left you the other day on the street car,” Clark wrote in 1899 to regents chair Tom Henderson, “I found the student threatened with appendicitis up, dressed, and out of danger. At the next house I found my boy with the broken leg (done in a friendly scuffle) doing well, and the other two who had fever were able to enjoy some oysters I had taken to them. I took supper with the mess [a campus eating club] and spent an hour talking with them. They live pretty hard, but are of the right metal. There are a dozen of them, and they have a short debate every night. The dear fellows seem very grateful for any attention shown them, or interest manifested in their work. Nothing gives me more pleasure than to cheer and encourage the boys who are making a brave struggle with poverty for noble ends. And they will win the fight.”

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Faculty, too, occasionally fell into trouble and needed Clark’s help. One of them was the rusty-haired Thomas Taylor (photo at left), hired in September, 1888 to teach applied mathematics as well as courses in mechanical drawing. His classroom in the old Main Building was on the third floor, directly above the library, and was outfitted with drafting tables, chairs, and a faucet and sink for cleaning the drawing equipment after class. Austin’s water works, though, weren’t always reliable in the 1880s, and the water pressure was often insufficient to make it to the third floor.

On the afternoon of May 2, 1889, near the end of Taylor’s first academic year on the campus, he turned on his classroom faucet, but no water was forthcoming. Since this had happened many times before, Taylor simply went downstairs in search of a place to scrub his equipment. This time, though, he forgot to turn off the faucet before he left.

Overnight, with most of the city’s residents asleep, the water pressure returned to normal levels, and the faucet began to run. Since the basin had been plugged, the water filled the sink, overflowed, and began to flood the room. By the next morning, much of the third floor was a large puddle, and water had seeped downstairs to the University library, where many of the books were ruined.

Taylor was more than a little upset, and was certain his short career at the University was over. But Clark reassured the young professor, quietly had the water damage repaired, and replaced some of the library books at his own expense. In a report to the Board of Regents, Clark minimized the harm done as “not so great as might be expected,” and took some of the blame himself for not checking the building more thoroughly that evening. The regents were reassured that steps had been taken so that a similar incident wouldn’t happen again. In part because of Clark’s intervention, Taylor remained at UT for more than 50 years, founded and developed its engineering program, became the first Dean of Engineering, and was one of the most loved and respected professors on the campus.

Above: A 1904 engineering survey class. Professor and Dean of Engineering Thomas Taylor is back row center, with the mustache. 

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Along with his duties to faculty and students, Clark had to look after the grounds. When the University opened in 1883, the square, 40-acre campus was inhabited by the west wing of the old Main Building, a set of temporary outhouses down the hill to the east, and little else. Near the close of the Civil War in 1865, most of the trees on the future campus had been hastily razed and used to build Confederate defenses for Austin. By April 1882, as the regents considered plans for a University building, the grounds were cleared of remaining tree stumps, and a mile-long, white-washed wooden plank fence was erected around the perimeter of the campus, with gaps at the corners and at the south and west entrances.

Above left: The west wing of the old Main Building in the 1880s. The planted trees and graveled pathways were added by James Clark.

Clark re-sodded the areas damaged by the construction of the west wing, laid out graveled walks, and planted live oak, mesquite, and cedar trees. At his home he grew English walnut and pecan trees from seeds, and when the saplings were tall enough, Clark transplanted them to the Forty Acres. Florence assisted by planting flower beds around Old Main.

The greening of the campus, though, brought unwanted visitors. Austin’s family-owned cows, which wandered freely about the town, found the grounds a favorite place to graze, and made a special effort to eat the tender leaves of the newly-planted trees. While Clark denounced the cows as the “most ruthless of raiders,” their appetites were also a distraction to classes. Harried professors had to regularly interrupt their lectures en masse to herd noisy cattle away from classroom windows. To stem the bovine invasion, Clark filled in the gaps of the perimeter fence with turnstiles and gates.

Surprisingly, the turnstiles weren’t very popular with the students. “They are nuisances to the stranger who is out late on a dark night, to the young ladies whose dresses are easily torn, to the tardy student whose overcoat pocket “hangs him up,” and to our regiment of absent-minded poets who commune with the stars during their evening strolls.” Besides, the cows had somehow learned how to operate the turnstiles themselves. Gates replaced the turnstiles, but were almost always left open. By 1895, the gates had been removed entirely, and the fence had fallen into disrepair, but the town cows had since found other places to graze and weren’t a concern.

Above: The Forty Acres from the southwest in 1895. The old wooden fence can still be seen along an unpaved Guadalupe Street. 

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Among his many contributions to the University, Clark was perhaps best known for his Christmas Dinners. For almost a decade after the University opened, only Christmas Day was allowed as a holiday. Students repeatedly complained, argued there wasn’t enough time to travel home and return to campus before classes resumed, and petitioned the faculty for a week-long holiday. In 1891, the faculty at last acquiesced. Most of the students fled the campus for home, but there were still a few, all of them residents of B. Hall – the men’s dorm – who didn’t have the funds for a train ticket.

Clark came to the rescue and invited the “leftovers,” as he called the stranded students, to his home for dinner. “There was turkey at one end of the table and ham at the other,” recounted Clark’s daughter, Edith. “We had individual stuffed squabs, cranberries, plum pudding, and everything that goes with Christmas dinner.”

Above: B. Hall as seen from Speedway Street. The dining room was on the ground floor in the central part of the building.

As the University’s enrollment grew, so did the number of leftover students, and within a few years, Clark’s Christmas Dinners had to be moved to the ground floor dining room in B. Hall. By 1900, more than 50 students attended, and the event lasted several hours. Guests traditionally arrived by 2:30 in the afternoon, where a complete Christmas banquet awaited them. “After the feast there was a flow of soul,” reported the Texan newspaper. “It was announced beforehand that every good looking person present would be expected to respond with some toast, and so there was a great rush to secure recognition from the toastmaster. Of course everybody spoke, and everybody covered himself in glory – even the freshmen.”

“Clark,” the Texan continued, “in his inimitable way, kept the audience in convulsions with witty anecdotes and sly humor sandwiched in between the speeches. He also favored the boys with an eloquent address on the University which called forth much enthusiasm. Among other things, he pleaded strongly for a proper understanding and confidence between Regents, Faculty and Students.”

While the University president sometimes attended and offered to share the cost, Clark was adamant on providing for the dinner himself.

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Above: The entrance to Clark Field, UT’s first athletic field, named for Clark in 1906.

“Editor of the Texan: I suggest the name of ‘Clark’ Field,” began an anonymous letter published in the student newspaper in the spring of 1905. “Judge Clark is a lover of sport and by his own testimony is a trained athlete. The name is easy to remember and is one we all love. If no better name can be found, I move we adopt it.” The note was authored by David Frank, The Texan’s editor, who had actually written the note to himself. Frank had been on the newspaper staff since his freshman year, and later remembered, “When I first went to the University in 1901, Alex Deussen and the editors who followed him were constantly referring to the fact that at other schools the athletic fields had definite names, whereas at the University of Texas people merely spoke of it as the athletic field.”

The field in question was a lot just east of the Forty Acres, about where the O’Donnell Building and the Gates-Dell Computer Science Complex are today. The University purchased the land in 1899 to use as an athletic field.

Frank’s idea to name the field after Clark quickly found traction on the campus. Letters from fellow students appeared, and Frank began to refer to the grounds as “Clark Field” in print. His successor continued the effort. By the fall of 1906, the Athletic Council approved the name, and the Board of Regents quickly made it official.

Above: The present day Caven Lacrosse and Sports Center at Clark Field is managed by the Division of Recreational Sports.

Through the years, Clark Field has wandered about the campus. When the original athletic field was closed in the 1920s in favor of the present DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium, the name Clark was assigned to a new baseball facility where the Bass Concert Hall now stands. Baseball moved to its present location in 1975, and the old “Freshman Field” along San Jacinto Boulevard was renamed for Clark and placed under the management of the Division of Recreational Sports.

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On December 6, 1908, James and Florence Clark arrived at the auditorium of the old Main Building to hear a speech by William Jennings Bryan, the three-time presidential nominee. Clark smiled and waved to his many friends, and the couple took their usual seats on the front row. Just minutes before the start of the program, Clark’s head dropped, and his shoulders slumped forward. Florence knew immediately that something was wrong. Clark was hurried to his office while a doctor was summoned, but it was too late. At the conclusion of Bryan’s speech, Bryan himself learned, and then announced, that the University’s beloved proctor of twenty-three years had passed away.

Two days later, an enormous crowd that included UT President Sidney Mezes, the Board of Regents, the entire faculty and student body, and many alumni and friends in Austin, gathered at the Clark residence. With a horse-drawn cart to carry Clark’s coffin in front, the assemblage formed double lines and quietly followed for more than two miles to Austin’s Oakwood Cemetery, where Clark was interred.

Efforts to memorialize Clark were numerous, and among them was one written by Dean Thomas Taylor: “For nearly a quarter of a century he was the guardian angel of the University, and his life here was a benediction to the students, faculty and alumni. The night was never too dark for him to go to the help of a student or professor in need. He was the associate of the distinguished men that have shed glory on the University of Texas – Mallet, Humphreys, Roberts, Dabney, Gould and Waggener. The places of these great men have been filled with able men, but until the world produces another prophet Samuel, the place of James B. Clark will never be filled.”

Above: The senior class of 1909 donated a stained glass window in memory of James Clark. It was initially installed in a place of honor, above the south entrance of the old Main Building. In the 1930s, when Old Main was razed and replaced by the current Main Building and Tower, the window was preserved and can be seen just inside the Office of the Dean of Graduate Studies on the first floor.

The Tower Gold Rush

A recent discovery adds to what we know about the UT Tower.

Above: The rim and hands of the UT Tower clock are gilded with gold leaf. A recent discovery has found that the Tower originally had much more gold.

Behold a room of treasures. Tucked away on the ground floor of Battle Hall is the Alexander Architectural Archives, a vast collection of more than a quarter-million drawings, tens of thousands of photographs, letters, and building models. It is the largest resource of its kind in the state.

For those interested in UT’s architectural history, this is the mother lode. The archives preserves the designs, blueprints, and correspondence for most of the University’s buildings, including those that have long since disappeared from the Forty Acres.

There are hundreds of drawings for the Main Building and Tower alone. Some are of more pragmatic details: the schematics for the plumbing, for example, or the parts of a window. But others are highly-detailed, hand-drawn, breathtaking designs, and often in color. They took days or weeks to prepare, the shading on a building added one meticulous pencil line at a time.

Above: The reading room of the Alexander Architectural Archives. On the table in front is a color rendering of the Tower clock at half scale, while framed in the back is drawing number 100, a detailed look at the top of the Tower.

Of these, one of the best-known is listed as “drawing number 100” (photo at right). It’s a 5 x 3 foot view of the top of the Tower, with all of the ornamental features intended by architect Paul Cret carefully labeled. Because it’s is so admired, it has been specially framed and usually sits on a dolly toward the back of the reading room. After more than 80 years, UT officials still consult it.

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One of the drawing’s more curious details is the use of gold leaf. As anyone who’s seen the Tower knows, the rims and hands of the clock faces are gold. From articles found in The Daily Texan, the gold leaf was applied in October 1936, just a few months before the Main Building was officially dedicated in February 1937.

A closer inspection of the drawing, though, shows that gold leaf was also planned to highlight the limestone carvings around each of the clock faces, along with the belfry at the top of the Tower. Similar instructions for gold leaf appear on other drawings.

Above: A close-up of drawing 100 in the area just below the clock. The term “gilded” can be seen in the lower left with arrows pointing to the highlighted parts of the carving. Click on any image for a larger version.

Above: Just above the belfry, more sections are labled “gilded,” including the capitols of the Doric columns, and the areas around the carved bunting along the top.

Was all of that gold leaf actually applied? For years, the general consensus was no. There didn’t seem to be any record of it in the archives, though there weren’t any accounts of placing gold leaf on the clock faces, either, and we certainly know that happened. It may be those records were lost. But there was also no trace of the gilding on the Tower. While the weather may have removed most of it over the years, there ought to be some remnants still present in the protected nooks and crannies of the limestone carvings. The Tower, though, was clean. Given the evidence – or lack of it – it was natural to conclude that when the Main Building opened in 1937, the gold leaf was limited to the clock faces.

Earlier this fall, I was researching another UT history topic and happened upon a 1943 film about Austin on the Texas Archive of the Moving Image web site. Produced by the Chamber of Commerce, it was titled “Austin, the Friendly City” and relayed the experiences of a fictitious family who had just moved to the Texas capital. The film was a little grainy and the colored was faded, but about halfway through (at the 16:10 mark), there was a shot of the Tower’s observation deck and the clock. It didn’t look quite right.

Above: A screen shot from the 1943 film “Austin, the Friendly City.”

The scene was filmed in the late afternoon, but there were pieces around the clock face that were “shiny,” and reflected the sun differently from bare limestone. They were also gold in color, while the rest was a light gray. I compared a screen shot from the film with a copy of drawing 100, and the gold areas matched just right. Since the film was made just six years after the Tower opened, the film might be the earliest color close-up image we have, and if gold leaf was used, it would still be readily apparent. To be certain, though, more evidence was needed.

A search through the Alexander Archives was disappointing. As mentioned above, any documentation of the use of gold leaf on the clock faces or elsewhere had either been lost or were hiding in an unexplored folder. Instead, the hunt led to the Briscoe Center for American History, home of the UT Archives and another impressive collection of photographs. One day, while combing through a massive folder of images of the Main Building, magnifying glass in hand, I stumbled upon a 1938 black and white photograph of the Tower on a partly cloudy day, and where the angle of the sun left the side of the Tower in the image in shadow (image at left). Most of the pictures had been in full sunlight, and the bright white limestone made it difficult to tell if it had been highlighted with gold leaf. But in shadow, the differences between limestone and gold were unmistakable. Once I learned how to search for it, the gold leaf was apparent in other images, too. The University had indeed followed through with Paul Cret’s designs; the Tower once sported a great deal of gold leaf.

Above: Surprise! When the UT Tower was dedicated in 1937, it was fancily dressed in gold leaf around the clock faces and up by the belfry, all according to architect Paul Cret’s original designs. Click on the image for a larger view.

Above: A close-up view of the clock face.

What happened? The rough Texas weather took its toll. A review of photographs after 1938 show the gold leaf lasted for about 20 years, but by the late 1940s was already becoming spotty. It had disappeared entirely by the mid-1950s.

In the spring of 1966, both the Main Building and Welch Hall were sandblasted clean before objections were raised about the damage sandblasting would do to the limestone ornamentation. It likely erased any remaining traces of the original gold leaf, but we still have the photographic evidence to show us how UT’s iconic Tower originally appeared.

Left: A photo and caption from the May 15, 1966 issue of The Daily Texan. Click on the image for a larger view.

 

 

 

 

Sources

  • The Paul Cret drawing of the Tower – “drawing number 100” – is officially referenced as: Main Building and Library Extension, Drawing 100, The UT Buildings Collection, Alexander Architectural Archives, The University of Texas at Austin.
  • The 1938 image of the Tower is credited as: Prints and Photographs Collection, di_11166, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Texas Engineers Know How to Party!

The Thanksgiving Eve Engineering Reception drew capacity crowds.

Above: The Engineering Building, today’s Gebauer Building.

It was the social event of the fall term. Everyone wanted to attend. For a decade on Thanksgiving Eve, students, faculty, staff, and alumni donned their finest attire, gathered on the Forty Acres, and headed straight for – of all places – the Engineering Building. There, they were dazzled by the electric lights, amazed at the science exhibits, laughed at the variety show, enjoyed the plentiful refreshments, sang along at the rooftop concert, and danced into the wee hours on the top floor.

Thanksgiving could wait. This was the Engineering Reception!

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Starting in 1900, Dean of Engineering Thomas Taylor (photo at right) hosted an annual banquet for his students. Held at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin, Taylor scheduled the event near Thanksgiving to ensure his engineers enjoyed a feast, as most wouldn’t make it home for the holiday. University students were inclined to remain in Austin for Thanksgiving. There was always a home football game scheduled that afternoon, usually against the A&M College of Texas. Besides, Friday was a class day, and there usually wasn’t enough time to make the trip to home and back.

By 1907, the engineers had exceeded the capacity of the Driskill. “On account of the marvelous growth of the engineering department,” announced The Texan newspaper, “the annual Engineers’ Banquet had to be abandoned this year.” The students met to discuss the issue, and “it was the unanimous choice of those present to hold a reception, smoker, roof garden party, and dance.” It was ambitious idea. The Engineering Building, newly opened in 1904, was to be transformed into the venue they needed, and they planned to invite the public to celebrate with them. Thanksgiving Eve was chosen as the date, as engineering alumni would be in town for the football game and could attend as well.

Above: The top floor of the Engineering Building was a drawing studio that would serve as the main dance hall. The desks were pushed together to create a stage for the band. Courtesy Alexander Architectural Archives, UT Buildings Collection, Box 249.5

As they began to plan, the students soon discovered that their Engineering Building, though full of classrooms, a library, and labs, would be a great place to host a party. The roof offered a grand view of the campus and the Texas Capitol to the south. The top floor, a single, well-lit open room, was the drawing studio, and was easily the best choice for a ballroom. A lecture hall along the east side of the second floor was a natural for a planned variety show and smoker, and other rooms in the building could be remade into lounges.

The reception opened at 7:30 p.m. and guests were treated to a building thoroughly transformed from basement to roof. The stairways and rooms were draped with holly, imported by train from East Texas, along with orange and white bunting and large Texas pennants. Newfangled electric lights of various colors, powered by a basement generator in the electrical engineering lab, were strung across the ceiling of the top floor ballroom.

Everyone received a printed program for the evening, which included a well-crafted welcome message:

For the first hour-and-a-half, the focus of the reception was in both the second floor classroom and on the roof. The classroom was the scene of a variety show, where the students performed skits – which often poked fun at the faculty or rival law students – sang songs, and led the audience in some UT yells. Upstairs, Besserer’s Orchestra, a popular Austin band, played a roof top concert of familiar tunes. The crowd was invited to sing along.

Above: It was standing room only to watch the skits, songs and yells of the variety show on the second floor. Click on an image to see a larger version.

At 9 p.m., the formal dance began on the top floor. The drawing tables had been shoved together in a corner on the west side as a makeshift stage, Besserer’s Orchestra descended from the roof, and everyone had dance cards inside their programs. Each dance for the evening was listed – a waltz, two-step, schottische, or others – with a blank where the name of the dance partner could be written. At the time, it was the usual social custom to reserve dances in advance. The reception’s earlier entertainment was, in part, intended to give the gentlemen time to ask the ladies for dances and fill in their respective cards.

Those who chose to sit out a dance would find refreshments on the east side of the top floor, and could either return to the roof to rest and talk, or join the post-variety show smoker on the second floor. Traditionally, smokers were for the men. (It was considered unladylike for a woman to smoke, especially in public.) Cigars were provided, and it was here that many of the engineering alumni settled to reminisce with their fellows and relay stories of their time on campus to the students who visited.

In addition to the roof top lounge, the four engineering classes – freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior – had each decorated a room in the building to serve as additional sitting rooms. A contest was declared, a committee of faculty obliged to be judges, and the junior class room was declared the best.

Above: The Junior Room was dubbed the best class-decorated sitting room at the reception. The walls were covered with hanging carpets, UT and other college pennants attached to the carpets, and the room outfitted with couches and pillows. 

Dancing continued until 1 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, when the guests, tired but happy, returned home. The affair was considered a complete success. Over the next decade, the Engineering Reception attracted capacity crowds, the decorations and planning became more elaborate, and a pre-reception Open House was added in the afternoon for visitors to explore the basement laboratories and enjoy science and engineering demonstrations. In 1917, with the onset of the First World War, the tradition was reluctantly discontinued.

Above: Program covers for the Engineering Reception were elaborate. From left, a Thanksgiving turkey on a survey, the entrance to the Engineering Building (now the Gebauer Building), and an image of the original Alec, patron saint of the Texas Engineers. Click on an image for a larger version.

Above: The farewell message from the last page of the Engineering Reception program.

The Dinosaur Club

Above: The 1952 hand-drawn logo of the Die? No, sir! Club.

They’re nearly 600 members strong. They travel the world, provide scholarships for UT students, are regulars at local cultural events, and are experts on the ever-expanding Austin culinary scene. They work out at RecSports, play bridge at the alumni center, and volunteer on campus to help with everything from spring commencement to UT Remembers.

For the past 35 years, a busy Retired Faculty-Staff Association, or “RSFA,” has been keeping its members connected to each other and to the University.

Above right: RFSA members gather for banquet each semester.

The idea of an organization for UT retirees first originated with John Calhoun (photo at left). A 1905 graduate, Calhoun joined the mathematics faculty in 1909, later served as the University’s comptroller, and was appointed president ad interim from 1937 – 1939.

Calhoun was perhaps best-known for his passion for live oak trees, and was primarily responsible for their prominence on the Forty Acres. Calhoun started with four live oaks – transplanted from nearby Pease Park – that still grow on the south side of Sutton Hall. The oaks that shade the walks near and along Guadalupe Street were planted in 1928, and in the 1930s, Calhoun successfully argued for more live oaks on the West Mall, South Mall, and around the Main Building. He later drew a map of every tree on campus with detailed descriptions of those with interesting histories. It’s still consulted by the University’s Landscape Services.

When Calhoun retired in 1942, he wanted to continue to associate with his longtime UT friends, and created the “Die? No, sir!” or “Dinosaur Club.” The group’s purpose was simply to prevent its members from “fossilizing prematurely.”

Members included all UT faculty and staff over 70 years old, or were retired or on modified service “whether they desired membership or not.” Curiously, though, the group was limited to men.”No woman ever reaches the age of 70,” Calhoun joked. “Anyhow, men and women tend to see too much of each other.” (Perhaps Calhoun was trying to escape a long list of “honey do” projects that were waiting for him at home.)

Calhoun drew up a constitution for the club.There were no dues and only one officer, the secretary, who acted as “president, secretary, corresponding secretary, recording secretary, and treasurer.” It was the secretary who called meetings and kept a roll of the members. As for being treasurer of a group without dues, Calhoun specifically wrote that “he shall have no duties, no emoluments, and no responsibilities.” Since Calhoun was UT’s comptroller for 12 years, this part of the office was likely the most appealing and why he included it in the by-laws.

Above: A few members of the Dinosaur Club pause for a group portrait. Chemical engineering professor Eugene Schoch, second from left, also founded the Longhorn Band. William Battle, fourth from left, taught Greek and classical studies, designed the UT seal, started the University Co-op, and was an important chair of the Faculty Building Committee. John Calhoun is on the right.

The group was low-key and informal, and its members seemed to like it that way. The club usually met for lunch at the Texas Union and discussed current affairs on the Forty Acres, though they were sometimes used as a resource by the University administration. After all, the combined membership had given more than 1,000 years of service to UT, and they were happy to share their experience and advice.

The Dinosaur Club continued for several decades. In 1982, under the guidance of UT President Peter Flawn, a more formal Retired Faculty-Staff Association was organized – and open to both women and men!