The Way Back: Flower Power

Though the fashion in this photo will likely be the first thing you notice, the image of two bohemians tending to campus flora presages a significant conflict of Frank Erwin’s days as chairman of the UT System Board of Regents. During his tenure, Erwin oversaw construction projects that characterize the campus today, from Jester Center to the LBJ Library, and the contested beautification of the West Mall.

When this photo was taken, the West Mall—bounded by the Tower, the Union, the Drag, and Goldsmith Hall—was covered in grass, making it a popular gathering place for students. Protests held in front of the Union often turned the grass to dirt underfoot. According to previous Alcalde reporting, Erwin didn’t like the look of these hippies, so he added concrete walkways and large azalea planters to control foot traffic and an “out-of-scale” fountain to limit visibility from the street.  

The Daily Texan ran pages of scathing editorials about the project. “There is something tragic about destroying the present state of the earth on the West Mall, then spending a quarter of a million dollars to make it look modern,” an editor wrote in a 1973 summer issue. The installations would nevertheless be completed in 1975, with the fountain remaining until campus’s next round of major renovations in the late ’90s.





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