The Main Building Seals

The seals of a dozen universities are on the Main Building. Why?

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“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.” – architect Paul Cret, 1933 University of Texas Campus Master Plan

ut-tower-aerialFormally dedicated eighty years ago – on February 27, 1937 – the University’s Main Building was designed to serve a variety of purposes. Functionally, it was meant to house the central library. Its grand reading halls and special collection rooms were assembled around a massive tower, which held the book stacks. To accommodate future growth, the library was intentionally planned to be larger than needed, which prompted the Board of Regents to reserve a portion of the building for UT administration.

Stylistically, architect Paul Cret blended the needs of his clients with his own desires. The limestone exterior, red-tile roofs, Spanish-themed reliefs, and a spacious, seven-arched loggia all expressed the Mediterranean Renaissance idiom first seen in Cass Gilbert’s 1911 Library (now Battle Hall), a style which the Board of Regents deemed appropriate for Texas and its historical connections to Spain and Mexico. But Cret added Classical elements as well. Simple Doric columns enclosed the two front extensions along with the belfry at the top of the Tower, while the south facade was decorated with a row of dentils, and pilasters with Ionic capitals. Cret felt strongly that, as America was a modern democracy, its public buildings should evoke some sense of those democratic origins in Ancient Greece, and dubbed the style a “New Classicism.”

main-building-south-facadeRight: A line of dentils – those square “teeth” along the top of the image – along with an Ionic capital atop a pilaster, are among the Classical decorations on the Main Building’s south façade, all carved in place during construction. Click on an image for a larger view.

Symbolically, Cret intended his monumental Tower to be that iconic image “carried in our memory when we think of the place,” and sought to give it an “appropriate architectural treatment for a depository of human knowledge.” The ornamentation on the building spoke to its purpose as a library as well as to the mission and aspirations of the University. Names of literary giants were carved in limestone under the tall windows along the east and west sides. Displayed in gold leaf on the north side of the Tower were letters (or cartouches) from five dialects that contributed to the development of English language: Egyptian, Phoenician, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. The biblical quote inscribed above the south entrance, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” was selected by the Faculty Building Committee as suitable for
those who came to use the library. “The injunction to seek truth as a means to freedom is main-building-athenaas splendid a call to youth as we can make,” explained committee chair William Battle. (See “The Inscription”)

Placed alongside the literary images were familiar Classical symbols. The lamp of learning, the face of Athena as the goddess of wisdom (photo above), and rows of scallop shells – associated with Venus as the goddess of truth and beauty – were all added to the south façade, carved in place by Italian stone masons. Learning, wisdom, truth, and beauty: values long associated with the purpose of higher education.

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Above: Along the east side of the Main Building are six university seals.

The most colorful ornamentation was placed along the east and west sides of the building, just below the broad eaves, where artful representations of a dozen university seals were meant to convey a history of higher education, as well as proclaim UT’s own aspirations to be a “University of the first class.”

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Above: The west side of the nearly-completed Main Building in 1936.

The seal project began in the spring of 1932, as the initial phase of the Main Building was under construction.  Cret’s design allowed for something to be placed under the eaves, but left it to the University to determine the specifics. The idea to display university seals originated with the Faculty Building Committee and its chair, Dr. William Battle.

Which universities would be included? Battle consulted with Professor Frederick Eby, then the campus authority on the history of higher education. Eby provided a list of fifteen candidates: Bologna, Paris, Salamanca, Prague, Vienna, Heidelberg, Oxford, Cambridge, Geneva, Leiden, Edinburgh, Harvard, Yale, Virginia, and Michigan.

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The roster was heavy on European schools and, in part, charted a genealogical line. Bologna in Italy, founded in 1088, is widely regarded as the first degree-granting modern university, followed closely by the University of Paris. Oxford developed in the mid-12th century after King Henry II prevented English students from traveling to France. A dispute in 1209 between the town of Oxford and its university caused some of the local scholars to leave in protest and begin a new school in Cambridge. Four centuries later, among the Puritans who established the Massachusetts Bay Colony in North America, a group of Cambridge alumni created what would become Harvard. Located in the tiny hamlet of Newtowne, the group changed the name of the village to Cambridge in honor of their Alma Mater.

Two state universities were also included. Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia had been a role model for many colleges in the South, though Eby told Battle, “The influence of Michigan on state universities has been greater than that of any other in my judgement.”

earnest-w-winkler-ut-librarianThe Faculty Building Committee considered Professor Eby’s suggestions. After some discussion, Yale, Leiden, and Vienna were eliminated to trim the list to twelve. Additional input came from Ernest Winkler, the UT librarian (photo at right). “Should not the seal of the University of Mexico, the ancient university, be used also?” said Winkler. “It was created by decree of Charles V in 1551, as was put in operation in 1553. Printing was introduced into Mexico ten years earlier. These cultural forces appeared in New Spain (Mexico) much earlier than they did in any of the other Spanish possessions in America. These are facts which may be pointed to with pride. It seems to me we ought to include the University of Mexico seal.”

The committee readily agreed. Mexico’s university predated Harvard, was the oldest in North America, and its connection to the history of Texas made it an obvious and appropriate choice. Mexico was substituted for Geneva.

The Board of Regents gave its approval at their meeting on June 17, 1932, but allowed the committee to make minor changes if needed. In early July, John Calhoun, the University Comptroller and a member of the committee, suggested that a female college be added to recognize the inclusion of women in higher education. As a final change, Vassar College replaced the University of Prague.

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Above: From left, the seals of Salamanca, Oxford, Paris, and Bologna on the west side.

With the list finalized, Battle set out to acquire printed copies of the seals or coats of arms. Some were found in books in the UT library, others obtained through correspondence.  “I wonder if you can help me out in securing a copy of the arms of the University of Bologna,” Battle asked the secretary of the Italy America Society in New York. “What I am looking for is a black and white print or Photostat of one from which our designer can evolve the form appropriate to the space at his disposal.”

While Battle required a black and white image to start, he also needed the correct colors. “The only place on which our seal appears in color,” said Frank Robbins, the assistant to the president of the University of Michigan, “is the flag which is annually carried at the head of the Commencement procession.” Robbins sent a copy of the 1931 graduation program, with an image of the UM seal printed on the front, and in pencil drew arrows to the various parts and listed the colors he saw on the flag.

Vassar College proved to be the most challenging, as it didn’t yet have a printed version of its seal to send. Instead, Battle received two imprints of the seal embossed on a single sheet of white stationery. “This is our only emblazoning and it is not used with colors,” explained a brief note from the president’s office. “Unofficially, the colors of the college are rose and gray.” A pair of short clippings of rose and gray ribbon was attached with a paper clip.

edinburgh“How do we best proceed to get them made?” Battle asked Paul Cret. The ornamentation was to be in the form of oval-shaped cartouches, not circular, formal reproductions of the seals, so there would be some artistic license in the finished product. “I am not easy in my mind by heraldic designs made by Texas artists. They do not know even the first principles of the art.”

The highly regarded Atlantic Terra Cotta Company in Perth Amboy, New Jersey was chosen. Headquartered just southwest of New York City, it was only 75 miles from Cret’s firm in Philadelphia, and Battle wanted Cret to oversee the design. The cost to produce the twelve cartouches was just under $1,400.

Above right: A terra cotta rendering of the University of Edinburgh seal.

Through the fall of 1932, sketches of the cartouches were prepared in Philadelphia, and then sent to Perth Amboy to be fashioned in terra cotta. They were installed in early March, 1933.

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Above: The process. From a drawing of the University of Virginia seal in Paul Cret’s office, to a rendering by the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company, to finished cartouche. 

“The university shields are now in place and as a whole have excited general admiration,” Battle wrote to Cret. “They give very attractive spots of color, and the designs in most cases can be made out well enough to understand them.” Unfortunately, the Salamanca, Virginia, and Vassar cartouches, “being all in one color, and that a dull one, can hardly be made out at all from the ground.” While not entirely colorless, most of the renderings for these three were a natural light grey, which made it difficult to see details. An oil-based paint was applied to brighten the hues and provide additional contrast.

On the Main Building, the university seals are arranged in order of the years they were founded.

Along the west side, from south to north:

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bolognaBologna (1088): The original seal of the University of Bologna (left) was pressed into hot wax to authenticate official documents, and its design was purposely intricate to discourage forgery. As it was too complicated to be easily understood as a cartouche, Cret and Battle opted to use the city of Bologna’s coat of arms instead.

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Paris (1200): Along with Bologna, Paris is one of Europe’s oldest universities. Here, the design was simplified. The flour-de-lis designs were eliminated to feature the “hand of God” delivering knowledge and wisdom from the heavens. Though the present University’s seal is blue and gold, Cret, a native Frenchman, used blue and red, the national colors of France.
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Oxford (1167): The Latin motto on the Oxford University seal on the open book is Dominus Illuminatio Mea – “The Lord is my light.” But look closely. The top left line reads “Domi,” and the second line “nus.” A slight error in the making of the cartouche has the top line “Dom” and the second “inus.”

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Salamanca (1230): In medieval Europe, the University of Salamanca, Spain was best known as a law school. The cartouche on the Main Building was the only attempt to stay true to the intricate design of the original university seal. Officially black and white, university colors were selectively applied to highlight the many details.

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Cambridge (1281): The Cambridge University coat of arms was granted in 1573 and consists of a red background and a cross of ermine fur between four gold lions. A book, placed horizontally with the spine at the top, is in the center.

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Heidelberg (1385): As with the University of Bologna, Heidelberg’s cartouche is a representation of the city’s coat of arms.

Along the east side, from north to south:

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Mexico (1553): The oldest in North America, the University of Mexico’s seal features the castle and lion, symbolic of the Spanish crown when Mexico was part of New Spain. It’s also seen on the Salamanca cartouche.

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Edinburgh (1583): The coat of arms for the University of Edinburgh features the blue, St. Andrew’s cross of Scotland with an open book of learning at the center, an image of Edinburgh Castle at the bottom, the thistle – the national flower of Scotland – at the top.

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Harvard (1636): The oldest university in the United States, Harvard’s motto – Veritas, or “Truth” – dates to 1643. At a New England regatta in 1858, Harvard crew members Benjamin Crownshield and Charles Elliot hurriedly supplied crimson bandanas to their teammates so that spectators could easily distinguish them in a race. Elliot was named Harvard’s 21st president in 1869, and served in that capacity for four distinguished decades. In 1910, the year after he retired, crimson was officially named the University’s color and added to the seal.

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Virginia (1819): Founded by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia’s seal features an image of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, standing in front of the original mall and buildings of the campus, which Jefferson termed an “academical village.” As the seal was colorless, Cret’s office had to artistically add UVA’s orange and blue to the design.

michigan-seal-cartouche

Michigan (1817): The University was founded in Detroit two decades before Michigan became a state, and its seal has been through several revisions. Currently all blue and maize, the description Battle received in 1932 included a red shield in the center. The design was simplified for artistic reasons – the sun and rays were eliminated – and the red shield became the predominant hue, though blue is still seen on the motto, Artes, Scientia, Veritas – Art, Science, Truth.

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Vassar (1861): Now co-educational, Vassar was founded as one of the first women’s colleges in the United States. The seal wasn’t approved by its Board of trustees until 1931, only a year before Battle requested a copy for use on the Main Building. The design features an image of Athena as the “patron of learning,” holding an olive branch as a symbol of civilization, and with a view of the Ancient Greek Parthenon in the distance. As with the Virginia seal, there were no colors yet assigned to it, though the College’s colors were unofficially rose and grey. Cret’s office had to make artistic decisions, and oil-based paint was used to color the cartouche.

Garrison Hall is 90!

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Above: Garrison Hall, just before it was opened in 1926.

This year, Garrison Hall is 90 years old. Nestled in the southeast corner of the Main Mall, peeking out from behind a canopy of live oaks, the building is often overlooked in favor of its better-known neighbors, Battle Hall and the UT Tower. But Garrison Hall is an architectural gem with a distinctive history, a treasure on the campus for those who take the time to explore it.

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Above: The University of Texas campus from University Avenue, circa 1920. 

In 1921, a crowded and growing University of Texas first acquired land beyond its original forty acres. A bill passed by the Texas Legislature and signed by Governor Pat Neff purchased property to the east and southeast. The campus tripled in size, and extended past Waller Creek.

The following year, the Board of Regents appointed Herbert Greene of Dallas as the University Architect. Greene succeeded Cass Gilbert, who had designed Battle and Sutton Halls, but because he was based in New York City, was a victim of mounting political pressure to have an in-state architect for the University. Greene was highly respected as a building designer, but his experience in campus planning was limited. In 1923, the regents recruited James White, an architecture professor at the University of Illinois, as the consulting architect who would provide an overall campus master plan.

White submitted his first campus scheme in fall of 1924. Eager to take advantage of the long, gently sloping hill that extended east into the new portion of the campus, White proposed a significant re-orientation of the campus, to face east instead of south toward downtown Austin, and designed a single mall, 175 feet wide, that connected the crest of the hill at the center of the Forty Acres – where the old Main Building stood and where the Tower is today – with Waller Creek at the bottom of the slope. Campus structures were arranged in a series of concentric rings that spread outward from the hilltop.

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Above: John White’s 1924 campus master plan, which would have emphasized an east-west orientation. On the left, Battle Hall would have been enlarged and become the focus of a large square, while a broad East Mall would have continued down the hill to the right toward Waller Creek. The football stadium is at the bottom right. Below: The future position of Garrison Hall is circled. It was changed to an L-shaped building to help define the edge of the central square and the East Mall. Click on an image for a larger version.

1924-white-campus-plan-garrison-hall-placementWhite envisioned the University Library (today’s Battle Hall) as the focus of the campus, removed the Old Main Building entirely, and replaced it with a large square plaza, 450 feet long on each side. The library was to be enlarged so that its façade was roughly three times the length of the original building, and would be centered on the plaza’s west side. Across the plaza on the east end, two buildings were planted as part of the first concentric ring and also intended to visually define the width of the mall.

Surprisingly, the Faculty Building Committee, the University President and the Board of Regents all approved this radical new design, with a few important alterations. The two buildings immediately to the east of the central plaza, instead of being part of a circle, were retooled as L-shaped structures. One was to be placed near the southeast corner of the plaza and face the library; its north-south wing would define the limit of the plaza, while it east-west wing would define the boundary of the mall. As its counterpart, another L-shaped building was intended to be near the northeast corner of the plaza.

Once White’s campus plan was ratified, the regents declared a new classroom building (and a new home for the history department) its top priority, and directed the building planned for the southeast corner of the plaza to be constructed first.

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Above: Garrison Hall seen from the UT Tower observation deck. 

Almost immediately, though, the administration began to have second thoughts. William Battle, Chair of the Faculty Building Committee, wrote to White, “The University has been facing Austin and the Capitol so long that it would not be easy to abandon this front even if it were thought desirable.” Within a year, the regents concurred, rescinded their decision, and asked White to try again. But the process for the new structure was well underway, and rather than wait for a new scheme, construction was allowed to continue. The building’s odd placement – it doesn’t line up with the entrance to Battle Hall or the flagpoles on the Main Mall – would be an issue for future campus planners.

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view-from-garrison-hall-1920sOpened in 1926 at a cost of $370,000, Garrison Hall was host to a collage of academic departments; English, government, psychology, sociology, philosophy, economics and history initially shared the facility, though the building was really always intended for history, and the other departments have since found lodgings elsewhere on campus. The building’s namesake, George P. Garrison, joined the University faculty in 1884, served as the first chair of the history department, and was a founding member of the Texas State Historical Association.

Above: The 1920s view of the campus from the north side of Garrison Hall. Old Main is on the right, with the library (Battle Hall) across the mall. Click on image for a larger version.

1925-garrison-hall-cornerstone-ceremonyThe cornerstone, as with the cornerstones of most of the buildings on the Forty Acres, is hollow, something like a permanently sealed time capsule. Among the objects placed inside: a 1925 Cactus yearbook; a catalog, course schedule, and student directory for the 1925-26 academic year; an alumni directory, copies of The Daily Texan; a souvenir “Book of Views” of the University; a source book on the history of Texas; and articles and letters authored by George Garrison.

Right: Images from the cornerstone ceremony in December 1925.

Along with its unusual location, Garrison’s ornamentation also represented a departure from earlier UT buildings. Classical icons adorn architect Cass Gilbert’s Battle and Sutton Halls. Owls, an ancient symbol of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, were placed under the eaves of Battle Hall, while Sutton Hall was decorated with scallop shells, emblematic of Venus, the Goddess of Truth and Beauty.

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garrison-hall-austin-windowGarrison Hall continued the same Mediterranean motif of Gilbert’s designs, constructed of Lauder limestone quarried from France, multi-colored bricks similar to Sutton Hall, and a red-tile roof imported from Spain. Its ornamentation, though, is unmistakably “Texan.” Limestone carvings of longhorn skulls, along with terra-cotta cacti and bluebonnets decorate the entrances. Imprinted below the eaves and corner windows are the names of founders of the Republic of Texas, among them: Houston, Austin, Burnet, Jones, Travis, and Lamar.

Above: The names of the founders of the Republic of Texas appear on the building, along with 32 cattle brands. Here is the “W” of the King Ranch.

Most striking are the 32 terra-cotta cattle brands, carefully chosen among hundreds of candidates, to represent various periods of the cattle industry in the State of Texas. Garrison Hall is the only college building anywhere to have cattle brands on its outer walls. The unusual choice received national press while the building was under construction.

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Above: The inclusion of terra-cotta cattle brands on a college building to mark the history of the Texas cattle industry received national press. This is a clipping from the Saint Louis Times-Dispatch.

The idea came from Dr. William Battle, then chair of the Faculty Building Committee. Though he was, ironically, a professor of Greek and Classical Civilization, Battle claimed not to be “stuck on” classical icons for UT buildings, and suggested the use of images that pertained to the academic departments housed inside them.

garrison-hall-linoleum-tileInside, more than 3,500 square feet of linoleum tile was used in the extra-wide hallways. Greene advocated using “battleship green,” but Battle was concerned that the color wouldn’t hide the dirt, scuffing, and general wear as well, and preferred brown. In the end, a compromise was reached, and both colors were used. Rooms were equipped with ceiling fans, and a modern water cooling system was installed for the drinking fountains to make the un-air conditioned building bearable in the warmer months.

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Once opened, the broad arched doorway on the north side of the building soon attracted a population of bats, and the attention of Goldwin Goldsmith, then the head of UT’s Department of Architecture and for whom Goldsmith Hall is named. A brief letter exchange between Goldsmith and Battle, found in the University Archives, reads:

October 28, 1931

To: Dr. William Battle, Chairman, Faculty Building Committee

Dear Dr. Battle:

I noticed that the north entrance to Garrison Hall is a harboring place for bats. It is evident to the senses of both sight and smell.

Goldwin Goldsmith

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November 8, 1931

My dear Goldsmith:

Thanks for your letter about bats. I do not see how to protect entrances from these loathsome creatures, but Miss Gearing tells me that the Comptroller’s office has an excellent way of dealing with them. It is apparently by using fire extinguishing apparatus.

Yours very truly,

W.J. Battle

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Paul CretPaul Cret (photo at right), appointed in 1930 to replace James White as consulting architect, developed his own campus master plan, which included the Main Building and Tower, and attempted to resolve the issue of Garrison Hall’s placement. Born in Lyon, France and trained at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Cret has immigrated to the United States and oversaw the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania when he was hired by UT. With an emphasis of straight lines and balanced masses, he placed the flagpoles on the Main Mall to line up with the entrance of Battle Hall.

To anticipate future growth, Cret suggested adding wings to existing structures, rather than construct new buildings in open areas that might disturb the layout of the campus. Garrison Hall was included in the idea. Though not implemented (at least, not yet), Cret envisioned a north wing to Garrison Hall that would allow its main entrance to be re-positioned where it would still be in the center of the front façade, and also line up with Battle Hall.

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Above: A bird’s eye view of Paul Cret’s campus plan, with a close-up of the Main Mall. To plan ahead for growth, Cret advocated adding wings to the W.C. Hogg Building and Garrison Hall. This wouldn’t disturb the overall plan – actually, it better defined the start of the East Mall – but the wing to Garrison would also allow the front door to be moved to the north and centered with Battle Hall and the flag poles.

Below: A closer look at the W. C. Hogg Building on the left with a wing extending south, and Garrison Hall on the right with an addition to the north and its front entrance relocated.

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Source: Detail from 1933 University of Texas Perspective of Future Development, The University of Texas Buildings Collection, The Alexander Architectural Archive, The University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin

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How to Build a Tower

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Main Building and Littlefield Fountain

It’s the Tower, the definitive landmark of the University. For more than three-quarters of a century, it has quietly watched over the daily campus bustle, breaking its silence every quarter hour to remind everyone of the passing of the day. Bathed in warm orange lights to announce honors and victories, crowned in fireworks at the climax of spring commencement ceremonies, it’s been a backdrop for freshman convocations, football rallies, concerts, and demonstrations. Architect Paul Cret intended it to be the “image carried in our memory when we think of the place,” though author J. Frank Dobie, incensed that a state so rich in land would build something better suited to New York City, branded it a “toothpick in a pie.” While academia has sometimes been called a metaphorical “ivory tower,” the University of Texas doesn’t settle for expressive substitutes. We have a tower all our own.

Old Main Library.1902.The Main Building with its 27-story Tower was to be the long-term solution to a problem that had plagued the Board of Regents for decades: how to increase the size of the library. The University library was initially housed on the first floor of the old Main Building (Photo at right. Click for a larger view.), but as its holdings increased, the space needed for additional bookshelves literally squeezed the students out of the reading room. The problem was temporarily relieved with the construction of a separate library building in 1911 (now Battle Hall), but by 1920, its quarters were again hopelessly overcrowded. A new library was needed, but where to place it?

1908 Postcard.Old Main with bluebonnets

Above: The old Main Building, surrounded by Texas Bluebonnets in the spring.

While the crest of the hill at the center of the Forty Acres was the obvious best setting for such a monumental building, it would have meant the destruction of the Victorian-Gothic Old Main. As the first structure on the campus, it was the sentimental favorite of both of faculty and alumni, and its offices and classrooms couldn’t be easily moved elsewhere. There simply wasn’t room.

Proposals included the addition of a new library north of Old Main, or, perhaps, to the south, where it would have sat in the middle of today’s South Mall and prevented the development of a grand main entrance to the University. A third scheme was to expand the existing library, double the size of the front façade, and add a 16-story tower for book stacks. All of the proposals either placed the library in an inconvenient spot or were too expensive.

Paul CretIn 1930, the Board of Regents hired Paul Cret as Consulting Architect for the University. Born in in 1876 in Lyon, France, Cret had graduated from the Ecole des Beaux Arts (School of Fine Arts) in Paris, at the time considered to be the world’s best university for architecture instruction. He immigrated to the United States early in the 20th century and was the head of the School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania when he was agreed to take on the consulting position for UT. Cret was to design a new master plan for the campus, and among his first priorities was the solution for a new library.

Cret quickly realized that the library belonged on the top of the hill, and as he developed his master plan, the library building became the focal point of his designs. Because the plan was to be a guide for campus construction over several decades, Cret proposed building the library in parts, both to reduce costs – especially important during the 1930s and the time of the Great Depression –  and ease the pain over the removal of Old Main.

The back, lower half of the building was to be constructed immediately. It required only the destruction of the little-used north wing of Old Main, and a hallway would connect both structures. Officially it was to be known as the “library annex,” though at some point in the future it would assume the role as the primary University library. It was important for Cret to get at least part of the building on top of the hill, as it was the lynch pin for the rest of his plans.

Cret imagined that after 20 years or so – in the 1950s – when additional structures had been built to compensate for any space lost with the destruction of Old Main, UT’s first building could be finally retired, and the South façade and stack tower added to complete the library.

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Above: The back, lower part of the current Main Building was completed first, in 1934. Officially named the “library annex,” it was connected to Old Main, which can be see on the right. The Life Sciences Library, along with the Hall of Texas and the Hall of Noble Words, is still here.

The Board of Regents approved the plan in 1933, and construction for the north annex was finished the following year. It boasted a new Loan and Catalogue Room, also known as the Hall of the Six Coats of Arms. Two stories high, framed in marbles from West Texas, New York, Vermont, and Missouri, with walnut doors and screens, and illuminated by bronze light fixtures, the room featured the coats of arms of the six nations of which Texas has been a part: Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States, and the United States.

Hall of Noble Words.2Two spacious reading rooms were placed on either side of the Catalogue Room. To the east was the Hall of Noble Words. (Photo at left.) The ceiling featured a series of heavy concrete beams painted to look like wood. Each side of a beam was decorated with quotes within a specific theme, among them: friendship, patriotism, freedom, wisdom, and truth. It was hoped that the students studying below would occasionally glance upward and be inspired by the exhortations above them. The Hall of Texas opened to the west. The beams here depicted periods of Texas settlement and history, from the times of Native Americans up to the opening of the University. While the Plant Resources Center takes up part of the Hall of Texas, it and the Hall of Noble Words are still open to the public, used by UT students for almost eight decades.

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Above: In the summer and fall of 1934, Old Main was demolished, and by the following January, steam shovels had arrived to dig out a foundation for the new Main Building’s facade. Battle Hall can be seen on the left and the West Mall in the distance. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

Once completed, the library annex was to have hidden behind Old Main for decades. But as the Great Depression worsened, UT sought ways to minimize the number of unemployed in Austin. The University’s ever-growing building program brought with it construction jobs that helped soften the economic blow. Robert Leon White, an alumnus who was also the University’s Supervising Architect, approached UT President Harry Benedict about finishing the library sooner. Money through the Available University Fund wasn’t available, but White wanted to apply for a loan through the newly created Public Works Administration, one of many New Deal programs initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt. Benedict was skeptical, but allowed White to try.

Main Building Construction.3.

Above: With Old Main razed, work begins in front of the “library annex.” This was the view from Battle Hall on a cold, cloudy day in January 1935. Boardwalks were constructed for students to change classes. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

White filed an application with the PWA for a $2.8 million loan, $1.8 million to complete what was labeled the Main Building and Library Extension, and the rest for three men’s and three women’s residence halls. White was optimistic, in part, because one of his childhood friends was Tully Garner, son of then Vice President John Garner from Uvalde. Using these connections, White arranged a meeting with the vice president for him and Beauford Jester, chair of the Board of Regents. The meeting was a positive one, and Garner agreed to give his support to the University’s application.  A few months later, UT received the funds it needed, and the early completion of the University’s new Main Building and Tower was guaranteed.

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Above: With work well underway in front of the Main Building, the Tower, which will serve as the book stacks for the library, begins to rise from the one-time “library annex.” From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

The formal dedication ceremony was held Saturday, February 27, 1937. President Benedict, and Regents Beauford Jester and Lutcher Stark made appropriate remarks. A sealed box filled with papers pertaining to the construction of the new Main Building was placed inside a cornerstone next to the south entrance in the building’s loggia.

Main Building Construction.5.

Above: By the end of 1935, the Main Building and its Tower are taking shape. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

Designed as a closed-stack library, the Tower was intended to store the University’s general collections. Sheathed in Indiana Limestone, its infrastructure was built by the Snead Stack Company of New Jersey. Patrons entered the building through the south loggia, climbed one flight up the central staircase, and entered the Catalogue Room. After searching an immense card catalog, readers requested books at the front desk. Orders were then forwarded upstairs to a Tower librarian, who often navigated the rows of bookshelves in roller skates. Once found, books were sent downstairs in a special elevator, then to the main desk to be checked out. Newspapers and magazines were stored on the ground floor, and special collections, including rare books and Latin-American literature, were housed in separate rooms in the building. For a while, it was informally dubbed the Mirabeau B. Lamar Library, but the name wasn’t very popular. Students and faculty preferred a remembrance to Old Main that had once inhabited the spot, and simply called the library the new Main Building.

Main Building Construction.8.

Above: Exactly one year away from its dedication, the Tower is more than halfway complete. From the Alexander Architecture Archive.

Main Building.Littlefield Fountain.1938

Above: Officially opened on February 27, 1937, the Main Building and Tower served as the University Library until the 1960s, when higher enrollment and greater usage meant more than a half hour wait to retrieve a book from the Tower stacks. In 1964, the Undergraduate Library – today’s Flawn Academic Center – was opened with direct access to the bookshelves. 

Photo credits: Many of the images in the post come from the University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archive, University of Texas Libraries.