The Austin History Center's mission is to procure, preserve, present and provide the historical records that make up Austin's unique story.
Originally built as a library, the University of Texas Tower was designed by the French-born Philadelphian, Paul Cret. It is 27 floors high and once held voluminous stacks of books sitting above grand reading rooms. The collection was so extensive that the tower librarian wore roller skates to collect volumes requested from the main library below the tower. Due to the increasingly long wait times to get books from the lady roller skating in the tower -- which could be up to half an hour -- the main library moved to a new building in 1963. Now the building mostly houses administrative offices, but it still has those beautiful reading rooms.
The tower is known for the various lighting configurations that are displayed there depending on what's happening on campus. These effects were designed by Carl Eckhardt, Jr. Eckhardt studied mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, earning his Masters Degree in 1930 and made numerous contributions to his alma mater.
Eckhardt taught at the university until 1973 and was an expert on its history. His six-volume collection chronicles the history of the school from 1885 to 1985. In 1958 he reassembled the Santa Maria oil rig, the first rig to strike oil on land leased from the university. It eventually brought in more than $300 million in revenues to the school and has a permanent place of honor on the campus!
His lighting effects are a language in and of themselves. Here are some translations to help you decipher what you might see:
A number 1 on all sides highlighted by orange lighting means: "We won a national championship!!"
Orange lighting alone means: "We beat Texas A&M!"
The tower tip bathed in orange means: "We won a conference title in an intercollegiate sport!"
Tower entirely orange with special effects like fireworks means: "We're celebrating the graduates!"
Darkened tower with white cap and observation deck means: "We're observing a solemn occasion."
Tower entirely white means: "It's just a regular day on campus."
Eckhardt lived until 1995 and would likely be glad to know his campus tradition is still being honored.
Cover Photo: University of Texas Tower as seen from below by Chris Hedge via Flickr