The Great South Mall Controversy

An Extended History of the Littlefield Gateway

Littlefield Fountain

It’s been a topic of conversation for most of the summer. Everyone agrees that the University of Texas campus ought to provide a welcoming atmosphere for all members of the UT community, but the statues of Jefferson Davis and other Confederate soldiers along the South Mall, installed in 1933 as part of the Littlefield Memorial Gateway, don’t exactly fit the bill. Some claim this has been a point of contention for the past quarter century, but an extended look at the history of statues and fountain on the South Mall shows that the controversy is as old as the gateway itself.

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The Littlefield Gateway was the result of an ongoing disagreement between two men whose first and middle names were the same as the country’s first president: George Washington Littlefield and George Washington Brackenridge.

George LittlefieldBorn in Mississippi in 1842, George Littlefield’s family moved to Texas when he was eight years old. Along with many of his friends, he enlisted in the Confederate Army during the Civil War, rose to the rank of Major, and then returned to Texas to make a fortune in the cattle business, with extensive ranches in West Texas and New Mexico. Littlefield arrived in Austin in the 1880s and organized the American National Bank, which was eventually housed in the Littlefield Building at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue. Late in his life, Littlefield was appointed to the UT Board of Regents and became the University’s greatest benefactor up to that time. Among his many donations are the Alice Littlefield Residence Hall (named for his wife), the Littlefield Fund for Southern History, and the $225,000 purchase of the John Henry Wrenn Library of English literature. With 6,000 volumes dating from 17th century, it was the University’s first rare book collection and brought international attention to the UT libraries.

George BrackenridgeIn contrast, George Brackenridge was born and raised in Indiana. His father, John, was a local attorney who befriended a young Abraham Lincoln before his family moved to Illinois. Lincoln watched the elder Mr. Brackenridge argue cases in court, occasionally borrowed books from him, and later credited Brackenridge as helping to inspire Lincoln to pursue the law as a profession. George Brackenridge attended Harvard University and moved to Texas with his family when he was 21 years old. During the Civil War, Brackenridge was both pro-Union and war profiteer, shipping cotton through Brownsville and around the Union blockade along the Gulf Coast to New York. After the war, he moved to San Antonio and founded a bank of his own.

Old B HallBrackenridge was appointed early to the UT Board of Regents, served for a record 27 years, and was also an important benefactor. Among his donations: the original Brackenridge Hall (better known as old “B. Hall” – photo at left), an inexpensive residence hall for the “poor boys” of the state; University Hall in Galveston as a dorm for women studying medicine; financial backing for a new School of Domestic Economy (today’s School of Human Ecology); and the Brackenridge Loan Fund for women studying architecture, law, and medicine. Early in the University’s history when funds were scarce, the Board of Regents was ready to sell the two million acres of arid West Texas land granted to it by the state legislature and create an endowment. Brackenridge convinced the regents to wait and had the lands properly surveyed at his expense, a decision for which the University was later very grateful.

Because of their differing views during the Civil War, neither man held the other in high regard. According to UT President Robert Vinson, “Their dislike of each other was profound. When Mr. Brackenridge spoke of the University of Texas, he emphasized the word University. Major Littlefield emphasized the word Texas.” While the two held different ideologies, the animosity may have been exaggerated. In 1917, when Governor James Ferguson vetoed the state appropriation in an attempt to close the University, both Littlefield and Brackenridge pledged to personally underwrite UT’s operating expenses, if necessary. When Littlefield purchased the magnificent Wrenn Library, Brackenridge donated several thousand dollars to publish a catalog for the collection.

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In the early 1900s, UT’s enrollment surpassed 1,000 students and was steadily increasing. Brackenridge realized the University would eventually outgrow its 40-acre campus, and in 1910 donated 500 acres of land to the University along the Colorado River at what is today Lake Austin Boulevard, Married Student Housing, and the Austin Municipal Golf course. He had hoped to purchase up to an additional 1,000 acres and eventually move the University to the 1,500-acre site, where it would have room to grow for generations.

AA.1921.Brackenridge Tract.Color

Above: The Brackenridge Tract (outlined in orange), about two miles west of downtown. Map from the Austin American. Color added by the author. Click image for a larger view.

The idea was generally popular with Austinites, but Littlefield, whose mansion was across the street from the Forty Acres, wasn’t eager to see the University relocate to a “Brackenridge campus,” and took measures to keep the location fixed and add additional land instead.

The need of a larger campus resurfaced soon after the conclusion of World War I in November 1918, as thousands of American veterans returned from the trenches in Europe to fill universities across the country. With enrollment in Austin approaching 4,000 students, relocating the University to larger quarters was again being discussed.

Postcard.August 1908.Birds Eye View

Above: This bird’s eye view of the UT campus from 1908 shows a single-lane road that entered from the south, circled past the Victorian-Gothic old Main Building, and then exited at the same location. The entry point was the site George Littlefield chose to develop into a formal gateway. 

To prevent a potential move to the Brackenridge Tract, Littlefield contacted Pompeo Coppini, an Italian-born sculptor then living in Chicago. Coppini, whose friends called him “Pep,” had already worked with Littlefield on the Terry’s Texas Rangers monument on the Texas Capitol grounds. For years, Littlefield had mulled over putting  something at the south entrance to the campus. There was yet no formal entryway, just a single-lane graveled road that led up to the old Main Building and wound its way back to the same point. An unremarkable sign that read “Drive to the Right” marked the entrance to the campus.

In 1916, Littlefield had proposed the idea of a “massive bronze arch” to designate the entrance, on which would be statues of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Albert Johnston, John Reagan, and former Texas Governor Jim Hogg. Littlefield, as a product of his time, had long been concerned that the University was becoming too “northernized” and that future generations of UT students might not remember their Southern heritage. The idea of such a monument was not an uncommon one. In the 1990s, concerns were raised that the U.S. had no memorial to its veterans who fought in the Second World War. The need to create one before those who had participated passed on provided a sense of urgency. Within a decade, the National World war II Memorial had been installed in Washington. Similar concerns were voiced in the early part of the 20th century over the Civil War as the ranks of the war’s survivors dwindled. Through the 1920s, a surge of  monuments to both the Union and Confederacy appeared in the eastern half of the United States.

Littlefield planned to spend $200,000 (about $4.5 million today) on his gateway. Coppini responded that an arch as the Major envisioned would cost twice that amount, and there the project languished until just after the First World War in 1919.

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Pompeo Coppini“I want to build that arch,” wrote George Littlefield to Pompeo Coppini (right) on July 23, 1919, “of which you and I talked over some time ago.” This time, though, it wasn’t just just to enshrine Southern history. Littlefield hoped that by placing a formal gateway on campus, it would help to “nail it down.” Coppini complained that the project was still too costly, but Littlefield was willing to try a stone arch instead of bronze, and sent University president Robert Vinson to Chicago to confer with the sculptor. Coppini believed the cost of the monument might drop to $300,000, still over Littlefield’s budget, but Vinson asked Coppini to go ahead with drawings and plans.

By early September, plans for the arch were ready and a set of drawings sent to President Vinson in Austin. “If you find that the Major is well pleased with our studies,” Coppini instructed, “just wire at my expense: ‘Go ahead with the plaster model plan’ and I will immediately.” Littlefield, though, was not well. He spent the autumn and much of the winter at the Arlington Hotel in Hot Springs, Arkansas under the care of a team of physicians and nurses, and rarely rose from bed. Vinson notified Coppini of the situation, and the sculptor elected to press ahead with the model.

Coppini Arch.Front View

Coppini Arch.Side View

Above: Recently discovered front and side views of the clay model of Coppini’s “arch” at the Chicago exhibit in April 1920. Click on an image for a larger view. Source: Coppini-Tauch Papers, Box 3R180, The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.

Coppini’s initial design might best be described as an arch in disguise. Though Littlefield had requested it, Coppini strongly objected to the use of arches as memorials, as they were “reminiscent of the Roman Caesarian age,” when empires were “bent on conquering and enslaving other people and reminding them of their yoke, by making them pass under arches in their pompous marches of triumph.” Instead of a portal, Coppini’s arch better resembled a large, free-standing classical niche, constructed from limestone, approximately 40-feet tall, closed at the back and used as the focus of a central display.

Arch Close upWithin the niche, Coppini placed three 11-foot statues which stood shoulder-to-shoulder. Most of the notes and plans for the arch have been lost, but a pair of recently discovered images of the clay model shows the central figure was a woman, with her right arm raised and holding a torch. She is an allegorical figure, possibly meant to represent the spirit of the South. On her left, dressed in a double-buttoned Confederate military uniform, was a portrait statue of Robert E. Lee. The person to her right is unclear, but was probably Jefferson Davis. (Click on an image for a closer view.)

Two life-size portrait statues were placed in front of the arch supports, and another pair at the ends of two extended, curved benches that flanked the arch. These were likely Wilson, Hogg, Johnston, and Reagan, though their exact placement is unclear. In front of the arch was a cascade fountain that emptied to a small pool. Two prominent, vertical spouts of water rose from the pool to frame the central group.

BattleHallPostcard1On top of the structure was red-tile roof, added both to further mask the arch as an imitation from ancient Rome and to better harmonize it with the new architectural style of the campus. A decade before, in 1909, the Board of Regents hired Cass Gilbert from New York as the first University Architect. By 1919, Gilbert had designed a library and an education building – today’s Battle (photo at left) and Sutton Halls – as part of an overall campus master plan which brought a new, Mediterranean Renaissance look to the Forty Acres.

Camp Randall ArchAbove: Coppini and his architects may also have been inspired by the Camp Randall arch in Madison, Wisconsin, just 150 miles northwest of Chicago. Dedicated in 1912, the Camp Randall arch marked the location where 700,000 Union soldiers received their training. It is still an entryway to today’s Camp Randall Stadium at the University of  Wisconsin.

University Methodist Church

Above: Another way to imagine Coppini’s “arch” is to look at the bellfry on the University United Methodist Church at the corner of 24th and Guadalupe Streets. Though the proportions aren’t quite right, the building materials are similar. Designed in 1908 by architect Frederick Mann, the Spanish Colonial style of the church inspired the UT president and Board of Regents, who thought it was an appropriate look for Texas, to follow a similar style for the campus.

A few days before Christmas 1919, Littlefield was at last well enough to dictate a letter to Coppini. Littlefield hadn’t seen the drawings for the arch, he explained, but understood from others in Austin that the cost was far above his initial limit of $200,000. He was willing to go a little higher. “Now $250,000 is all I want to put into this work, completed,” Littlefield told Coppini, and asked the sculptor to try again.

Coppini responded enthusiastically on December 26th. “I will get to work on a new plan … so I can submit it to you when you get back to Austin.” He also cautioned Littlefield, “We must give up the Arch idea, as it would be a sin to sacrifice any sum of money for something that could not be a credit to you or to me. We want to give something that will express a high ideal and an elevated sense of knowledge and true patriotism, rather than a pile of stones.” The process of designing the arch had given Coppini time to reflect on what Littlefield’s memorial gateway would mean to the University in the future, and had given him the idea for a new concept. Though the model would never be seen in Austin, it was on display the following spring at an architectural exhibition hosted by the Chicago Art Institute.

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Four months later, on April 15, 1920, Coppini, Littlefield, President Vinson, and other UT officials gathered in Austin to formally discuss the Littlefield Memorial Gateway. Coppini had prepared a new, less expensive design, and replaced the arch with an elaborate fountain. While, per Littlefield’s wishes, the subjects of the portrait statues remained the same, Coppini attempted to recast the gateway as a war memorial.

He explained to Littlefield:

“As time goes by, they will look to the Civil War as a blot on the pages of American history, and the Littlefield Memorial will be resented as keeping up the hatred between the Northern and Southern states.”

Instead, Coppini proposed to honor those who had fought in the World War, as “all past regional differences have disappeared and we are now one welded nation.” Coppini then presented his revised plan for the Littlefield Gateway.

Littlefield Gateway.1920 Design

Above: Coppini’s 1920 redesign for the Littlefield Memorial Gateway.

Coppini’s intent was to show the reunification of America in World War I after it had been divided in the Civil War. The scheme centered on a 100-foot long rectangular pool of water. At its head, in an elevated pool to create a cascade, was the bow of a ship, on which stood Columbia, symbol of the American spirit. Behind her to each side stood a member of the Army and the Navy, collectively representing the U.S. armed forces. The ship was to be pulled by three sea horses. As Coppini saw it, the fountain group showed a strong, united America sailing across the ocean to protect democracy abroad.

Littlefield Gateway ObeliskImmediately behind the fountain, Coppini planned two large pylons or obelisks (37 feet tall), symbolic of the North and the South. In front of each he placed the statues of two “war presidents”: Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy at a time when the country was deeply divided, and Woodrow Wilson, leader of a reunified America during the world war. While these two persons were part of Littlefield’s initial arch, Coppini had transformed them into symbols to compliment the message of the fountain group, not to honor the men individually. The remaining statues of Lee, Reagan, Johnston, and Hogg were staged on either side of the fountain, as a peripheral “court of honor” though less important to the central scheme.

While much of the gateway had a new focus, it was, in a sense, a double memorial, attempting to satisfy both Littlefield’s desires to remember Southern history and Coppini’s wish to honor those who had participated in the recent world war. This made the project a difficult one.

Littlefield agreed to the idea, but Coppini later wrote of the meeting:

“We had people unfriendly to us from the very beginning, and many of the faculty were opposed from the start to a Confederate Memorial on the University Campus. That opposition was freely spoken of to me even at the time we exhibited the studies of the first plans, and if it had not been my advice to the Major to let me combine a World War Memorial with the rest of the men he wanted to commemorate, the University, with all probability would not have the Memorial erected on the grounds. Dr. Vinson at the time helped me in converting the Major.”

A contract was written and signed on April 20th and designated a seven-year completion time. A Board of Trustees, composed of the University president, a UT alumnus, and Gus Wroe, the newly elected chairman of the board of Littlefield’s American National Bank (and who had married Littlefield’s niece) would oversee the project and manage the fund. The $250,000 gift was to be divided, half for the production of the statues and pay Coppini as the sculptor, and the remainder for the construction of the gateway.

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The following September, Vinson made a special trip to New York to confer with architect Cass Gilbert. The two discussed the Littlefield Gateway and what impact it would have on Gilbert’s overall campus scheme, but the UT president was also laying plans of his own.

Cass GilbertVinson was acutely aware that the University of Texas had before it a rare opportunity. Cass Gilbert (photo at left) was among the most eminent architects of his time. The Woolworth Tower in New York, designed by Gilbert, was the tallest building in the world when it opened in 1913. Gilbert had extensive planning experience, having won a competition to design the University of Minnesota shortly before the Board of Regents asked him to come to Austin. His two UT buildings, now Battle and Sutton Halls, had quickly become favorites on the Forty Acres.

Vinson also had an unused 500-acre tract of land on which he could let his distinguished architect design a truly remarkable campus, and, he believed, the financial assistance of George Brackenridge. Moving the University to new surroundings would be difficult and expensive, and persons like George Littlefield much preferred to simply add additional land to the original acreage. Though Vinson wanted to move, a larger campus in central Austin was also a win in the president’s view, but the window of opportunity was closing. Despite Gilbert’s reputation, there was growing political pressure within the state for the University to hire a Texan as its architect. The Board of Regents might soon be forced to replace Gilbert, and Vinson had decided to force the location issue, either to move or expand the original campus, when the Texas Legislature reconvened in January 1921.

Vinson was careful not to divulge too much, and spoke to Gilbert only about expanding the existing campus. Gilbert considered what impact the Littlefield Memorial would have on the view of the old Main Building on the hill. The proposed 37-foot pylons would certainly hide any low structure. Prophetically, Gilbert began to sketch a new Main Building with a tower.

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Littlefield Casket in Battle Hall.1920In the final months of 1920, Littlefield’s health continued to deteriorate until he died peacefully in his sleep on November 10th at 78 years of age. Two days later, the University honored its greatest benefactor as Littlefield’s body lay in state in the vestibule of what today is Battle Hall. (Photo at left.) For several hours, thousands from the University community visited to pay their final respects. A formal burial was held at the Oakwood Cemetery.

Littlefield HomeThe Major, though, had anticipated what Brackenridge might do, and left nothing to chance. Littlefield’s will included $500,000 toward the construction of a new Main Building, $300,000 and land for a women’s dormitory (now the Alice Littlefield Residence Hall), and $250,000 for the gateway, but all of the gifts were contingent upon the University campus staying where it was for the next eight years. Just hours before he died, Littlefield made one final donation: his turreted Victorian mansion at 24th Street would be turned over to the University subject to Mrs. Littlefield’s life interest, potentially as a home for future UT presidents.

With Littlefield’s passing, Vinson waited only about a month before shifting course.  Convinced the University would receive a large bequest from Brackenridge, Vinson called for a Board of Regents meeting to be held on January 5, 1921 in San Antonio with Brackenridge present. The board intended to publicly announce its support to move the University campus. Brackenridge summoned Vinson to San Antonio on December 15th, and the two discussed at length changes to the Brackenridge will, though Vinson never saw the updated document. As late as December 21st, Vinson alerted Cass Gilbert that “our plans for changing the site of the University campus are rapidly maturing.”

And then, on December 28th, George Washington Brackenridge, just a few weeks from his 89th birthday, died.

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Despite the turn of events, Vinson pressed ahead with the dream of moving the University to a larger, riverfront campus. The regents met in Austin on January 5th and authored an extensive report. It outlined reasons why the University needed more room, argued that a move to the Brackenridge Tract would be more economical in the long term, and asked for approval by the governor and Texas Legislature.

AAS.1920.01.06.Brackenridge Fortune

The following day, The Austin Statesman announced “University Gets Brackenridge Fortune” as its top headline. Specifically timed to garner public support for moving the campus, the article claimed an unconditional bequest of more than $3 million was expected, more than enough to counter the Littlefield bequests that would be forfeited if UT left the Forty Acres. Though the Brackenridge will had not yet been filed for probate and made public, the Statesman claimed the information was from “authoritative sources.”

1921 Cactus.Moving the University.2. - CopyAlmost 4,000 UT students met en masse on campus and overwhelmingly approved a resolution in favor of relocation.  A series of editorials in The Daily Texan extolled the serious benefits of the roomier Brackenridge Tract , though the students couldn’t resist putting a lighter face on  the issue.  Cartoons appeared in the Texan and other publications that imagined life on the new campus as a non-stop pool party. Students would jump out of classroom windows for a swim in the Colorado River, and fraternities would live in “frat-boats” on the water.

Cartoon Combo.Moving the University

Above: Student cartoons portrayed the easy life once the University moved to the Brackenridge Tract. Click on an image for a larger view.

A week after the Austin Statesman headline, Brackenridge’s will became public and it did not mention the University as a beneficiary. Though two courts later ruled that Brackenridge had indeed written a new will, he either had second thoughts and destroyed it, or it was otherwise lost. Either way, Brackenridge’s fortune had waned in his final years to about $1.5 million, barely enough to counter Littlefield’s bequest, and something which Brackenridge apparently didn’t disclose to Vinson. The University president took the news hard, but as the campaign to move the campus had been planned and was already underway, Vison decided to “go straight ahead” and see it through.

AAS.1921.01.Vinson HradlineIn mid-January, a bill to relocate the University was submitted to the Texas Legislature and received solid support from outgoing Governor William Hobby, prominent UT alumni, and the local press. But when the dream of a windfall from the Brackenridge estate didn’t appear, a serious opposition developed. Businesses, churches, and boarding houses near the campus, whose customers or congregations were mostly from the University community, would be seriously affected. As the Brackenridge Tract was still outside the commercial and residential development of Austin, moving the campus to a relatively isolated location would require the additional costs of residence and dining halls. And the forfeiture of Littlefield’s generous bequest had to be considered.

Robert VinsonAfter the will was read and debate began, some legislators saw an opportunity. If the campus needed more room, why did it have to remain in Austin? One proposal would have allowed any city that could guarantee 500 acres and $10 million to be placed on a ballot, and a statewide election to decide the location.

Once the possibility of losing the University became known, Austin citizens quickly united against the whole idea, and Vinson (photo at right) was harshly criticized for opening a Pandora’s box. The bill to relocate the campus was defeated. An appropriation of $1.35 million was approved to purchase land east of the Forty Acres and extend the campus north to 26th Street and east to present day Robert Dedman Drive. Texas Governor Pat Neff signed the bill April 1st. The next day, President Vinson suspended classes for two hours for a student parade to the Capitol to thank the governor.

1921.Thanking Governor Neff - Copy

Above: ‘Thank you, Governor Pat!” On Saturday, April 2, 1921, students and faculty gathered in front of the Texas Capitol to personally thank Governor Neff for signing the bill that provided additional lands for the campus.

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DSCN4786While the question of moving the campus was being resolved in Austin, Pompeo Coppini had returned to his Chicago studio to begin work on the gateway. He had hoped to start with the 9-foot Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson statues, as they were of a larger scale than the others, but as this was to be the first ever bronze likeness of Wilson, Coppini wanted to acquire some head shots of the president, as well as borrow a suit and shoes to be certain of the correct proportions. On Coppini’s behalf, Vinson contacted Albert Burleson.  A member of UT’s first graduating class in 1884, Burleson had been a U.S. Congressman from Texas for 14 years before being appointed Postmaster General by President Wilson. Vinson sent along copies of the plans for the Littlefield Gateway and asked if Burleson would approach Wilson about the project. President Wilson, though, was less than enthused. While he didn’t formally ask that the statue of him be omitted, Wilson declined to loan one of his suits or send measurements, and reportedly resented the idea of his image standing next to one of Jefferson Davis. (“Possibly because they had so much in common,” wrote Coppini.) Instead, the sculptor saved the Wilson statue for last and relied on published photographs of the president.

Robert E Lee StatueIn 1922, with his reputation as a first class artist continuing to grow, Coppini moved from Chicago to New York City, where he opened a studio at 210 West 14th Street in the present day Greenwich Village District of Manhattan. Locally, The Brooklyn Sunday Eagle published a multi-page feature on the Littlefield Gateway, called the memorial “remarkable and strikingly symbolic” and quoted Coppini, “Though I am Italian born, I am American reborn.” The New York Times regularly followed the progress of the gateway and Coppini’s other projects, which in turn, made the completion of each statue a brief news item that occasionally was picked up nationally. As Coppini finished a plaster model, it was sent to the Roman Bronze Works in New York, considered to be the best foundry in the United Sates. By the spring of 1925, the six portrait statues were ready and shipped to Austin, where they were placed on display in the Texas Capitol rotunda.

Photos: Above, Coppini poses with a model of the central fountain group. Below, Coppini and his student, Waldine Tauch, work on the statue of Robert E. Lee in the New York studio.

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Back in Austin, the 1920s was an eventful decade for the UT campus. By 1922, the Board of Regents had reluctantly released Cass Gilbert as University Architect, citing political pressures to hire a Texas firm. Herbert Greene from Dallas was selected. Robert Vinson resigned as UT’s president in 1923 to oversee Case-Western Reserve University in Cleveland; the search for his successor sparked a controversy that almost derailed the ambitious plans to build the football stadium in 1924. Nine months after Vinson’s departure, oil was discovered on the University lands in West Texas that George Brackenridge had so carefully preserved and surveyed, bringing with it the promise of a much grander building program.

Garrison_Hall.1934Herbert Greene quickly proved himself an able architect, but while his UT buildings – Garrison (photo at left) and Waggener Halls, the Biological Laboratories, among others – were generally praised, Greene lacked experience in campus planning. Professor John White, from the University of Illinois, was hired as consulting architect. Over several years, White produced a series of campus master plans, none of which completely satisfied the Board of Regents. Sometimes White included the Littlefield Gateway, sometimes not, or he arbitrarily redesigned the memorial without any prior notice to Pompeo Coppini, which prompted a series of angry letters from the sculptor. Ultimately, Coppini refused to work with either Greene or White, and demanded that his original architects, Morison and Walker of Chicago, remain in charge of the gateway.

John White Birds Eye View.1920s Campus Plan

John White Birds Eye View.Close upAbove and left: A bird’s-eye sketch of one of John White’s campus master plans. Here, the old Main Building has been replaced by a large plaza with a bell tower. While the position of each statue is unclear, Coppini’s entry fountain has become an extended reflecting pool in the center of a circular “South Mall,” though it ignores the grade of the hill. The two obelisks of the gateway, which were supposed to be behind the fountain, have evolved into tall pillars that frame the south entrance to campus. Click on an image for a larger view.

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Columbia StatueNot all of Coppini’s experiences with the University were challenging ones. In the spring of 1928, the 15-foot tall rendering of the winged Columbia – the centerpiece of the fountain and focus of the entire gateway – was finished. To celebrate, the New York chapter of the UT alumni association, which called itself The Texas Club, organized an open house at Coppini’s studio for Sunday afternoon, May 6th. Tea was served, music was provided by UT alumni Katherine Rose and Guy Pitner, and more than 400 guests wandered through Coppini’s studio to admire his many works, but especially his latest creation.

The statue of Columbia, as the sculptor’s symbol of a reunited America in the Great War, appealed to a wide audience. A reporter from the Associated Press attended the open house, and then sent a brief article with photographs over the news wires. That the University of Texas was about to install a patriotic war memorial, gifted by former Confederate soldier George Littlefield and sculpted by Pompeo Coppini, was a story printed by newspapers along both coasts and in dozens of towns and cities in between. International Newsreel also attended the event. At a time before television, 7 – 10 minute black and white newsreels were a staple in movie theaters nationwide, usually shown just before the feature film. Coppini and the Columbia statue (along with a mention of the  University) were highlighted in a newsreel in early summer.

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University Avenue.1920s.

Above: The University of Texas campus in the late 1920s. The single lane road that curves around to the front of Old Main is still present.

By 1929, with all of the statuary completed, it seemed that the time had finally arrived to install the Littlefield Gateway. “The largest and costliest monumental group on any American university campus has been completed, and the memorial will be set in place this year,” announced the Austin Statesman on April 28th. But as construction estimates began to arrive, Coppini’s longtime fears were soon realized. The prices for building materials had increased over the decade, and the total cost would exceed the $125,000 limit of Littlefield’s bequest.

Over the summer, Morison and Walker reviewed the gateway designs and substituted less expensive granite for some of the limestone pieces. The Board of Trustees took stronger measures. Over Coppini’s protests, the board voted to eliminate the costly 37-foot obelisks from the memorial. UT President Harry Benedict had long been concerned that the pylons would block the view of the old Main Building, while Coppini passionately argued that removing them would destroy intended symbolism. To remain within the budget, however, the trustees opted to cut the obelisks. The gateway now only needed a green light from the Board of Regents to begin construction.

Approval was expected when the Board of Regents met in Austin on Friday, November 8th, and Gus Wroe, chair of the Board of Trustees, was invited to attend the meeting. But the group fell into an extended discussion about the history of the gateway and its size relative to nearby buildings. To everyone’s surprise, Wroe suggested that if the memorial was too large for the south entrance, it could be moved to the east side of campus. President Benedict, as a second trustee, and who still thought the gateway was too large, agreed. With the consent of a majority of the trustees, the regents promptly voted to relocate the entire memorial to the hill northeast of the new football stadium (where the LBJ fountain is today), to serve as the terminus of a planned East Mall that would extend from the Main Building.

Regent Sam Neathery shared the board’s’ views with The Daily Texan: “In changing the location of the memorial, the Board of Regents felt it was too large to fit in with the surroundings afforded by the south entrance location. It is too close to the Main Building.” Neathery then added the underlying core reason, which echoed Coppini’s concerns in 1919:

“The arrangement is out of keeping with the times. The work will keep the antagonism of the South against the North before the people of Texas.”

President Benedict dubbed the gateway a “derelict plane hovering around; no one knows where it is going to land. It approached its landing during the month [of November], but found at the last moment a fresh gust which sent it soaring again.”

DT.1920.11.08.HeadlineNews of the regents’ action provoked an immediate response from Alice Littlefield, George Littlefield’s widow, who was still living in the mansion at 24th Street. Mrs. Littlefield was adamant. The original contract specified the gateway would be installed at the south entrance to the campus, and the Board of Regents in 1920 accepted the gift under those conditions. Wroe, who had first suggested the move, likely angered many of his Littlefield relatives, abruptly changed his position, sided with Mrs. Littlefield, and let it be known that if the University refused to place the memorial as intended, it might be gifted to the city of Austin instead.

By January 1930, Wroe had convinced Dudley Woodward (the third trustee) that the gateway should remain at the south entrance, even though the Board of Regents had already voted to move it. Wroe also informed Coppini, and intimated that the bronze works might simply be placed on the hillside without the fountain. Coppini was livid. “How could the pool of water be eliminated?” Coppini responded. How would it look to have the prow of the ship “appear to navigate on dry land? The joke is not even funny!” Newspapers nationwide had picked up on the story. Some, which the previous year had run photos of the Columbia statue and praised the patriotic war memorial, now incorrectly reported that the regents had rejected it outright, which created a public relations nightmare for the University; others claimed that Wroe, speaking on behalf of the Littlefield family, had given the regents an “ultimatum.” The gateway would be placed as originally agreed or “not at all,” and either gifted to Austin or the state, where it might be installed at the south entrance to the Capitol grounds.

The regents, though, were already reconsidering their actions. Regent Ed Crane, a Dallas attorney, wrote to President Benedict, “I have concluded that neither you as a Trustee of the Littlefield Gateway Memorial nor the Board of Regents can adhere to the conclusion … that the ‘South Entrance’ designated in the will means the East entrance to the campus.” Crane was rather candid about his view of the gateway: “In spite of all the kicks … that our esthetic senses experienced every time we contemplated the erection of the mosquito pond in our front yard, it was a foregone conclusion that Major Littlefield’s wishes should be followed.” The regent continued, “Much of the future of the University … will be determined by the extent to which donations are received by private sources. “ To move the gateway would be to “broadcast to the world” the University’s willingness to break its promise to the dying wish of a generous donor.

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Paul CretAt their March 1930 meeting, the regents seemed resigned to the idea that the gateway would need to be positioned at the south entrance, but waited on taking any official action. Instead, the board hired a new consulting architect. The collaboration with John White from Illinois had not worked well, and a national search had led to Paul Cret in Philadelphia (photo at right). Born in Lyon, France, educated at Paris’ Ecole des Beaux Arts (then considered to be the finest architecture academy in the world), Cret had immigrated to the United States and was head of the School of Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania.

Cret met with the regents, expressed his belief that the campus “could be made one of the most beautiful in the country,” and was asked to begin immediately on a preliminary master plan, which included the placing of the Littlefield Gateway. If the memorial had to be at the south entrance, the regents wanted Cret’s opinion on its appearance.

Cret.Charcol Sketch.Campus Master Plan

Above: Charcoal sketch of the UT campus master plan by Paul Cret. Click on image for a larger view.Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

Cret’s office worked quickly. When the regents convened again on May 30th, Cret presented the initial draft of a plot plan, a report that argued for the eventual replacement of Old Main with a new library (today’s Main Building and Tower), and had fundamentally revised the Littlefield Gateway, expanding and melding it to be part of a formal South Mall.

“The Littlefield Memorial,” wrote Cret:

“instead of a small composition, overcrowded with features and designed without regard for its surroundings, was expanded so as to form an entrance to the campus. The portrait statuary was separated from the allegorical figures, as the juxtaposition of these two types was objectionable on account of the difference in scale. The portrait statues selected by the donor gain in prominence when provided with an individual setting instead of being used as accessories to a fountain design.”

Cret had placed the portrait statues along the east and west sides of the mall, which kept them from obstructing the view of the Main Building at the top of the hill. At the same time, they were also separated from the fountain group, and any symbolic meaning Coppini had intended was lost.

Both the Faculty Building Committee and the Board of Regents enthusiastically endorsed Cret’s solution. The regents not only approved the idea, but agreed to fund any additional construction costs. In July, Faculty Building Committee chair William Battle and Board of Regents chair Lutcher Stark journeyed to Philadelphia to visit with Cret, while Coppini was asked to join them. Together, they went over the revised plan. Though Coppini was disappointed, he had great respect for Paul Cret and reluctantly agreed to the new scheme.

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Early the following year, in 1931, a minor new wrinkle appeared, as the Texas chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.) proposed giving an equestrian statue of George Washington to the University. Cret was asked for an opinion on the best place for it and to “think the matter over.” Several sites were proposed, but Cret advocated the statue join the court of honor on the South Mall. Initially, the D.A.R. project was an ambitious one, with a statue of Washington on horseback. But as the Great Depression of the 1930s worsened, fundraising became a challenge, and then was put on hold through World War II. It wasn’t until 1955 that a standing George Washington was unveiled at the head of the South Mall. Fortunately, Pompeo Coppini, though his work on the Littlefield Gateway had finished decades before, agreed to once again be the sculptor, which preserved an important sense of continuity to the statuary on the South Mall.

Paul Cret Master Plan.Central Group

Paul Cret Master Plan.South Mall

Above: The bird’s eye view of Paul Cret’s campus master plan for the University of Texas, which was completed in 1933. The new positions of the portrait statues extended the Littlefield Gateway to the length of the mall, effectively making the entire South Mall a campus entrance.

Paul Cret Master Plan.George Washington StatueLeft: A close-up of the proposed equestrian statue of George Washington, which was initially placed on the Main Mall.  Click on the image for an expanded view. Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

With Cret’s plan for the South Mall approved by the regents, time was needed for the Morison and Walker firm to once again revise the gateway. There were, of course, inevitable delays: a shallow utility tunnel had to be moved, soil studies were needed before the pump room was dug two stories beneath the fountain, and there were issues with transporting the fountain group – which weighed 18,200 pounds – from New York. (Each wing on the statue of Columbia was 400 pounds of bronze.)

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Coppini Dinner.March 2 1932

On March 2, 1932, Pompeo Coppini returned the courtesy that the New York chapter of UT alumni had shown in 1928 by hosting a Texas Independence Day dinner in his studio (photo above). A packed crowd enjoyed the meal, live music, and the warmth of their happy host. Coppini had every reason to celebrate, as construction on the Littlefield Gateway finally began later the same year and was completed the following spring. The fountain and statues (along with nine new campus buildings) were officially dedicated on Saturday, April 29, 1933 as part of a celebration to mark the University’s 50th anniversary.

1933.White.Coppini.Cret

Above: Robert L. White as UT’s supervising architect, Pompeo Coppini, and architect Paul Cret (seated) at the Littlefield Gateway for its dedication in April 1933.

1937 Cactus.Littlefield Fountain

Sources:

Archival

Alexander Architecture Archives: University of Texas Buildings Collection

Dolph Briscoe Center for American History: UT President’s Office Papers, Coppini-Tauch Papers, George W. Littlefield Papers, William J. Battle Papers, UT Memorabilia Collection

Chicago Institute of Art: Catalog for Annual Architecture Exhibit: April – May, 1920

University of Pennsylvania Libraries: Paul Cret Papers

Library of Congress: Universal Newsreel Archives

New York Historical Society: Cass Gilbert Papers

Books

Benedict, Harry Y., Source Book of the History of the University of Texas (1917)

Coppini, Pompeo, From Dawn until Sunset (1940)

Long, Walter L., For All Time To Come (1964)

Sibley, Marilyn M., George W. Brackenridge: A Life (1973)

Newspapers/Magazines

Austin Daily Statesman, The Daily Texan, The Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Express-News, The New York Times, Alcalde (UT alumni magazine), Longhorn Magazine (UT student publication)

Special thanks to Dr. David Gracy, Professor Emeritis of the UT School of Information. Dr. Gracy is currently writing what will likely be the definitive biography of George Littlefield, and happily shared some knowledge and insights about the Major.

How NOT to Choose a University President

UT Campus.1923.

Above: The University of Texas campus in the early 1920s.

 Thursday, May 15, 1924: Lutcher Stark, Chairman of the Board of Regents, asked the doors to be locked and the windows closed. The board was meeting with the alumni association’s executive council about the selection of the next University president, but Stark was adamant that their discussion should be strictly confidential. “No word must get out to the newspapers,” he instructed. No one knew that an intrepid reporter from The Daily Texan was hiding in the closet, notepad at the ready.

Within 48 hours of the meeting, the board broke their pledge to the alumni, offered the presidency to the governor of Texas, two regents abruptly resigned, and the ambitious fundraising campaign to build the football stadium was almost derailed.

Sometimes, choosing a new UT president doesn’t go smoothly.

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Initially, the University had no president. In the spring of 1881, as the Texas Legislature debated the bill that would create UT, concerns were raised in the House that Governor Oran Roberts would be named to head the University when his term expired.  Though Roberts strongly supported the university bill, opponents argued that asking Roberts to oversee UT would set a precedent and forever politicize the office. The position ought to go to someone academically qualified, not become a retreat for retired politicians.

A compromise was reached between Senator Alexander Terrell and Representative Joseph Hutcheson. Terrell preferred to have a president, but also wanted the university to be open to women as well as men, a progressive idea for its time. Hutcheson believed enrollment should be limited only to male students, and argued that UT be modeled after the University of Virginia – his alma mater – which was then the only university in the country led by a faculty chairman instead of a president. To break the impasse, Terrell agreed to a faculty chair, while Hutcheson conceded to the enrollment of women. Roberts was denied the possibility of serving as UT’s president, but was appointed as one of the two initial law professors.

Leslie WaggenerFor most of UT’s first decade, English Professor Leslie Waggener (photo at left, for whom Waggener Hall is named) served as the faculty chairman, though it became increasingly apparent that an administrator, someone apart from the professors, was needed. In 1895, Waggener was declared president ad interim as the regents began to search for a permanent chief executive. They didn’t have to look far, as an unwitting prime candidate came to them. In June 1896, the faculty invited George Winston, then President of the University of North Carolina, to Austin to deliver the spring commencement address. Winston’s demeanor and speech so impressed the regents, that Winston was immediately recruited. He was named UT’s president before the month was over.

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Perhaps the most difficult selection of a UT president began in February, 1923, when Robert Vinson resigned to take the helm of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Vinson had piloted UT through the 1917 controversy with Governor James Ferguson, as well as a 1921 attempt to relocate the entire campus from its confined 40 acres to the more spacious Brackenridge Tract. (The effort was deemed too costly. Instead, state lawmakers approved funds to purchase land east of the campus. See The Littlefield Gateway for more on the proposed move.)

The board accepted Vinson’s resignation with “deep regret,” voted to award him an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, and named Will Sutton, the Dean of Education, as President ad interim. Almost immediately, the inevitable speculation began on who would be Vinson’s successor. The most notable came from the Austin Statesman. After the regents’ meeting, Chairman Lutcher Stark met privately with the governor for over an hour. The next day, the Statesman reported a “flock of rumors” in the state capitol “that Governor Pat Neff might resign . . . in order to become president of the University of Texas.”

Will HoggThough it was just a rumor, it persisted with enough frequency to worry Will Hogg and the officers of the University’s Ex-Students’ Association. Hogg, the son of former governor James Hogg, a UT graduate, and a Houston lawyer, had donated a small fortune to promote higher education throughout the state, was instrumental in founding the Alcalde alumni magazine, had served a term on the Board of Regents, and steered the ex-students’ efforts through the political conflict with Governor Ferguson, which prevented the University from being closed and resulted in Ferguson’s impeachment and resignation. (On campus, the W. C. Hogg Building is named for him.) When Will Hogg was concerned, the alumni tended to listen.

AAS.1923.06.05.Alumni Oppose Neff as UT Prez - CopyAt its annual meeting in June 1923, which coincided with spring commencement, the alumni association approved a resolution in opposition to Pat Neff as UT president. “For Governor Neff as a governor, a friend to the University and as a Christian gentleman, we have only words of commendation and praise,” the resolution stated, “but we do not believe that the qualities which make him an able governor in any way prove his fitness for presidency of the University.” The issue was neither personal nor directly political. The governor, a UT alumnus, was generally popular among the alumni. Hogg and Neff belonged to the same 1897 law school class, where both participated in the University’s first celebration of Texas Independence Day. Echoing their 1881 counterparts in the legislature, the alumni were simply anxious not to let the office of president become politicized.

A copy of the resolution was sent to the Board of Regents and acknowledged by Chairman Lutcher Stark, but the regents took no other action toward finding Vinson’s successor, which only prompted more gossip that the board was deliberately dragging its heels to wait until Neff had completed his term as governor.

In the meantime, attention on campus had turned to a new topic: building a football stadium.

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UT Football Player.1900sBy the 1920s, intercollegiate football had gained a strong national following and developed a competitive parity between teams beyond the traditional “Big Three” of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Improvements in transportation, especially the wildly popular and affordable Model T automobile, along with massive post-World War I improvements to roads, provided rural American families the opportunity to drive in to town on a Saturday and watch a game. With better teams and more fans, college football had become big business.

To accommodate the crowds, impressive stadiums were being constructed across the country, many of them named as memorial tributes to those who had fought in the recent world war. Stanford opened a 65,000-seat venue in 1921, followed closely by Ohio State (63,000), Illinois (67,000), California (73,000), Michigan (84,000), and others. For much of the decade, stadium building was almost a mania.

1924.Clark Field

Above: Part of the west stands of old Clark Field.

At the University of Texas, football had been played on the old Clark Field since the 1890s (at the corner of 24th and Speedway Streets, where the O’Donnell Building and Dell-Gates Complex are today), but by the 1920s, the student-built creaky wooden bleachers were inadequate and always needed repairs. (See The One Week Stadium) A new facility was sorely needed.

United behind Coach “Doc” Stewart’s motto, “For Texas, I Will,” the 1923 Longhorn football team had a banner season. Opponents didn’t score a point through the first six games. Baylor fought hard to a 7-7 tie, which spoiled the undefeated record, but the next week Oklahoma succumbed 26-14. Only the Thanksgiving Day bout against A&M, to be held in College Station, was left on the schedule.

Off the field, the campus chatter was about building a new athletic stadium. Some thought the estimated $500,000 cost was too ambitious a goal. Nothing close to it had been attempted. Others believed a new venue was overdue, and if the team continued its winning ways, alumni support would make the difference. If Texas prevailed over A&M, a stadium campaign was likely. But there was a catch: Texas had never won on Kyle Field since games were first played there in 1915.

On Thanksgiving Day, thousands of UT fans either drove their Model T’s or boarded trains for College Station. Many wore orange and white armbands that read, “Win or Lose, a Stadium by Thanksgiving, 1924.” Walter Hunnicutt collaborated with Longhorn Band director Burnett Pharr to compose a new song. A friendly spoof on A&M’s “Aggie Taps,” the pair called it “Texas Taps.” The band introduced the tune at the game, and it was an instant favorite. (Today, fans know it as “Texas Fight.” Listen to the earliest recording of the song.) Texas won the day 6-0 over the Aggies, and the fundraising campaign to build a stadium wasn’t far behind.

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Feb 25 1924.Stadium Kickoff Rally

Above: With snow falling outside, students launch the fundraising effort for the stadium.

At 2 p.m. on Monday, February 25, 1924, in the midst of a rare Austin snowstorm, almost 2,500 students – out of an enrollment of 4,400 – trudged through icy slush to attend an unprecedented rally in the wooden men’s gymnasium. The goal was to build Memorial Stadium, named to honor Texans who had participated in the recent World War. In just over week, the students hoped to raise $100,000 in pledges on the campus. The citizens of Austin would be called upon for another $100,000, and then the alumni would need to donate the remaining $300,000. The east and west stands would be built first, with the north end zone and overall façade to be completed later. For the stadium to be ready by the 1924 football season, construction needed to begin in June.

To no one’s surprise, the leader of the stadium drive was Regent Lutcher Stark. “I will make you this proposition,” he announced to the crowd, “Lutcher Stark will donate to the stadium 10 per cent of what is raised on campus by the students.”

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Lutcher StarkBorn, perhaps appropriately, in the East Texas town of Orange, Stark was the heir to a vast lumber and oil fortune. He arrived at the University in 1905 as the first student to own a car, graduated in 1910, and became a whirlwind of business activity, involved in banking, real estate, insurance, manufacturing, and petroleum. His family home has been preserved as a museum, along with the Stark Museum of Art just across the street.

Texas Longhorn Blankets 1915Outside of business, Stark’s great interest was the University of Texas sports program, and was its first super-booster. A Saturday Evening Post article would dub him the “Archangel” of UT athletics. Though the football team had been called “Longhorns” since 1904, Stark provided the 1915 squad with blankets embroidered with “Texas Longhorns,”
the first time the team had publicly sported its name. A generous donor, Stark also found summer jobs for many student-athletes. (Stark’s mother, Miriam, was also a contributor to the University, including the valuable Stark Library, located in the president’s suite in the Main Building.) In 1919, Governor William Hobby appointed the 31-year old Stark to the Board of Regents, where he would remain for 24 years.

But as Chairman of the Board of Regents, his passions sometimes led to controversy. At the July 1923 regents’ meeting, Stark oversaw the creation of a new College of Physical Activities, which would coordinate men’s and women’s intramural sports, P.T. classes, and offer a degree in physical education. It was no secret that Stark wanted to promote Athletic Director Theo Bellmont to Dean of the college, but this was controversial with the alumni, who thought it placed too much emphasis on athletics. As Bellmont had no advanced degree, the idea didn’t sit well with the faculty, either. (Two years later, the college was reorganized as a subsidiary of the School of Education and is now the Department of Kinesiology.)

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For Texas I Will.Stadium Drive.Lunch Meeting Above: A 500-member student committee held daily lunch meetings in the gym.

With the stadium drive underway, 500 students were divided into 68 teams to solicit anyone and everyone on campus. The group met for lunch daily at the men’s gym, under an enormous “For Texas, I Will” banner hung on the east wall, and reported on pledges from the previous day. Each morning, The Daily Texan published a different slogan above its masthead, while the contributor won a pair of tickets to a local movie theater. Among the refrains:

Fall in Line! Don’t Lag Behind – This is Stadium Time!

Let’s Give our Roll to Build that Bowl

Don’t Pass the Buck – Pass Several Bucks to the Stadium

Come, Chum, with a Maximum Sum for the Stadium

DT Headline.1924.02.16.

Above: Before and through the student pledge drive, The Daily Texan published stadium slogans above its masthead.

The campus drive ended March 4th and exceeded all expectations. The students, faculty, and staff had together pledged $166,000, and Lutcher Stark promptly wrote a check for $16,600.

Alcalde.April 1924A month later, from April 4–11, it was Austin’s turn to take up the project. With the help of a 300-person organizing committee, and rallied by a parade of UT students down Congress Avenue (unfortunately in a downpour), the city contributed $115,000. The crucial alumni pledge drive was set to begin in mid-May.

To prime the ex-students, the Alcalde alumni magazine published a special stadium edition in April. It featured articles on the successful campus pledge drive, and was filled with supportive letters from faculty, coaches, and prominent alumni. The back cover compared building the stadium to the construction of the Roman Coliseum. “Our Memorial Stadium,” the magazine predicted, “will command the admiration of generations unborn. Like a mantle of ivy, time will weave o’er its beloved walls a soft halo of tradition.”

Photos above: The front and back cover of the April, 1924 Alcalde magazine; a color rendition of the proposed stadium by Dallas architect Herbert Greene. Click on image for a larger view.

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 The same edition of the Alcalde also issued a complaint: “Month after month there is talk of the election of a President of the University by the Board of Regents, but month after month nothing is done.” As the spring continued, questions arose about the board’s lack of progress. The Students’ Assembly approved a measure in favor of Dr. Sutton as the permanent chief executive. Alumni around the state started petitions for other candidates, including one for Lutcher Stark, and rumors persisted that the board still planned to name Governor Neff. To press the matter, the executive council of the alumni association requested a conference with the regents. The meeting was scheduled for the evening of May 15th.

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1923 Board of Regents

Above: The UT Board of Regents in President Sutton’s office, spring 1924.

On a warm Thursday morning, May 15, 1924, the Board of Regents convened in President Sutton’s office in the Education Building. (Today, it’s the architecture graduate student lounge on the ground floor of Sutton Hall.) The regents spent the day discussing University business, and then adjourned for dinner. They planned to return in about an hour to meet with the alumni executive council, though the engagement was to be in executive session and not open to the public.

Biological Labs.1924While the office was empty, a freshman reporter from The Daily Texan quietly entered and hid in a closet that adjoined the room. Notepad at the ready, he concealed himself among the architectural drawings for the Biological Sciences Building, then under construction (photo at right), and plans for the new stadium.

An hour later, the alumni joined the regents for a closed-door conference. Chairman Stark asked the details of their conversation not be made public, and all agreed. Will Hogg spoke on behalf of the alumni, and outlined the objections for appointing Governor Neff as UT president.

“Well, you have sufficient confidence in us to believe that we won’t select Neff, haven’t you?” responded Regent Frank Jones. “Well, Neff is not the first governor of Texas who has wanted the presidency of the University. We won’t give it to him.”

The alumni were assured that Neff wouldn’t be selected, and the conversation turned to the board’s two “real” candidates:  Guy Stanton Ford, then head of the Graduate School at the University of Minnesota, and Herbert Bolton, a previous member of the UT faculty who was then a history professor at the University of California in Berkeley. The regents were leaning toward Bolton. With the alumni satisfied, the regents retired for the night, set to continue their official meeting the next afternoon. The Texan reporter, who had recorded the entire discussion, waited until the building was quiet before he made his escape, but not before he helped himself to a few of the regents’ cigars.

DT.1924.05.16.Bolton to be Elected

Friday morning, the Texan printed a complete account of the meeting and predicted that Dr. Guy Ford would be UT’s next president. The identity of the reporter was never revealed “for the sake of his university career,” though the Texan added that the regents smoked “bum cigars.”

That afternoon, the board reconvened as scheduled, promoted Theo Bellmont to Dean of the new College of Physical Activities, and then, contrary to their verbal pledge to the alumni the previous evening, promptly voted 7-2 to tender Governor Pat Neff the position of UT president. Stark telephoned Neff, who was then in the town of Eastland, and informed the governor.

Regents Sam Cochran and Frank Jones, who had voted no, immediately resigned from the board. A statement to explain their position was included in the minutes: “We believe it contrary to the best interests of the University and of the State, and wrong in principal, to select as the President of that institution the Governor of the State, who holds the appointive power with respect to the Board of Regents.”

“No, Neff’s election was not a complimentary one,” Stark later explained. “We wanted him to be president of the University.” Within an hour of the vote, the board received a telegram from Neff, who politely and tactfully declined.

The seven remaining regents went into executive session and unanimously elected Ford as president, with a $10,000 annual salary and a house. A telegram was sent to Minnesota before the board adjourned.

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Telegram

The regents’ actions were public knowledge by 4 p.m. that afternoon, and Will Hogg was furious. At 6:30 that evening, Hogg fired off a caustic telegram to Stark on behalf of the entire alumni council. Still preserved in the UT Archives, Hogg wrote, in part: “All here feel that while Neff’s declination on that evidently framed honorary election does his common sense a puny mite of credit, the contumely of that smear will be justly heaped on all of you … for as Ex-Students you failed to defend the constitutional sanctity and tritest ideals of your Alma Mater … If you truly desire to serve the University, you should at least resign from the Stadium Drive, or complete it out of your own pocket as a trifling tribute from a contrite conscience for the shameful thing you have done, for you as Chairman of the Board and leader of the Stadium effort can’t get a sou marque from Houston … until this personal and official obloquy is totally erased by your abject personal abasement.” The text of Hogg’s telegram found its way into the newspapers.

DT.1924.05.17.Headlines

In what might best be described as a great family quarrel, the entire University community was suddenly in an uproar. Alumni demanded Stark’s resignation from the Board of Regents and the stadium drive. The students, more interested in completing the stadium to which they’d just pledged $166,000, rushed to defend Stark. The faculty openly criticized the regents’ choices and called Bellmont’s promotion to dean “absurd.” Bellmont, who was content being the athletic director, learned the news of his new title by reading about it in the Texan, and found himself in an awkward situation. Meanwhile, Guy Ford wanted nothing to do with the University of Texas. Less than 24-hours after his selection, Ford sent his wife to tell reporters that he planned to stay in Minnesota.

1924.Stadium Site

As steam shovels cleared the site for the stadium and horse-drawn carts carried off excess rocks and soil, alumni pledges slowed to a trickle throughout the state and ceased entirely in all-important Houston. Contract work was to begin June 1st. If the situation wasn’t resolved quickly, the stadium effort would unravel and be delayed at least a year.

A few days after the regents meeting, Stark issued a 1,500 word statement to the press, and blamed the controversy on a small group in Houston. University graduate Maury Maverick of San Antonio (a future U.S. Congressman) countered to the Associated Press that Stark’s claim was a “smoke screen” and thought Stark still wanted Pat Neff. In the Dallas Morning News, Richard Fleming, president of the Houston chapter of the alumni association, said Stark’s claim was “unfounded,” and explained, “The opposition of the ex-students has not been directed personally toward Neff, but it has been solely directed toward the proposition of the selection of a man not fitted by education or training for the presidency.”

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On Sunday, June 1st, after two weeks of dispute, and as alumni gathered in Austin for spring commencement and the ex-students’ annual meeting, Lutcher Stark, Will Hogg, and several members of the alumni council met at the Driskill Hotel in downtown Austin. After three hours of discussion and negotiation, differences were put aside. Stark resigned from the stadium project, but remained Chairman of the Board of Regents. Hogg pledged to promote the stadium drive in Houston and throughout the state to ensure its success.

AAS.1924.06.13.Bolton tells off ReportersThe regents also announced their selection of Herbert Bolton as University president. Bolton, on the history faculty of the University of California at Berkeley, had tentatively accepted, and planned to visit Austin in two weeks to finalize the details.

Any celebration that UT finally had a new leader, though, was premature. Bolton arrived in Austin and met with the regents on June 12th, but when later asked by a reporter from the Austin Statesman as to whether he would formally accept the presidency, Bolton responded, “Go to hell.” (What was discussed with the regents is unknown. Unfortunately, no Texan reporter was hiding in the closet.) Ultimately, Bolton returned to California. The regents went to their next choice: Walter Splawn.

Walter SplawnAn outstanding UT economics professor and an expert in transportation and labor, the 41-year old Splawn (photo at right) had been on a leave of absence since 1923 after Governor Neff appointed him to the Texas Railroad Commission. Splawn accepted the position in July, which ended 17 months of uncertainty, and served as UT’s president for three years.

 

 

Meanwhile, Texas Memorial Stadium opened on time for the fall 1924 football season, and in 1932, Pat Neff was appointed president of Baylor University, his undergraduate alma mater, and held the position for 15 years. Baylor’s main administrative building was named for him.

1924.Texas Memorial Stadium

A reminder: The UT History Corner is not an official publication of the University of Texas. The views expressed are those of the author.

The Littlefield Gateway

Littlefield Fountain and Old Main

The newly installed Littlefield Gateway in 1933, with the old Main Building in the background. This campus scene was a short-lived one. A year later, Old Main was razed to complete the current Main Building and Tower. Click on the image for a larger view.

[August 2015: An expanded history of the Littlefield Gateway was posted here.]

It’s a long-standing question frequently heard on the Forty Acres: why is a statue of Jefferson Davis on our campus, and placed next to, of all people, Woodrow Wilson? The fountain and statues on the South Mall – collectively known as the Littlefield Gateway – have been praised and condemned since they were installed in the early 1930s. Their presence is the result of an extended conflict between two very different University regents who, by chance, had the same first and middle names: George Washington Littlefield and George Washington Brackenridge.

George W LittlefieldBorn in Mississippi in 1842, George Littlefield moved to Texas when he was six years old, and grew to cherish his Southern ancestry. He defended the Confederacy during the Civil War, rose to the rank of Major, and then returned to Texas to make a fortune in the cattle business with ranches in West Texas and New Mexico. He arrived in Austin in the 1880s and founded the American National Bank, which was eventually housed in the Littlefield Building that still stands at Sixth Street and Congress Avenue. Late in his life, Littlefield became a regent and benefactor to the University.

Brackenridge was a decade older than Littlefield, was born and raised in Indiana, and had attended Hanover College, Indiana University, and Harvard University. When Brackenridge was 21-years old, his family moved to southeast Texas, and he became a surveyor in Jackson County. But at the outset of the Civil War, while his three older brothers enlisted in the Confederate Army, Brackenridge became both a Union sympathizer and war profiteer, and smuggled cotton through Brownsville and around the Union blockade along the Gulf Coast to New York. After the war, he moved to San Antonio, founded a bank of his own, and ran the city water works. Brackenridge was appointed early on to the UT Board of Regents, and served for a record 27 years.

Because of the choices each made during the War Between the States, neither man held the other in high regard. According to Robert Vinson, president of the University from 1916-1922, “Their dislike of each other was profound. When Mr. Brackenridge spoke of the University of Texas, he emphasized the word University. Major Littlefield emphasized the word Texas.”

In the early 1900s, UT enrollment passed 1,000 students and was steadily increasing. Brackenridge realized the University would eventually outgrow its 40-acre campus, and in 1910, donated 500 acres of land to the University along the Colorado River. Known today as the Brackenridge Tract, it’s used primarily by the Brackenridge Field Laboratory, married student housing, and the Lions Municipal Golf Course. He had planned to purchase an additional 1,000 acres and eventually move the University to the 1,500-acre site, where it would have room to grow for generations. (In contrast, 50,000 UT students today occupy a campus of about 400 acres.)

Littlefield HomeThe idea was popular with Austinites. Local newspapers printed cartoons of UT students jumping out of classroom windows for a quick swim in the Colorado. But Littlefield, whose mansion (photo at left) was just across the street from the University, would have none of a “Brackenridge campus,” and searched for ways to prevent a migration.

The need of a larger campus resurfaced in 1919, after the conclusion of World War I. Veterans returned from the trenches in Europe to fill universities across the country, Texas among them. Relocating the University to larger quarters was again discussed. To head off a potential move, Littlefield contacted Pompeo Coppini, an Italian-born sculptor living in San Antonio. Littlefield proposed to build an arch at the South entrance of the University to serve as a gateway to the campus. On it would be figures important to Texas and Southern history. While it was a memorial in appearance, it was also another nail intended to secure the campus from moving to the Brackenridge Tract.

Coppini built a model of the arch that was featured in an exhibition in Chicago, but the sculptor informed Littlefield that its construction would cost more than the $250,000 Littlefield was willing to spend. Coppini offered the idea of a fountain instead, and at the same advised against a memorial to the Confederacy. “As time goes by,” Coppini argued, “they will look to the Civil War as a blot on the pages of American history, and the Littlefield Memorial will be resented as keeping up the hatred between the Northern and Southern states.” Instead, Coppini proposed to honor those who had fought in the World War, as “all past regional differences have disappeared and we are now one welded nation.” A compromised was reached, and Coppini set out to design the Littlefield Memorial Gateway.

Coppini’s intent was to show the reunification of America in World War I after it had been divided in the Civil War. The scheme centered on a 100-foot long rectangular pool of water. At its head, in an elevated pool to create a cascade, was the bow of a ship, on which stood Columbia, symbol of the American spirit. Behind her were representatives of the Army and the Navy. The ship was to be pulled by three sea horses. As Coppini saw it, the fountain group showed a strong, united America sailing across the ocean to protect democracy abroad.

Littlefield Gateway.Original Design.1920.

Coppini’s original 1919 design for the Littlefield Gateway. Steps on either side of the fountain rose to a small plaza, bounded by two pylons, in front of which stood the statues of Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson. Click on the image for a larger view.

Immediately behind the fountain, Coppini created a small plaza bracketed by two large pylons or obelisks, symbolic of the North and the South. In front of each he placed the statues of two “war presidents”: Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy at a time when the country was deeply divided, and Woodrow Wilson, leader of a reunified America during the world war. The remaining statues of Lee, Reagan, Johnston and Hogg were staged on either side of the fountain, and were Littlefield’s choices of important men in the history of Texas and the South.

The contract was drawn, signed, and accepted by the UT Board of Regents in April 1920. Just in time, as Littlefield’s health was failing badly. He died peacefully the following November, but had anticipated what Brackenridge might do after his passing, and left nothing to chance. His will included $500,000 toward the construction of a new Main Building, $300,000 and land for a women’s dormitory (now the Alice Littlefield dorm), and $250,000 for the Littlefield Gateway, all of which were contingent upon the University staying where it was for the next eight years. Just hours before he died, Littlefield made one last donation: his Victorian mansion would be turned over to the University subject to Mrs. Littlefield’s life interest.

Brackenridge was unprepared for this turn of events. He had hoped to combine Littlefield’s gifts with his own to build a new campus on the banks of the Colorado. With his diminishing assets at just under $1.5 million, Brackenridge would barely be able to make up for the Littlefield donations that would have to be forfeited if the campus moved. Brackenridge fretted, worried about his money, and grew seriously ill. He died in December 1920, just over a month after Littlefield.

Austin Statesman.Jan 21 1921.pg1.

The debate over whether to move the University campus to the Brackenridge Tract was front-page news in the Austin Daily Statesman for most of the spring of 1921.

Despite the setbacks, UT President Robert Vinson, a longtime supporter of Brackenridge’s vision, was unwilling to give up the dream of moving the University to a spacious, riverfront campus. As planned, a bill to relocate the University was submitted to the legislature in January 1921. It received solid support from the regents, Governor Pat Neff, and the local press. But once the bill was read and debate ensued, some legislators saw an opportunity. If the campus were to be moved anyway, why keep it in Austin? One proposal would have allowed any city that could guarantee 500 acres and $10 million to be placed on a ballot, and a statewide election to decide the location.

Once the possibility of losing the University became known, the citizens of Austin quickly united against the whole idea, and vilified Vinson for opening a Pandora’s box. The bill to relocate the campus was defeated. Land was purchased east of the Forty Acres, and the campus was extended down the hill to Waller Creek. Littlefield had won.

Littlefield Fountain ContructionAlmost 10 years were required for Coppini to complete the statuary for the Littlefield Gateway. The project was delayed by a bronze workers strike, and cost overruns seriously threatened Coppini’s design. To save money, the regents proposed to strike out the planned obelisks, an idea supported by then UT President Harry Benedict, who thought they would block the view of the old Main Building. Coppini passionately argued that losing the pylons would destroy the intended symbolism, but to no avail. The obelisks were omitted.

Photo above: Visitors inspect Coppini’s work at his studio in the 1920s. The figure of Columbia, symbol of the American spirit, carries the torch of freedom in her right hand, and the palms of peace in her left. 

By 1930, most of the statues had been delivered to Austin, and were temporarily on display in the Capitol rotunda. About the same time, the University hired Paul Cret, an architect from Philadelphia, to develop a new campus master plan. Cret was responsible for much of the layout of the campus as it is today. He designed the Main Building and Tower, Texas Union, Mary Gearing Hall, the “six pack” on the South Mall, and many others.

Littlefield Gateway and Old Main

The Littlefield Gateway was installed on the campus in 1932 and the fountain activated for the first time in spring of the following year. In this image, just to the right of Old Main, the Geology Building, now the W. C. Hogg Building, is under construction.

Cret reviewed the plans for the Littlefield Gateway, and thought the six statues surrounding the fountain were too crowded. To give each figure its own space, Cret spread the statues out along the South Mall, but at the same time hopelessly blurred the symbolism of the Jefferson Davis and Woodrow Wilson figures that Coppini had intended. The fountain was finally constructed in the fall of 1932, and was turned on in March 1933.

Years later, in a letter to state senator Grady Woodruff, Coppini lamented, “After years of fighting, I was forced to accept the dismemberment of my original planned memorial, throwing to the four winds my conception and making of the various pieces of bronze just a senseless decoration of the campus.”

Littlefield Fountain 1940

For many years, the Littlefield Fountain contained cattails, lily pads, and other varieties of flowering water plants. Click on image for a larger view.

Cicero Quote

Behind the Littlefield Fountain, and not as well-known to those on campus, a brass door leading to the underground pump room bears the names of 97 persons from the University who lost their lives in World War I. Flanking the sides of the door, inscribed in the limestone, are a pair of quotes by Cicero on patriotism. Here, “Brevis a natura nobis vita data est, at memoria bene redditae vitae Sempiturna,” translates as, “Short is the life given to us by nature, but the memory of a life nobly surrendered is everlasting.”