Heads Up!

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

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

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

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

Below is a sampling.


Biological Laboratories

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

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


Garrison Hall


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

Below: The Running W brand of the King Ranch.

Garrison Hall.Running W Brand.King Ranch

Garrison Hall.St Louis Dispatch Article.1926

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

Garrison Hall.de la Garza Brand of 1762

Garrison Hall.Cattle Brand List

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


Brackenridge Residence Hall

Brackenridge Dorm.1930s. Processed

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

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

Brackenridge Hall from Tower Deck

Brackenridge Hall.Daily Texan Article

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

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

Brackenridge Hall.Ranch Life

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

Brackenridge Hall.Longhorn


Main Building: The Hall of Noble Words

Tower Consruction 1935.A

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

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

Hall of Noble Words.2


McCombs School of Business

Business Economis Building.West Entrance.1962.

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

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

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

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

Waggener Hall and Business School

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

Attack of the Academs!


All hail the University of Texas professor! Tireless researcher, espouser of knowledge, valiant defender of free inquiry, appointed distributor of homework and grades, and, on occasion, “other duties as assigned.” From time to time, faculty members have been required to perform above and beyond their usual academic roles.

In the early years of the University, the 40-acre campus was a magnet not only for aspiring scholars, but the town cows, which were free to wander and graze about Austin. The campus sported a wealth of wildflowers, newly-planted pecan and oak trees, and lush English ivy that tenaciously clung to the walls of the old Main Building (where the UT Tower stands today), all of which was an irresistible treat for the four-legged visitors. The munching and mooing, though, was a distraction to lectures. Professors had to regularly interrupt their classes, meet in front of Old Main, and as a group, shoo away the boisterous bovines. It was, perhaps, good practice for herding longhorn students through their degree requirements.

By 1915, the University of Texas boasted 2,300 students, most of them divided into three departments: law, engineering, and academic. The Academic Department included the “arts and sciences” curriculum offered today by the Colleges of Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences, and was contained almost exclusively in Old Main. The engineers were housed in what today is the Gebauer Building, and the old Law Building, once nestled into the southeast corner of the campus, was removed in the 1970s and replaced by the Graduate School of Business (GSB).

Two of the departments – law and engineering – have had an ongoing rivalry for more than a century. Most of the time it’s been a good-natured feud, though there have been episodes that would better be described as all out rumbles, and which required faculty intervention. The Academic students, informally called the “Academs,” typically remained neutral, and were either too busy pursuing their degrees or visiting Scholz’ Beer Garden to bother.

Texas Independence Day on March 2nd often provided an excuse for student shenanigans, and professors were always wary as the day neared. It was one of only two spring holidays and had been loudly celebrated by the University since 1897, when a group of law students borrowed a brass cannon from the Capitol, fired it repeatedly on the campus, and nearly broke out the windows of Old Main. (See How to Celebrate Texas Independence Day)

WaterTankFightEarly in the evening of March 1, 1915, UT President William Battle made a harried call to all faculty still on the campus. The engineers and laws were at it again at their usual spot: the old water tank. Placed on the north side of the campus, about where Painter Hall is today, the tank was installed in 1904 as a safety measure against water shortages that plagued Austin at the time. It was never used for its intended purpose, but its 120-foot perch was an instant hit with students, who dared to climb the tank’s legs and paint class initials on its walls. Almost always, the perpetrators were from the law or engineering departments. (See Rumble at the Water Tank)

Professors arrived at the tank to discover a full-blown scuffle in progress. The engineers held the high ground – at the top of the tank – while the laws were determined to dislodge them. The law students were having trouble, though, as the engineers had come prepared with an ample supply of eggs acquired from the University Cafeteria. Dropping the “hen fruit” from the tank’s platform discouraged any would-be climber.

The faculty immediately took control and sent the students home, though not before several professors were splattered with egg yolk, including English professor and future Plan II founder Dr. Hanson Parlin. Determined to prevent any more activity that evening, four members of the faculty remained on the grounds: Harry Benedict, who taught applied mathematics and astronomy, and was Dean of the University (what would be the provost today); Edward Bantel, a civil engineering professor and the Assistant Dean of the Engineering Department; Hyman Ettlinger, an instructor of applied math; and Milton Gutsch, who taught Medieval History. A spotlight owned by the electrical engineering department was hastily installed on the roof of the Engineering Building and pointed north to illuminate the water tank. The foursome settled into the northwest corner room on the first floor, where they kept watch throughout the night. According to all accounts, they found a chess set to help keep them occupied. Card games, such as poker, had been specifically prohibited on the campus by the Board of Regents.

1913 Cactus Yearbook.Engineering Building.

Above: The Engineering Building, today’s Gebauer Building. With a makeshift spotlight installed on the roof, the four faculty members stayed in the room on the first floor (one floor up from the ground floor) seen on the far left corner. From there they could look north to the water tank.

At the first sign of daylight on March 2, and satisfied trouble had been averted, the four bleary-eyed instructors decided it was finally safe to return to their homes. Three of them –  Benedict, Ettlinger, and Bantel – elected to make a final pass in front of Old Main before they wandered off to the west and north campus neighborhoods where most of the faculty lived.

The Victorian-Gothic old Main Building featured a tall central tower with two shorter towers at the east and west entrances. Atop each of the towers was a short flag pole. As the three ambled to the west side of the Old Main, which was out of the line-of-sight of the Engineering Building, they discovered, much to their chagrin, a large flag hung on the western pole, with the rope flying loose in the wind. Fluttering in the pre-dawn breeze, the flag read “Academs 1915.” The Academs had struck at last!

Old Main and Water

Above: The Old Main Building, where the UT Tower stands today. Flags are flying from each of its three towers, with the west wing on the left. The water tower can be seen to the north, while the Engineering Building is out-of-sight, behind Old Main to the east. And yes, there were lots of bluebonnets on the campus in the spring. (For more on that topic and the bluebonnet chain tradition, go here.)

If the flag remained, there would be a new round of class rushes, and the all-night vigil would have been for nothing. There was but one choice: the flag had to be removed.

Resigned to the task at hand, the three ascended to the top of the central tower of Old Main, climbed out of the window onto the roof, and precariously made their way to the west wing. The flag’s untied halyards were flapping in the wind, four to six feet from the roof’s edge. What to do? The three pondered a moment, and hatched a plan to remove the flag and preserve the campus peace.


Above: Three UT faculty take a precarious early morning walk on the roof of Old Main. This drawing, along with one of the accounts of the story, was found in the Thomas Taylor papers in the Briscoe Center for American History, which houses the University Archives. Taylor was the first dean of engineering studies, and an avid recorder of UT student life.

There, on top of the west wing of the old Main Building, a little after 6 a.m. on March 2, and after having been awake all night, Benedict (a future UT president), grabbed the coattails of  Ettlinger, who in turn had a firm grip on Bantel’s right ankle. Standing on his left leg, Bantel leaned out over the roof, and after a few tries, successfully grabbed the rope and secured the offending flag from its pole.

And what of the water tank incident? Six students were brought before the Faculty Discipline Committee and were suspended and banished from the campus for two weeks, though one of the offenders was defiantly seen on the Forty Acres almost any time of day. When confronted about his trespass, he argued that there was a U. S. Post Office in the rotunda of Old Main, and as a United States citizen, he had a right to mail letters, check his post office box, and attend to any other postal matters that he desired.

The faculty, perhaps tired of shooing away belligerent cattle from the campus, took no further action.