The Big Enormous Building

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Above: The original west entrance to the Business-Economics Building.

For the business school, it was a dream come true. On February 2, 1962, the swanky new Business-Economics Building, the largest teaching facility yet on the Forty Acres, hosted its first classes. Business Dean John White was elated with the new digs. So were the students, who promptly dubbed the edifice the “Big Enormous Building.” Though much of it has been renovated over the past half century, the original “BEB” was, in many ways, a modern marvel and campus trend-setter.

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spurgeon-bellAt the University of Texas, business classes made their debut in 1912, when UT alumnus Spurgeon Bell (photo at left) was hired to found a “business studies” department within the College of Arts and Sciences. The facilities, though, weren’t ideal. As UT’s growth outpaced its funding, resources to construct new buildings simply weren’t available. Temporary pinewood shacks were built instead. Crude and without proper foundations, UT President Sidney Mezes purposely left them unpainted in the forlorn hope that the state would be so embarrassed by their appearance and replace the shacks with adequate buildings.

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Above: In 1912,”G” Hall for business studies stood in front of today’s Gebauer Building.

The business studies department was assigned to “G” Hall, located in front of today’s Gebauer Building. Poorly heated by pot belly stoves, Bell had to arrive early on cold days to stoke the coals left by the custodian overnight, and then gather more firewood from a stack behind the building. Despite the primitive conditions, the business department grew, matured, and was made a separate school in 1922.

Waggener Hall.1930sA year later, the 1923 discovery of oil on University-owned West Texas land offered the promise of better quarters in the future, but it wasn’t until 1931 that Waggener Hall was opened along the west side of Speedway Street. Named to honor Leslie Waggener, UT’s first president, the hall was intended for business administration, a message made clear though the building’s ornamentation. Twenty-six terra-cotta medallions placed just below the eaves portrayed some of the exports of Texas at the time: cotton, oil, pecans, maize, wheat, cattle, and lumber, among others. However, with space on the campus at a premium, business initially had to share the building with the math, English, and public speaking departments, along with an anthropology museum that filled the top floor.

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Above: A typing class in the late 1930s. Ceiling fans regularly hummed in the un-air conditioned classrooms.

The new quarters were a boon for the business school, but as its classes grew more popular with UT students, Waggener Hall was short on space within a decade, and then almost unmanageable after World War II, as thousands of returning veterans enrolled in the University under the G. I. Bill. It became something of an annual tradition for the business deans to lobby the UT administration for a new facility.

ut-75th-logo-1958In  1958, the University observed its 75th anniversary. Along with the many campus celebrations, a Diamond Jubilee Commission was created to “chart the University’s next 25 years.”  Appointed by UT President Logan Wilson, the commission tackled issues ranging from academic programs, enrollment, research, and student life, and created a series of recommendations intended to bring UT up to the top tier of the nation’s universities. In response, President Wilson formally launched a “Ten Year Plan,” intended to overhaul degree programs and improve facilities. A new headquarters for the College of Business Administration was among the priorities, and the Board of Regents approved the $4 million for construction.

Ground was broken in July 1959 and the building was ready for use by spring 1962. At the time, UT’s academic year opened in late September, with fall semester finals scheduled in January, just after the holiday break. With a brief, ten-day intersession, the spring semester began in February. For the business school, the 1962 intersession was a great scramble, as all of the filing cabinets, office desks, teaching materials, and library books had to be moved from Waggener Hall to the new building in time for the spring semester start on February 2nd. A winter ice storm that pelted Austin mid-week only added to the chaos.

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Above: The invitation to the Business-Economics Building dedication.

Formally dedicated at the end of March, the Business-Economics Building – the “BEB” – was touted by some as the largest business learning facility in the Southwest. The faculty initially requested a contemporary structure, both in appearance and design, but the University administration felt that some adherence to the Mediterranean Renaissance style found on the rest of the Forty Acres was preferable. While the building was definitely modern, its limestone, brick, and use of Spanish red tile still identified it as part of the campus.

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Above: The main entrance to the BEB faced west, toward the Forty Acres.

The BEB was organized into three distinct components, each designed around specific functions. On the south end was a five-story, rectangular classroom building constructed 1968-class-in-beb-room-150around a central court from the second to fifth levels; the first level of the court was occupied by a 400-seat auditorium (photo at left). Functionally, the court provided a light well for the classrooms along the inside, but also boasted two fountains with reflecting pools, landscaping, and benches.

Along with the main auditorium, the first floor held four other theater-style classrooms for 100 to 150 students each. All were outfitted with modern sound and projection equipment, and some had mounted television monitors, a medium that had become popular less than a decade before.

beb-libraryElsewhere in the building were circular seminar rooms with tiered seating – the first on the campus – along with accounting, statistics, management, and marketing labs, study halls, interview practice rooms, and a 10,000 volume business library (right) with room for 270 students.  A series of large exhibit cases fronted with plate glass simulated store front windows to show off retail marketing class projects.

Extensive use of mosaic tile was used as wainscoting along the hallways of the classroom building, with different geometric patterns – diamonds, stars, and cubes –  in blue, brown, and yellow hues on each floor.  A solar screen of  Spanish red tile in a quatrefoil design covered the outside windows along the top floor, and while the roof was flat, its broad eaves with coffered soffits were similar to those found elsewhere on campus.

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The basement of the classroom building was reserved for student recreation, with lounges, games, student organization offices, and a myriad of vending machines (photo above) that served coffee, candy, ice cream, pastries, sandwiches, cold drinks, warm soups, and cigarettes. “It’s not that the soup and coffee served by electronic magic and a few well-placed nickels and quarters taste much different from a meal at home,” explained Anita Brewer from the Austin Statesman, “It’s just the nerve-wracking uncertainty of a machine trying to be smart.” When ordering coffee, “A cup appears first. Then the coffee starts filling the cup, and for an agonizing moment, you wonder if it will shut off in time and what you will do if it doesn’t.” Along with the vending curiosities, The Daily Texan took great interest in the new automatic bill-changer that “scans paper currency and issues coins when the proffered bill passes its critical-eye examination.”

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The north end of the BEB was a seven-story office building which housed the faculty and dean, and at the time was the second tallest structure on the campus, next to the Tower. Each level was reserved for a specific department. Starting from the first floor: finance, dean and career placement offices, accounting, economics, management, business services, and marketing. For a short time, the Institute of Latin American Studies shared the seventh floor until more appropriate quarters could be found.

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In a nod to the medallions on Waggener Hall, UT art professor Paul Hatgil designed a series of fifty ceramic panels (image above) that were placed above the top row of windows around the office unit. Their blues, browns, and yellows echoed the colors used for the mosaic tiles in the classroom building. 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.”

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beb-escalatorAbove: A single bank of “up only” BEB escalators on the second floor of the crossover. The main west entry to the building is seen on the right. 

A protected crossover linked the classroom and office units. It functioned both as a corridor and housed the University’s first escalator. The high-speed moving staircase, austin-statesman-headline-1962-01-18-escalatorthough, only went up; there was no down escalator. While the BEB was furnished with elevators and stairs, a persistent joke was that students and faculty would all wind up on the top floor at the end of the day.

Similar to the top floor windows on the classroom building, the mostly glass crossover was sheathed in a solar screen, this one a perforated concrete wall, to block some of the heat from the Texas sun. So, too, was the front entrance of the BEB, found on the west side of the crossover. The glass doors were covered in a deep blue diamond pattern made from steel.

Because of the sloping terrain, visitors entered at the second level. Just behind the crossover, on the east side along Speedway Street, a walled patio provided space for faculty and alumni gatherings. An alumni lounge, next to the dean’s office in the office building, was equipped with a kitchenette,  along with doors that led out to the patio.

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Above: Behind the crossover, on the east side along Speedway Street, an enclosed patio served as a space for faculty and alumni events. In the 1980s, the area was enclosed and made the McCombs School’s Hall of Honor, though alumni events are still held here.

“The Family,” a sculpture by art professor Charles Umlauf, was placed at the main west entrance, in front of the crossover. A heroic-size bronze more than fifteen feet tall and weighing over two tons, Umlauf created the piece in Milan, Italy. Its mother, father, and child symbolically represented the basic economic unit. The sculpture was shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to Houston, and then carefully transported to Austin, but didn’t arrive in time for the BEB’s formal dedication. Instead, a prankish student attached a placard to the front of the statue’s empty granite base that read, “Tomb of the Unknown BBA Student.”

Above: Charles Umlauf’s “The Family” guarded the main entrance to the BEB. 

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1962-ibm-comuterThe opening of the BEB galvanized the business school. As part of the University’s Ten Year plan, the undergraduate and graduate programs were reviewed, revised, and strengthened. A Business Honors Program was founded. Typing classes were discontinued (though still offered through University Extension) in favor of courses in mathematical analysis, leadership development, and the use of technology. While the BEB was under construction, Business Dean John White invested a sizable $75,000 to purchase an IBM 1620 Data Processing System (above left), a room-exciter-newsletterssize computer that could perform over 1,500 calculations per second. It was installed in time for the BEB dedication, and was a highlight of the building tour. “In preparation of the computer world of the Seventies and Eighties, all students in the College of Business explored the mysteries of this fantastic machine,” explained the 1965 Cactus yearbook.

Along with academics, the business school used the BEB to initiate an outreach program. In 1960, an Advisory Council was created to both help with fundraising and “provide an avenue of direct liaison between the faculty and the business community.” The school’s first alumni newsletter, The Ex-Citer, was published three times a year, and special events, including an annual homecoming during football season, were held on the alumni patio.

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There have been several renovations to the BEB over the years. In 1975, the Graduate School of Business Building was added to the west side, which eliminated the crossover entry and moved the main entrance to the south side of the building. By the early 1980s, business school enrollment topped 10,000 students, the largest in the nation and nearly a quarter of the entire University. The University
Teaching Center was built across the street to the south in 1982 to ease overcrowded classrooms, and a pedestrian bridge added to connect it to the rest of the business 1985-business-school-renovation-hall-of-honorschool.  A few years later, the BEB underwent a significant renovation. The central courtyard was covered to create an atrium (top left), classrooms were retooled and upgraded, the original decorative tile along the hallways was removed, and the alumni patio enclosed in favor of a “Hall of Honor.” (photo at right) The complex was renamed the George Kozmetsky Center for Business Education and formally dedicated in 1986. A later, minor renovation was completed in 2008. Citing problems with pigeons nesting among the tiles, the solar screen along the top row of windows of the classroom building was removed.

Above: Business Dean Robert Witt (left) inspects the progress of the 1980s renovation to the Business-Economics Building. The mosaic tile on the wall – a different pattern for each floor – was removed. 

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Above: A then and now look at the Business-Economics Building from the UT Tower observation deck. The image on top was taken in 1968, while the Jester Center residence hall was under construction. “The Family” statue can be seen in front of the west entry into the BEB crossover. The old Law Building (1908) was then home to the anthropology department. The photo above was taken in 2012. The Graduate School of Business Building was connected to the BEB in 1975, and later renovations enclosed the courtyard of the classroom building. Click on an image for a larger view.

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