Iconic Battle Hall Celebrates Centennial

UT’s landmark first library building—where J. Frank Dobie kept an office and George Littlefield lay in state—just celebrated 100 years of setting the architectural tone for campus.

Battle Hall now houses one of the loveliest campus study spots, the Architecture and Planning Library. And it is listed among the 150 favorite buildings in the country by the American Institute of Architects—one of just three such buildings in Texas.

The centennial was feted on Friday, with self-guided tours, a speech by former architecture dean Larry Speck, and a big cake shaped and frosted to look like the building.

The hall was designed in 1910 by Cass Gilbert, the architect behind the U.S. Supreme Court building and New York’s Woolworth skyscraper (once the world’s tallest building). “He was an eminent architect of his time,” Texas Exes historian Jim Nicar says. “We were so lucky to have him.”

Battle was built for $325,000, using limestone quarried in Cedar Park, and opened in 1911. Its architectural details included terra cotta tile molded to look like the signs of the zodiac (symbolizing the building’s permanence as a storehouse of human knowledge) and carved owls holding up the beams of the eaves (owls being the classical symbols of Athena, goddess of wisdom).

“Its elegance signaled the aspirations of a first-class university,” Nicar says.

But the regal building became the site of one of the first UT student protests in 1914. The reason? On a warm evening, a young man took off his suit jacket in the library, defying custom. When he was chastised, the other men in the library took theirs off too in protest.

In 100 years, some things have definitely changed. But the striking building that is Battle Hall remains the same.

Top: Photo by Val Cook. Below: Courtesy Jim Nicar.


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