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 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.

Five Things every Longhorn should Know

1. Know Your Forty Acres

Above: The UT campus at 21st Street and Guadalupe in 1899.

The city of Austin was founded in 1839 as the capital of the Republic of Texas. Surveyors laid out a series of city blocks between Waller and Shoal Creeks, set aside land at the top of a hill for a “Capitol Square,” named east-west streets for Texas trees, and north-south roads for Texas rivers.

A year later, in 1840, additional land was surveyed to the north, and a square, forty-acre plot was informally labeled “College Hill,” (photo at left) bounded today by 21st and 24th Streets, Speedway to the east, and Guadalupe on the west. At the time, there were no firm plans to establish a university, and the people of Austin made no claims to the land. They built their homes and businesses around College Hill, and used the area as a favorite spot for weekend picnics. There is, in fact, no legal deed to the plot.

The Texas Legislature created the University in 1881 and Austin, by way of a controversial state-wide vote, won the main campus. Having waited decades, College Hill was at last put to use when UT was formally opened on September 15, 1883. Though the University grounds have expanded ten-fold, the campus is still known as the Forty Acres.

Above right: The Victorian-Gothic old Main Building, UT’s first campus structure, where the Tower stands today. (Explore the early UT campus here.)

2. Know Your Colors

It was a gloomy Tuesday morning, April 21, 1885, when UT’s first baseball team, along with most of the student body, arrived at the downtown Austin train station at Third Street and Congress Avenue. The group had chartered passenger cars bound for Georgetown, thirty miles north, where UT was to play its first-ever intercollegiate baseball game against Southwestern University. Just as the train was ready to depart, Miss Gussie Brown from (of all places) Orange, Texas, urgently announced the need for some ribbon to identify everyone as from the University of Texas.

Today, college fans show support for their teams by donning t-shirts, jackets, and caps. But in the 1880s, colored ribbons were worn on lapels. An enterprising male student often sported longer ribbons so he’d have extra to share with a pretty girl who had none.

Gussie’s two friends – Venable Proctor and Clarence Miller – always eager to impress the ladies, jumped off the train and sprinted north along Congress Avenue to the nearest general store. They asked the shopkeeper for three bolts of two colors of ribbon. “Which colors?” the merchant inquired. “Anything,” the students replied. After all, the train was leaving the station, and there was no time to be particular.

The shopkeeper gave them the colors he had the most in stock: white ribbon, which was popular for weddings and parties and was always in demand, and bright orange ribbon, because few bought the color, and the store had plenty to spare.

Right: The Austin railroad station at Third Street and Congress Avenue.

Loaded with supplies, Proctor and Miller ran back and boarded the moving train as it left for Georgetown. Along the way, the ribbon was divided and distributed to everyone except for a law student named Yancey Lewis, “who had evolved a barbaric scheme of individual adornment by utilizing the remnants.”

Unfortunately, it rained in the afternoon, the pitcher’s curve ball curved not, and Texas outfielders ran weary miles in a lost cause as they fell to an experienced Southwestern squad 21–6. The colors, though, had made their debut. There would be challengers, including gold and white, royal blue, and (most popular) orange and maroon, but a 1900 vote by students, faculty, and alumni settled the matter for orange and white.

Read the full story here: Orange and White

3. Know Your Mascot

University of Texas athletic teams have been known as the “Longhorns” since 1904, but in the mid-1910s, a growing number of UT alumni wanted to see if a live longhorn mascot might be able to attend football games. In the fall of 1916, Texas law grad Stephen Pinckney, working for the U.S. Attorney General’s office, discovered what he thought would be the perfect candidate in West Texas. With $1.00 donations from 125 alumni, Pinckney arranged to purchase the steer and have it transported to Austin in time for the Thanksgiving Day football game between the University and Texas A&M.

The longhorn made its debut at halftime and was presented to the students (photo above left), then taken to a South Austin stockyard for safe keeping and a formal portrait. He was named “Bevo,” thought to be derived from the word “beeve,” the plural for beef, and a slang term for a cow or steer. (Think of the name as “Beef-o.”)

The University community, though, wasn’t entirely sure what to do with their new addition. The gift had been made, but without any formal plans for feeding, caring, or transporting the steer. Besides, UT students already claimed to have a live mascot in Pig Bellmont, (right) a dog owned by Athletic Director Theo Bellmont. Pig lived on the Forty Acres, had a daily routine of greeting students in classrooms and in the library, and went to home and away football, baseball, and basketball games.

Texas had won the football game 21-7, and some students pushed to have the steer branded with the score. Others thought it was cruel. As the campus community debated, a group of Aggie pranksters visited Austin in the wee hours of Sunday, February 12, 1917, broke in to the South Austin stockyard and branded the steer “13-0,” the score of the 1915 football bout A&M had won in College Station the year before.

Above: Bevo was branded “13-0” in February 1917. 

A few days later, amid rumors that the Aggies planned to kidnap the animal outright, Bevo was safely transported to the Tom Iglehart ranch west of Austin. Six weeks later, the United States entered World War I, and the University transformed itself to support the war effort. Out of sight and off campus, the branded steer was all but forgotten until the end of the war in November 1918.

Since Bevo’s food and care cost the University sixty cents a day, and as the steer wasn’t believed to be tame enough to remain in the football stadium, it was fattened up and became the barbecued main course for the January 1920 football banquet. A delegation from A&M was invited to attend, “and the branding iron was buried and the resumption of athletic relations, after an unhappy period… duly celebrated.”

For the full story and more photos, see Bevo.

4. Know Your Hand Sign

Above: Harley Clark (right) and the 1955 UT cheerleaders.

Harley Clark was a head cheerleader in search of an idea. It was the second week of November, 1955, and the Texas Longhorn football team was getting ready to host sixth-ranked TCU in an important contest at Memorial Stadium. A torchlight parade across the Forty Acres and football rally in Gregory Gym had been scheduled for Friday night, November 11th, but Harley was looking for something to make it extra special and rouse a little more of the University of Texas spirit.

A few days before the rally, Harley was in the Texas Union (photo at right) when he saw fellow classmate Henry “HK” Pitts, who suggested that a hand sign with the index and little fingers extended looked a bit like a longhorn, and might be fun to do at rallies and football games. The Texas Aggies had their “Gig ‘em” thumbs-up sign, inspired while playing the TCU Horned Frogs. (“Gigging” is a term used to hunt small game – including frogs – with a muti-pronged spear.) With the TCU game coming up on Saturday, why can’t Texas fans have their own hand signal?

Harley liked the idea, and decided to introduce it at the Gregory Gym rally. He demonstrated the sign to the crowd and promptly declared, “This is the official hand sign of the University of Texas, to be used whenever and wherever Longhorns gather.” The students and cheerleaders tried it out, and Harley led a simple yell, “Hook ‘em Horns!” with hands raised. (In this case, a tradition has two founders. HK Pitts was in charge of “research and development,” and Harley Clark took on “marketing and sales.”)

Above: A tradition is born. The moment in Gregory Gym when the “Hook ’em Horns” hand sign was first introduced to UT students. Click on an image for a larger view.

Immediately after the rally, Harley was confronted by a furious Arno Nowotny, the Dean of Students. “How could you say the hand sign was official?” the dean wanted to know. “Has this been approved by the University administration?” Harley admitted that the idea hadn’t been approved first, but the cat was already out of the bag – or the longhorn was already loose in the pasture. At the football game, the student section practiced what they’d learned the night before, and the alumni were quick to follow. By the end of the game, the stadium was full of “Hook ‘em Horns” hand signs.

The full story is here: Hook ’em Horns

5. Know Your Tower

The Main Building, with its 307-foot Tower, is the definitive landmark of the University. For eighty years, it’s quietly watched over the 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 and UT English instructor 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.”

Opened in 1937, the Main Building was created to house the University’s central library. Along the east and west sides of the building, a pair of spacious reading rooms, labeled the “Hall of Texas” and the “Hall of Noble Words,” were connected to a great central reference room. Made with liberal use of oak and marble, the room was decorated with the six seals of Texas. (A life sciences library is still housed in the Main Building, and a visit to see these great halls is highly recommended. The Hall of Noble Words is a popular study place for students.)

Above: The ceiling of the Hall of Noble Words. 

Rising twenty-seven floors above the reading rooms, the Tower contained the library’s book stacks. Made of Indiana limestone, it was financed through a grant from the Progress Works Administration, a New Deal program created during the Great Depression. As a closed-stack library, its patrons searched an immense card catalog to identify their selections, and then requested books at the front desk. Orders were forwarded upstairs to one of the Tower librarians, who sometimes wore roller skates to better navigate the rows of bookshelves. Once found, books were sent downstairs in a special elevator to be checked out.

As both enrollment and the library’s holdings grew, the waiting time for a book extended to more than half an hour. The need for an open-stack library led to the construction of the Undergraduate Library and Academic Center in 1963 (now the Flawn Academic Center), and the Perry-Castaneda Library in 1977.

Symbolically, architect Paul Cret intended the Tower to be the University’s iconic building, and sought to give it an “appropriate architectural treatment for a depository of human knowledge.” The ornamentation on the building was meant to convey its purpose as a library as well as to the mission and aspirations of the University. Names of literary giants – Plato, Shakespeare, and Mark Twain, among them –  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 as 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, 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.

The most colorful decorations were hung along the east and west sides of the building, just below the broad eaves, where artful representations of a dozen university seals (above right) 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.”

At night, the Tower takes on a different symbolic meaning when it glows orange to announce an athletic victory or an academic achievement. In the case of a national championship, a number “1” is displayed in the windows – a favorite sight for every Longhorn fan. (See: Tower Light, Tower Bright: How the Orange Tower Tradition Began.)

Above: An orange Tower with a “1” on all four sides for a national championship.

For more reading and photos about the Tower: How to Build a Tower and The Main Building Seals.

Also see: Advice for UT Freshmen

How to Build a Tower

Image

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.

Main Building Construction.2..

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.

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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.

Audio Comes to the UT History Corner

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With a battered and worn cover after more than seven decades, Songs of the University of Texas contains early recordings of UT favorites, along with some tunes that haven’t been heard on the campus since the 1950s.

The UT History Corner is more than a blog; it’s intended to be an expanding resource for those interested in exploring the University’s past. To compliment the traditions, images, and resource areas already on the web site, a new audio section has been added.

Songs of the University of Texas is a three-record set of 78rpm discs recorded sometime in the mid-1940s. Curiously, the songs weren’t performed by a UT student group, but arranged and recorded in New York City by the Republic Glee Club, whose members were often heard on popular national radio shows. E. William Doty, the first dean of UT’s College of Fine Arts (and who held the post for 34 years), is listed as “Musical Advisor.”

A pair of tunes will be familiar: The Eyes of Texas and Texas Taps (better known today as Texas Fight!). While the songs were arranged specifically for the New  York performers, the age of the recording still might tell us a little as to how the songs were initially sung.

The other three selections are: The Clock on the Varsity Tower, Hail to Thee our Texas, and The Victory Song. John Young, a 1940 fine arts graduate, wrote Clock as a ballad to his sweetheart. The two met on the Main Mall in front of the Tower, and the clock chimed just as they were introduced. The composer of Hail to Thee is unknown, though the song has the feel of a traditional, Ivy League college piece, sung by an a Capella choir in a grand auditorium. The upbeat Victory Song by George Hurt was used as a second UT fight song, and was a staple at football rallies and games into the early 1960s before it disappeared.

1940 Songs of the Forty Acres

Along with the recordings, a 4 x 6 inch pamphlet, titled Songs of the Forty Acres, was printed at about the same time. It contains about 20 tunes, many of them Texas folk favorites – including Git Along, Li’l Dogies – but the music and words to the UT songs on the records are also included. Those pages have been scanned and posted to the audio section, so listen, sing along, or find a piano and play these old college songs yourself!

To listen to Songs of the University of Texas, click here.

How “Texan” is the UT Tower?

City Hall.Camden NJ.4.

Above: Does this building look familiar? Brace yourself…

The Tower. It’s the signature, iconic symbol of the University of Texas. Bathed in warm orange lights to announce academic honors and sports victories, crowned in fireworks for spring commencement, it’s been a backdrop for freshman convocations, football rallies, concerts, and demonstrations. Architect Paul Cret intended the Tower 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 a college is sometimes described as being housed in a metaphorical “ivory tower,” the University of Texas doesn’t settle for expressive substitutes. We have a tower all our own.

What will surprise many is that the Main Building and its 27-story Tower, now so identified with Texas, is actually a blend of many sources, most of them not from the Lone Star State. And the proudest of Longhorns may cringe to learn that part of the inspiration for the building’s design came from, of all places, New Jersey.

Paul CretThe building’s designer was Paul Cret (pronounced “Cray”). There’s a persistent campus myth that he attended Rice University in Houston (more on that here), but Cret was born in Lyon, France, graduated from the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, and immigrated to the United States. When he was hired to be the consulting architect for the University of Texas in 1930, Cret headed the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and maintained an active private practice. His office was on Market Street downtown.

Completed in 1937, the Main Building was both the University’s central library and focus of Cret’s campus master plan. As the monumental structure on the Forty Acres, the architect was careful in his choice of materials and talent. Some of this was recruited from Texas, but much of the building, both physically and conceptually, arrived from beyond the state’s borders.

Visitors to the Main Building will likely recognize the Austin shell stone – locally quarried limestone packed with fossilized shells – used to frame the doorways in the building’s front loggia. Inside, the Magnolia Gray marble along the walls of the “grand stairway” was shipped from West Texas. And some of the bricks from the old Main Building, made in Austin, were recycled for the inner walls and air shafts of the new structure.

Robert Leon White, a UT graduate and member of the architecture faculty, contributed to the design of the interior of the building, and served as supervising architect for its construction. Peter Mansbendel of Austin, an internationally-known master artisan in the first half of the 20th century, was responsible for most of the elaborate wood carving in oak and walnut.

Aside from those few native sources, much of the rest of the building is from outside Texas. The walls of the Main Building and Tower were constructed of Bedford, Indiana limestone, known for its hardness and durability. The Mediterranean red-tiled roof, a defining characteristic of most UT buildings, was authentic, as the tiles were shipped from Spain. Marble used for the steps, floor, and benches in the loggia, the steps of the grand stairway, and even the water fountains, is from Tennessee. In the reading rooms, a variety of other marbles, from light grey to rose to charcoal, were imported from such faraway places as Missouri, New York, and Vermont. The ornate brass light fixtures found throughout the building were designed by Edwin Cole of Chicago.

Tower Consruction 1935.A

Above: Construction of the Main Building in 1935. The Tower’s book stacks were designed by Snead and Co. Ironworks from New Jersey.

The Tower itself was initially intended to house the library’s book stacks, and Cret hired Snead and Co. Ironworks from Jersey City, New Jersey to design and construct them. The company was world-famous for its innovative approach to library shelving and published two books on the subject. Its clients included the Library of Congress, Harvard, Stanford, and Cornell Universities, along with the Vatican Library. Built of cast iron, the Tower’s infrastructure supported the 27-floors, four-faced clock, and belfry, as the Indiana limestone was wrapped around it.

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Above: One of several proposed versions UT’s Main Building and Tower. Copies are on display in the Tower’s observation deck. The originals are preserved in the Alexander Architecture Archive in Battle Hall.

What of the Tower’s design? Cret sketched several possibilities, including a Tower that was a short, wide, solid mass (pictured). But the version most popular with the Board of Regents happened to be one that was, in part, inspired by the newly completed city hall building in Camden, New Jersey.

That the appearance of the Main Building was influenced by other structures shouldn’t be a surprise. As with writers, artists, or musicians, it’s not unusual for architects to be inspired by ideas from colleagues or predecessors. The University’s first library building, created by Cass Gilbert and today known as Battle Hall, took its cue from the Boston Public Library.

Camden, New Jersey sits directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, and the Camden City Hall building was constructed from 1928 – 1931, just as Paul Cret was hired by the University of Texas. The architects for Camden’s building, Alfred Green and Byron Edwards, learned their trade from the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design in Philadelphia, founded by graduates of the Ecole des Beaux-Arts to train American architects in the French method. Cret was both a patron and guest lecturer of the Institute, and interacted regularly with Green and Edwards throughout their careers.

Made of light gray granite, the City Hall was (and still is) the dominant sight on the Camden skyline. It was an object of great interest during its construction, and Cret was able to view its progress from his Market Street offices as he contemplated the plans of a new library in Austin.

City Hall.Camden NJ.3.

 Above: A post card view of Camden’s City Hall. The physical similarities between it and the UT Tower are too numerous to dismiss. Along with the general shape of the tower, clock, and belfry, the massing of the lower part of the building – even the rustication of the first two floors – resemble the Main Building in Austin. 

UT Tower and Camden City Hall

UT Myth-Conceptions: A Rice Owl in the Tower

Yikes! 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 – who graduated from rival Purdue – as he didn’t take into account the extra weight of the books on the shelves. At Iowa State, a student who carelessly treads on the university seal inlaid on the floor of the union building will fail his next exam. And Princeton undergraduates who exit the campus through the iron FitzRandolph gates before their graduation might not complete their degrees.

They’re all campus myths, of course, and are as common to colleges as all-nighters. This is one of a series of posts to set the record straight on some of those pesky legends that inhabit the University of Texas.

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

Of all the legends on the Forty Acres, this may be the one most frequently repeated. When the top of the Tower is viewed from a diagonal, two of the faces of the clock appear to be an 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 recently been extended to the Frost Bank Building, which was opened in 2004 on Congress Avenue downtown. Apparently, Rice architecture grads are very busy.

But it’s not true, at least not on the Forty Acres. The architect of UT’s Main Building and Tower was Paul Cret (pronounced “Cray”), 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. In 1920, the 44-year old Cret immigrated to the United States and was the head of the architecture school at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia when he was hired as the University’s consulting architect in 1930.

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Above: A portion of Paul Cret’s 1933 campus master plan for the University of Texas. The original painting, about 12 feet long, is preserved in the Alexander Architecture Archive, on the ground floor of Battle Hall. Click on an image for a larger view.

Cret’s campus master plan, finished in 1933, influenced the University’s architecture for decades. The South Mall and its “six pack” of buildings, Goldsmith Hall and the Texas Union on the West Mall, Hogg Auditorium, Mary Gearing, Painter, and Welch Halls are among the products of Cret’s designs.

Above: A little-known early version of the University Tower. (See text.)

Starting with Battle Hall (designed by architect Cass Gilbert in 1910), UT buildings have followed a Mediterranean Renaissance style. Cret continued this theme, though there is a little-known and VERY suspicious early rendition of the Tower by the native Frenchman tucked away in the University Archives. (Photo above.)

All right, I may have made up part of that last paragraph. Perhaps it’ll be the birth of a new campus legend…

How did the Tower-Rice myth get its start? One possibility is connected to Dr. William Battle, who was hired in 1893 to teach Greek and Classical studies, and rose through the academic ranks to be a professor, dean, and for a short time, the acting president of the University. He founded the University Co-op, designed the UT Seal, and for many years was the chair of the Faculty Building Committee, a group that advised the Board of Regents on campus construction. Because of Battle’s extensive contributions and experience on the campus, the Board of Regents relied heavily on his advice and judgment. A new building wasn’t approved unless Battle agreed.

When Battle was first hired, he was assigned an office on the top floor of the old Main Building’s central tower. He named his new digs the “owl’s nest.”

In the 1930s, when the current Main Building replaced Old Main, Battle was again given an office on the top floor of the Tower – he joked that he had the “highest office in the land.” – and continued to call it the owl’s nest. After Battle retired in the 1950s, the reference could have transferred to the physical appearance of the Tower and evolved to be mistakenly associated with Rice University.

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Above: An 1937 aerial photograph of the newly finished Main Building and Tower.