The Alumni Center Turns 50!

Alumni Center Dedication Program.Cover.April 1965Above: The front cover of Alumni Center dedication program for April 3, 1965.

AAS.1961.05.11.Air JauntIn September 1961, the Texas Longhorn football team was set to open its season against the Golden Bears of the University of California. The game was to be played at Cal’s Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, and to help get more orange-minded fans in the seats, the University of Texas Ex-Students’ Association chartered its first football weekend excursion. For just under $200, the package included round trip airfare from Austin to San Francisco, two nights’ accommodations in the new Jack Tar Hotel (then billed as the most modern hotel in the world – a television in every room!), ground transportation to Berkeley, and a ticket to the game.  The 80 available spots sold quickly. John Holmes, a Houston lawyer and the association’s president, was one of the first to register.

Cal Alumni House.1952 ModelThe trip also included a pre-game welcome luncheon at Cal’s Alumni House. (Photo at right is of the architectural model.) Opened seven years before, in 1954, the building was called a “house” as it was deemed a place where “alumni throughout the world can come and feel at home – at home because they are in a spot on the campus that belongs to them, was created for them, and in tribute to their accomplishments however large or small.”  Outfitted with staff offices, conference rooms, a lounge, and a kitchen, the Alumni House had become a busy and important gathering place on the campus. It also left a strong and lasting impression on John Holmes. While Texas football won the day 28 – 3, Holmes was excited about the possibility of creating an alumni house in Austin, and spent the return flight conferring on the subject with alumni Executive Director Jack Maguire.


Old Main.1910s.Postcard.2.The idea of an alumni house was the solution to a long term issue: where to place a wandering alumni association. Founded in June 1885, the Ex-Students’ Association was homeless for its first 28 years until October 1913, when the University designated room 119 in the old Main Building (left) as the “Alumni Room.” Measuring 25 x 15 feet, equipped with tables, chairs, bookshelves, and its own telephone (a luxury in 1913), the walls were crammed with photos of Association presidents, University faculty, class portraits, and athletic teams.

The room, though, was only in use for four years. When Governor James Ferguson threatened to shut down the University over a controversy in 1917, the alumni rallied to protect their alma mater, and set up temporary headquarters in the Littlefield Building downtown. Two years later, after Ferguson had been impeached and World War I ended, the Association moved to the YMCA Building at the corner of 22nd and Guadalupe Streets.

Leslie Waggener HouseIn the 1920s, it ventured a little farther into west campus, where it purchased the quaint, Victorian-styled Waggener Home (above right), once owned by UT’s first president Leslie Waggener, at the corner of 23rd and San Antonio. It was here that alumni director John McCurdy and president Thomas Gregory guided the Association through the Union Project, a massive, and at times, heroic, fundraising campaign through part of the Great Depression to build Gregory and Anna Hiss gymnasiums, Hogg Auditorium, and the Texas Union.

When the Union building opened in 1933, the Association returned to campus with office space on the building’s second floor, now used as a student lounge next to the Union Ballroom. But after World War II, when a flood of returning veterans on the G. I. Bill created a boom in college enrollment across the nation, the alumni association soon discovered it needed more space.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Talks with University officials in the late 1950s led to the idea of the Association taking over the Littlefield Home at 24th and Whitis Streets, but extensive renovations would be required before the building was ready. In 1958 as a temporary measure, the staff was moved to the basement of Mary Gearing Hall, then used by the Department of Home Economics and is today the headquarters for the School of Human Ecology. The place was a little roomier, but the “mole hole,” as it informally came to be known, was difficult to find, and was certainly not suitable for the activities of a growing alumni association. After three years in its “temporary” quarters and no movement toward use of the Littlefield Home, a permanent solution was desperately needed.


John Holmes wasted no time on the Alumni House idea.The day after his return to Texas, Holmes conferred with other Association leaders, named a committee to investigate possibilities, and initiated a conversation with UT administrators. The point of contact from the University fell to UT System Vice Chancellor Larry Haskew, who moved the process along quickly.

Five weeks later, at the end of October, Haskew had prepared a draft report for the Board of Regents, which declared that “an Alumni House of distinctive character and outstanding convenience is of great importance to The University and that one should be provided as soon as possible.” The alumni committee and administration had investigated several options. The Littlefield Home was still a possibility, but serious design and financial obstacles existed. The group also looked at existing homes in the area, including the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house still located just north of campus, but the consensus was that a new facility, designed specifically for the needs of the alumni, was the best solution.

The desired location was the mostly-vacant lot on San Jacinto Boulevard, across the street from the football stadium. The area was still occupied by a pair of temporary men’s dormitories, former World War II army barracks that had been relocated to campus to accommodate the post-war growth in enrollment, but the dorms were scheduled for demolition. The space had been informally earmarked for a second student union building, but Haskew wrote, “This latter use would be enhanced, actually, by location there of Alumni House,” which implied that the alumni association and the Texas Union might join forces again in the future.

Lila Belle EtterTo help financially, the administration proposed using $110,000 from the Lila B. Etter trust fund, a bequest from the daughter (left) of former UT president Leslie Waggener. The alumni could add any amount desired, and the building would be known as the Etter Alumni House. Once completed and occupied, the Association would pay back the $110,000, without interest, at $5,000 per year.

The Board of Regents gave an initial green light to the project at its November meeting, and then formally approved use of the Etter fund and the San Jacinto location on February 3, 1962, a day after the Alumni Council had officially voted its consent. The local firm Jessen, Jessen, Milhouse and Greeven was brought aboard as the consulting architect, and Fred Day, a 1950 graduate of UT’s School of Architecture, was hired to design the building.


By June 1962, initial ideas had been discussed and approved, but the proposed sketch was unlike anything yet seen on the campus. “I’d feel safer,” Haskew wrote to Chancellor Harry Ransom and UT President Joe Smiley, “if both of you would look at the plot design and building schematics for the Alumni House. … My reaction is highly favorable, but the conception … is unusual enough to warrant advance cognizance of top administration before architects proceed with preliminary plans.”


Above: Fred Day’s initial plans for the Texas Alumni House. In this image, 21st Street runs along the left border with part of the Moore-Hill Residence Hall at top left, while San Jacinto Boulevard – with the stadium across the street – is at the bottom. Click on the image for an expanded view. Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

Haskew was prudent to call for “advance cognizance,” as Fred Day’s design was a bold one. The building didn’t simply nestle alongside the dappled and meandering waters of Waller Creek; the creek was the centerpiece of the plan. Day’s Alumni House resembled a squared “C” shape, with the central portion spanning the water. The east wing, nearest to San Jacinto Boulevard, contained the main entrance, lobby, and offices for the alumni association staff, while the west wing, on the far bank, housed a series of meeting rooms with creekside views, along with an extended outdoor dining terrace shaded by live oaks. Connecting the two wings was a grand main lounge and dining room, equipped with a catering kitchen. Visitors to the lounge would gaze out of full-length windows on either side to see Waller Creek pass underneath the building.

South and East Facades.Alumni House

Above: The south and east views of the Alumni House.Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

To ensure enough water was present, a small dam was planned just downstream from the building that would both back up the creek and add a waterfall. A second partial barrier installed upstream, in the form of a stepping stone bridge, provided foot access across the creek and created an artificial rapids.

Day purposely located the building near the south edge of the property, where the slope of hill on the west side of the creek was a little less steep. It also reserved the rest of the land for parking and future expansion.

Alumni House First Rendidtion.August 1962

Alumni House.First Rendition.1.August 1962

 Above:Sterling Holloway, Allan Shivers, Harry Ransom, and Jack Maguire show off the first rendering of the UT Alumni House in August 1962. Though it’s difficult to make out much detail, the building’s entrance is in the center, the east wing with offices is to the right, and the main lounge, spanning Waller Creek, is on the left. The footbridge crossed a tributary (that still exists) which would have been redirected to be perpendicular to the creek and behind the downstream dam. Click on an image for a larger view.

 AAS.1961.Alumni House AnnouncedA first birds-eye rendition of the Alumni House was ready in August and a formal announcement made to the press, though the reported cost varied from $250,000 – $300,000. The actual estimate was near $260,000, which required the alumni to raise $150,000 and add it to the $110,000 from the Etter fund.


Alumni House Planning CommitteeWith the fall 1962 semester underway and Fred Day at work on formal architectural plans, attention focused on fundraising. John Holmes appointed a fundraising committee. Former Association president Sterling Holloway agreed to chair the group, while former Texas governor Allan Shivers oversaw the acquisition of special gifts. Popular Dean of Student Life Arno Nowotny was named vice chairman. (A complete roster of the planning committee is on the right. Click on the image for a larger view.)

AAS.1962.10.11.Houston Dallas Meetings SetThere were discussions with university officials on whether to concentrate on a few large donations or make a general appeal to all alumni. In the end, both strategies were used. In October and November, luncheons for prospective donors were held in cities throughout the state, including: Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, El Paso, Tyler, Midland, and others. On the agenda were talks by Harry Ransom, Allan Shivers, Arno Nowotny, Sterling Holloway, and Jack Maguire.

Fundraising Luncheon Invite Stationery

Above: Stationery used for luncheon invitations claimed that the alumni association had been “homeless since 1885.”

 In concert with the fundraising luncheons, the November issue of the Alcalde alumni magazine featured a second, more detailed rendition of the building, which was now formally styled the “Lila B. Etter Alumni Center.” Included in the magazine was a general appeal for donations. Members of the Association also received letters which asked if they “could spare 144 bricks?” as a minimum $10 contribution would purchase those materials, a square yard of carpet, or two gallons of paint.

UT Alumni Center.1962.Alcalde Cover

1962 Alumni Center.Main Lounge

Top: A detailed view of the proposed Alumni Center, with some color added by the author to better distinguish the location of Waller Creek and the outline of the building. The east wing, in the shape of a “+,” housed offices for staff and a vault to safeguard the original alumni records, then kept on index cards. Above: A cutaway view of the main lounge, which used about 2/3 of the central wing. Beyond the doors was a smaller dining/meeting room, with a kitchen behind the wall on the far side. Click on an image for a larger view.

 Along with alumni donations, other contributions came from a variety of sources. In January 1963, Allan Shivers, American Airlines president C. R. Smith, and actor Rip Torn, represented the University on “Alumni Fun,” a popular weekly quiz show broadcast on ABC. The team won $4,700, which was donated to the building fund. Along with quiz show winnings, the Canteen Company of America, one of the largest providers of vending machines in the United States, donated a week’s proceeds from three of its most popular coffee machines on the UT campus, and presented the alumni with $410 in dimes.

January 1963.Alumni Fun

Above: Allan Shivers, C R Smith, and Rip Torn compete for the University of Texas in ABC’s Alumni Fun quiz show in January 1963.

By mid-spring, the campaign was a success. More than 3,000 alumni had sent contributions from $1 and greater, including three $10,000 donors, six $5,000 donors, and 25 alumni who gave $1,000 each. The new Alumni Center seemed assured, and a groundbreaking ceremony was promptly scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, April 6th, on the banks of Waller Creek. A large sign on the property announced the future home of the Ex-Students’ Association and told passersby to expect to see the Alumni Center within the year.

1963.Alumni Center Groundbreaking.Edited


Top: A groundbreaking ceremony was held on the Waller Creek site on April 6, 1963. On the right is one of two post-WW II temporary dorms that were scheduled for removal. Groundbreaking participants included UT alumnus and Texas Governor John Connally, Board of Regents chair W. W. Heath, UT President Joe Smiley, and Dean Arno Nowotny.


The bad news came a few weeks after the groundbreaking. After bids were opened for contractors, the cost of the Alumni Center as designed was far greater than anticipated, specifically the transformation of the western bank of Waller Creek to make room for the west wing and dining terrace, the extensive use of retaining walls, and a redirected tributary to the creek so that it would remain behind the proposed dam. Through the summer of 1963, architect Fred Day attempted to redesign the structure. He shortened the west wing and reversed its direction, and then removed it outright while still preserving the main lounge. Neither brought the costs down to acceptable levels. Unwilling to reopen the fundraising drive, the Alumni Center committee reluctantly abandoned the initial plans and sent Day back to the drawing board.

Alumni Center.Redesign.August 1963

Above: Fred Day attempted to redesign the Alumni Center by shortening the west wing and pointing it towards 21st Street. Source: University of Texas Buildings Collection, Alexander Architecture Archives, University of Texas Libraries.

Through the fall, Day worked on new plans for the building, placed it alongside Waller Creek instead of over it, and preserved the elements used in the initial designs. The single main lounge and dining area was divided into two connected rooms at right angles, and then joined to a larger structure around a simple square courtyard with a fountain. The plan afforded ample light throughout and office windows that faced either the courtyard or outside, while the main lounge and the dining room (today used by the Texas Expresso Café) were nudged close to the edge of Waller Creek for the best views. A walled patio adjoined the main lounge to make room for larger alumni events.

ALumni Center.1965.With Orange Carpet welcome

Above: The Alumni Center, drawn with Jack Maguire’s “orange carpet” welcome.

Alumni Center.Main Lounge.1965

Above: The Main Lounge of the Alumni Center.

Designed in “Early Texas” style – which Fred Day described as a blend of Western and Spanish colonial – the 14,400 square foot textured brick building featured copper chandeliers in the main entrance, lounge, and dining room, that were hand-crafted in Mexico. Terra-cotta tiles, mahogany doors and paneling, vaulted beamed ceilings, and concrete Spanish roof tiles all added to the decor, along with refinished furniture from the 1930s that had originally been used when the offices were in the Texas Union. The Alumni Center, though, was also unabashedly a part of the University of Texas. Brass handles for the two front door were designed in the shape of “U’s” and attached to equally large “T’s” on the door front. The light fixtures were purposely created to evoke images of interlocking “UT’s,” and the orange and white silk-screened draperies, along with the orange carpeting in the staff offices, was hard to miss.

AAS.1965.Alumni Center to be dedicated

Construction finally began on April 27, 1964, just over a year after the groundbreaking. The alumni association staff moved into its new quarters the following February, and it was officially opened Saturday, April 3, 1965. In the morning, the graduating classes of 1940 and 1915 were the first to use the new building to start their 25 and 50-year reunions, and then joined a larger crowd outside in front for the dedication ceremony, which included performances by the Longhorn Singers and the Longhorn Band.

Alumni Center Dedication.1965.04.03

Executive Director Jack Maguire explained to those assembled, “Many years ago, Edgar Guest wrote a poem which began, ‘It takes a heap of livin’ to make a house a home.’ Today we are dedicating a very beautiful house. … It’s a heap of house,and we invite you to do a heap of living in it. The best invitation I can extend to you is a line which was used to introduce the 1915 Cactus. ‘The gate is down – ride through.’ Today the gate to the Lila B. Etter Alumni  Center is down. Ride through it – any and every time you are here.”

Alumni Center.0s.300. - Copy

The Battle of Waller Creek


Careful! Look close, or you might miss it. Take a stroll along the sidewalk, heading north on San Jacinto Boulevard as it approaches the football stadium. The street makes a long, lazy curve as it follows the route of Waller Creek, just to the west. But as you near the stadium, where the creek straightens out for a bit, the road makes a slight veer to the left. The sidewalk that once shadowed the creek’s bank from a polite distance is abruptly pushed over and rudely intrudes out over the embankment, supported by concrete pillars.

Decades ago, this spot was informally dubbed “Erwin’s Bend,” after Board of Regents chair Frank Erwin, though the name wasn’t intended as a token of admiration. In 1969, this was the site of the “Battle of Waller Creek,” a famed student protest against the removal of trees to make room for a stadium expansion.

Erwins Bend

The sidewalk along San Jacinto Boulevard is suddenly pushed out over Waller Creek as it nears Bellmont Hall and the stadium, seen on the right.

For University of Texas students in 1969, the world was exciting, troubling, and volatile. Social upheavals, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, and the new ecology movement were all making headlines. Recent student protests at Cal-Berkeley and Harvard had college administrators everywhere on edge. A June fire on the Cuyahoga River near Cleveland, a result of too much chemical pollution, instigated the Clean Water Act and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. The following month, the world watched as humans aboard Apollo 11 explored the surface of the moon. (Its successor, Apollo 12, was due to launch in November with UT graduate Alan Bean on board.) In August, a music festival at Woodstock in upstate New York attracted 400,000 people and became a defining event for a generation.

The UT Austin campus was also being transformed. Muscling in next to the familiar Mediterranean buildings with red-tiled roofs were brawny, multi-storied tan brick or concrete structures. Beauford T. Jester Center, named for a former governor and regent, opened in the fall as one of the largest college residence halls anywhere. The Humanities Research Center, the LBJ Presidential Library, and a 17-story physics-math-astronomy building were all being planned, along with a sizeable addition to the football stadium.

Stadium from Tower Observation Deck

Bellmont Hall, as seen from the UT Tower observation deck, provides the support for second-tier seating on the stadium’s west side.

In May of 1969, the Board of Regents approved final plans for a new building to be placed along the west side of the stadium. Known today as Bellmont Hall and named for Theo Bellmont, UT’s first athletic director, it was both an academic and athletics structure. Designed to house the classrooms and labs of the physical education department (now the Department of Kinesiology), along with the administrative offices of intercollegiate athletics, its roof supported an upper deck to the stadium with seating for 14,000 football fans. The total cost was just over $12 million, though because of its mixed use, about 70% of the financing came from Permanent University Fund bond proceeds, the rest from the sale of seating options in the stadium.

But to make room for the new building, the live oak trees, which had shaded the western gates of the stadium for decades, would have to be removed. The location of San Jacinto Boulevard was also an issue. Its route cut through the south footprint of the structure. Campus planners proposed to move a portion of the street about 65 feet to the west, though it would have consequences for the trees along a section of Waller Creek. All told, 39 trees were slated for destruction, and the bed and banks of the creek destined to be paved for erosion control.

DT Diagram.Color

Above: The plan to redirect San Jacinto Boulevard, published in The Daily Texan. (Color is mine.) East is up and north to the left. The stadium, before the addition of Bellmont Hall, is seen in the upper left, with the alumni center across the street. Lower right, Dorm A and the parking lot have since been replaced by the San Jacinto Residence Hall, and the practice field is today’s Clark Field. Blue marks the original route, while red indicates the altered, and current, position of the street. Green circles specify the 39 trees removed. Click on the image for a larger version.

Though the regents had discussed plans to relocate the street for months, it wasn’t common knowledge on campus until an article appeared in The Daily Texan in early October. A contract had been signed and a work order issued to a San Antonio contractor. Construction was to begin before the end of the month. As the full significance of the project and what it meant to Waller Creek was realized, opposition developed, particularly among architecture students who wanted to find an alternative solution.

UT Moratorium Protest.Oct 15 1969On Wednesday, October 15th, thousands of UT students joined an estimated half million across the country in what was billed as a “national moratorium” against the war in Vietnam. Protesters gathered on the Main Mall at noon, then marched to the Capitol for a larger rally. “Two bits, four bits, six bits, a dollar. All for peace, stand up and holler!” chanted the crowd. Among the speakers was student body president Joe Krier. “We have the right and duty to integrally question the course of this nation,” Krier was quoted in the Texan. The moratorium made national headlines for days, and the idea of protesting to affect change was in the air.

Meanwhile, the fate of Waller Creek was quickly becoming a campus issue. Letters to the editor appeared in the newspaper from students and faculty alike. Some, taking their cue from the ecology movement, were opposed to the destruction of a place of natural beauty and believed the creek was about to become a paved drainage ditch. Others railed against the need for more seats in the stadium. That the top-ranked Longhorn football team was headed towards its second national championship didn’t seem to matter. Architecture students created substitute proposals: a less drastic reroute of San Jacinto, or a narrow street to reduce the impact. A common thread running through the various opinions was the desire to have more public input on future development of the campus.

The following Tuesday, October 21st, less than a week after the national moratorium protests, contractors with bulldozers arrived at the stadium and removed the trees along the west side. But when they turned their attention to the creek, more than 50 sign-carrying protesters stood in the way. For the contractors, they needed to complete their task by a deadline or would have to pay a penalty, but rather than provoke a more serious situation, the bulldozers were shut down. Dr. Bryce Jordan, Vice President for Student Affairs, instructed the crews not to resume clearing until they received instructions from the president’s office.

Stadium Tree Removal 1969

Bulldozers removed the trees next to the stadium on Tuesday, October 21st.

A group of students, many of them architecture majors, asked UT President Norman Hackerman for a one week delay to propose additional alternatives. Late Tuesday afternoon, Hackerman released a statement. He had requested Frank Taniguchi, Dean of the School of Architecture, to recommend four faculty and two students who would form an advisory committee “for the future development and preservation” of Waller Creek. As to the stadium addition, the site had been under study for 18 months, and the president’s office could find “no better alternative in view of the necessary configuration and size of the construction project.”

The architecture dean personally visited with the protesters. “There is no alternative. I think it is too late,” Dr. Taniguchi explained. Because the contracts had been finalized by the Board of Regents, any postponement on the part of the University would result in a financial penalty. The contractors had agreed to finish on time, but the University had guaranteed the work. Some students took President Hackerman’s statement about an advisory group as an encouraging sign, but thought “future development” ought to include the stadium addition. In the meantime, two botany professors and a pair of UT law students partnered with the local Sierra Club and filed for a temporary restraining order to halt construction, though any court order would not be issued until mid-morning on Wednesday.

DT Oct 22 1969.Waller Creek Protest slip

Above: Printed on the editorial page of The Daily Texan, Wednesday, October 22, 1969.

As Wednesday morning dawned, The Daily Texan was full of news about the protest and had printed a petition slip that could be cut out, signed, and delivered to the Texan offices. The slips were to be presented en masse to President Hackerman. But any petition would be too late, as the situation had dramatically changed.

All along the disputed section of Waller Creek, the cedar, live oak, pecan, and maple trees – many of them well over a century old – were full of dozens of students. A few had spent the night, worried that construction crews might return in the dark. The rest arrived at sunrise and climbed the branches in a “tree-in” with the hope that they could delay any action before the expected restraining order was issued.

Frank ErwinInto the fray came Frank Erwin, Chairman of the Board of Regents. Born in Waxahachie, a World War II veteran who’d earned a law degree from the University, Erwin made a career in politics working for the state Democratic party. A supporter of the conservative faction, he was appointed spokesman for the Texas delegation to the 1968 National Democratic Convention. A longtime colleague and friend of Texas governor John Connally, Erwin was appointed to the Board of Regents in 1963, and served until 1975. For five years, from 1966-1971, Erwin was chairman.

While politics was important to him, most biographers agree that the University was Erwin’s primary passion for the latter part of his life. Working with his many political allies in the Texas Legislature, he increased university appropriations from $40 million to almost $350 million in just over a decade, and was critical to the formation of the University of Texas System in 1967. At the end of his tenure as regent, Erwin was widely lauded for his contributions to higher education in Texas.

But Erwin was also controversial and often polarizing. With a firm belief in his authority, Erwin tried to mold the University in the image he chose, a tactic which regularly alienated students, faculty, and the administration. Labeled a believer in the Texas mantra “bigger is better,” Erwin was a prime mover behind the new, large-scale campus architecture. He read the news of student unrest at Berkeley, became determined not to let the counterculture movement find a home in Austin, and worked to close the campus to non-students and push out faculty whose views Erwin believed were too liberal and unpatriotic for the times. During his tenure, student government and the Faculty Council both demanded Erwin’s resignation, and his heavy-handed actions prompted several prestigious faculty members to leave for other universities. “Opinion has remained divided as to [Erwin’s] final usefulness to the University,” wrote UT English professor Joseph Jones, “although most fair-minded observers agree that in his own way, on his own terms, he was singularly devoted to it.”

Waller Creek.Protesters in Trees.

One thing Frank Erwin was not, was patient. While there were reports the UT administration wanted to hold construction until a crisis could be avoided, Erwin arrived in person at Waller Creek early in the morning, surveyed the scene, and, without contacting President Hackerman, called in campus, city, and state law enforcement, along with a fire truck with an extended ladder, to remove the students from the trees as quickly as possible.

“This was the first time anyone had ever used police on this campus on any large scale to suppress dissent,” wrote UT student Larry Grisham, whose account was published in The Harvard Crimson student newspaper. Hundreds had gathered to watch police use ladders and safety nets to bodily remove tenacious protesters from the trees. Erwin was in a hurry to beat the restraining order, and was quoted by the Texan: “Arrest all the people you have to; once the trees are down, there won’t be anything to protest.” Working their way up to higher branches, police found that removing the last few holdouts, using the extended ladder of the fire truck, was a tricky process. “The most amazing part of the morning was that nobody got killed,” recounted Grisham, “They even sawed off one limb with a person still on it.” The final protester was a girl perched on the end of a branch atop of an estimated 50-foot tall cypress tree. “When the police did get to her, they almost knocked her off the branch – she dangled for several minutes by her hands.” In all, 27 people were arrested.

With the protesters dispatched, police formed lines to secure the construction zone as bulldozers and crews set to work to remove the trees. As the first tree fell, Erwin was photographed applauding the effort. The trees were downed in such a hurry that at least one designated to be spared was razed by accident. A restraining order was issued a little before noon, but it was too late.

Waller Creek.Post Tree Removal.

Waller Creek after the trees have been felled. The lone cypress in the center, next to the 21st Street bridge, still survives. Moore-Hill residence hall is in the upper left.

Grisham expressed what was a popular opinion among those who had witnessed the morning’s events. “Erwin had broken the non-violent tradition on this campus by, for the first time, using force and outside force at that. He had completely ignored the students and faculty and their alternative plans and opinions; he had barely managed to stay inside the law by cutting the trees just before the injunction; and he had no business being on the campus trying to start a riot – if anybody were to urge on the bulldozers, it should have been the university administration.” As was seen in the letters to the editor earlier in the week, the Waller Creek protest wasn’t just about the trees. It was an appeal for a broader voice in the future of the University.

Waller Creek.Students Hauling Trees.

Just before noon, students carry branches up  the 21st Street hill to the Main Building.

The students, though, were not yet finished. As the construction crews retreated and broke for lunch, several hundred persons grabbed branches, large and small, towed them out of the creek bed, up the 21st Street hill, through the South Mall, and up to the Main Building. As the students approached, administrators feared the worst and locked the doors as the branches were piled in the entryways. A rally on the Main Mall followed, and President Hackerman agreed to meet with a small delegation. Hackerman did what he could to ease the situation, and arranged for students to meet with Erwin the following day. The University’s campus planning office announced that no more trees would be removed, and, as a concession to the students’ demands, the bed of Waller Creek would not be paved as originally proposed.

Waller Creek.Trees at Main Building.

Branches were stuffed into the entrances of the Main Building.

By Thursday, the “Battle of Waller Creek” was front page news across the state, covered from Los Angeles to New York, and images of students being forcibly removed from trees were published in newspapers as far away as Paris, France. Its effect was long lasting. Today, treasured live oaks on the campus are considered investments and relocated, rather than destroyed, when they sit in the path of campus construction. Waller Creek is also viewed as an asset, and efforts are underway, both on campus and through downtown Austin, to preserve the creek and take advantage of it architecturally. And building development is now primarily guided by a holistic campus master plan, with input from all corners of the University.