Austin’s Huston-Tillotson University is now a National Register of Historic Places–recognized historic district

On The List

Austin’s Huston-Tillotson University is now a National Register of Historic Places–recognized historic district

The King-Seabrook Chapel and Bell Tower, designed by Brooks, Barr, Graeber and White Architects, at the East Austin Campus of Huston-Tillotson University. (2C2K Photography/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The leafy 23-acre Austin campus of Huston-Tillotson University (H-TU), a nearly 150-year-old historically Black university that ranks as the oldest institution of higher learning in the Texan capital city and its only HBCU, has been inscribed to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Born from the 1952 consolidation of Tillotson College and Samuel Huston College, Huston-Tillotson University (née Huston-Tillotson College) is located on the East Austin campus of the former school. East Austin is historically home to the city’s African American and Latino communities, although the neighborhood has been dramatically reshaped by gentrification in recent years.

The storied HBCU, which predates the University of Texas at Austin by nearly a decade, is home to at least one previously NRHP-listed building: the Prairie Style Anthony and Louise Viaer Alumni Hall completed in 1914 as the Administration Building. The new designation, however, classifies the (near) entirety of the campus as a historic district.

In total the H-TU historic district spans just under 20 acres and includes 13 properties (14 were nominated) that contribute to the four-year, church-affiliated liberal art school’s “historical and architectural resources,” according to a July 20 press announcement released by the school. H-TU’s nomination for inclusion on the register was completed by the university in partnership with the City of Austin’s Historic Preservation Office with support from a National Park Service Underrepresented Communities Grant.

“Listing in the National Register of Historic Places affords properties a measure of protection from the potential impact of federally funded projects, as well as access to technical expertise and grant funds to facilitate their restoration and preservation,” the university elaborated. “Income-producing properties are also eligible for federal tax benefits for sympathetic rehabilitation work.”

a historic building on a college campus
The 1914 Administration Building, now known as Anthony and Louise Viaer Alumni Hall. (WhisperToMe/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain)

Per the nomination document, the contributing buildings are “excellent examples of popular 20th century architectural styles and, built between 1911 and 1974, reflect 60 years of the institution’s pedagogical evolution. Integrity of design is excellent and continues to show the implementation of Huston-Tillotson’s architect-designed 1954 campus plan.”

As previously noted by Towers, while the contributing properties were completed over several decades, the majority of them are modernist in style, built in the early 1950s through to the mid-1970s following the merger of the two schools. These include a brick-clad East Austin Brutalist landmark, the King-Seabrook Chapel and Bell Tower (1974), along with several buildings designed by Austin firm Kuehne, Brooks & Barr (now Brooks & Barr) including the Dickey-Lawless Science Building (1954) and the Downs-Jones Library (1960). Older exceptions include the aforementioned Administration Building, the 1930s-era Conner-Washington Building, and the Romanesque Evans Industrial Hall, which dates back to 1911.

Although just formally announced by H-TU last week, the official listing date for the H-TU campus is April 22. Other additions to the NRHP made in late April include, among others, the Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, New Jersey, Montana’s Everson Creek Archaeological District, and the old Gibson, Inc. Factory and Office Building in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“The recognition of the physical space of Huston-Tillotson University speaks of the equally immense educational, cultural, and economic importance of the University to the East Austin community and beyond,” said Dr. Archibald W. Vanderpuye, Interim President of Huston-Tillotson University in a statement.

The move to preserve and protect historic buildings and landscapes on HBCU campuses has seen considerable action over the past several years after decades of such efforts being largely overlooked and underfunded. Earlier this year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation announced the five latest grantees of its $3.2 million HBCU Cultural Heritage Stewardship Initiative, which is part of the Trust’s larger African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. Established to “empower HBCUs with resources to protect, preserve and leverage their historic campuses, buildings, and landscapes, ensuring these symbols of African American excellence and American achievement are preserved to inspire and educate future generations,” the program awarded funds to Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina; Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina; Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina; Mississippi’s Rust College, and Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. Eight additional HBCUs were previously awarded grants through the initiative in 2021 including Baltimore’s Morgan State University, Spelman College in Atlanta, and Alabama’s Tuskegee University.