For the first time in its 85 years, an enduring icon of the rapidly transforming Austin skyline is getting a refresh.
As announced yesterday by the University of Texas System Board of Regents, the landmark 307-foot clock tower extending from UT Austin’s campus-anchoring Main Building will undergo an “ambitious” $26 million renovation and restoration. The effort will focus on restoring the Beaux-Arts tower’s limestone exterior to “its original brilliance” per the Board of Regents while additional revamps will be made to its popular observation deck and, above that, the 56-bell carillon topping the structure. The $26 million lead investment will also help to fund a campus-beautifying landscape overhaul around the Main Building, including on UT Austin’s Main Mall.
Details on the forthcoming facelift are rather thin at this point. A project timeline has yet to be announced at this point as have, perhaps most importantly, particulars as to how Tower Girl will be accommodated once work commences. The Board of Regents, however, has promised “an exciting announcement about the Tower’s historic restoration” that will be made on November 12 when the Texas Longhorns face off against Texas Christian University for a home game at Darrell K Royal Memorial Stadium.
“The Tower stands on the very spot where our first learning community gathered, and it endures as a beacon for truth-seekers, academic excellence and achievement,” said Jay Hartzell, president of the University of Texas at Austin, in a statement. “I am grateful to Chairman [Kevin P.] Eltife and the regents for their incredibly generous support. Their investment will enhance and preserve the Tower’s legacy and ensure that it shines even brighter for generations to come.”
Rising 27 stories above the UT Austin campus, the UT Austin Tower—or, simply, the Tower—debuted in 1937 as a replacement for the school’s original Main Building, a Victorian-Gothic pile completed in the early 1880s and demolished in 1934. Perhaps best known for his works in and around his adopted home of Philadelphia, the French-born, École des Beaux-Arts–educated architect Paul Philippe Cret designed the soaring new structure, which stood as the tallest building in Austin for at least 20 years after its completion. (More than eight decades later, that title now goes to Rhode Partners’ 58-story The Independent, which is more than twice the height of the Tower.) Originally serving as UT Austin’s central library, the Main Building is now largely home to administrative offices in addition to some library space.
Described by UT as “an icon of the university’s excellence, purpose and spirit,” the Tower, 85 years on, remains a much-beloved Austin landmark although its long history hasn’t always been easy. On August 1, 1966, what was then the deadliest mass shooting carried out by a lone gunman in American history was carried out from the Tower’s 28th floor observation deck. Fourteen people were killed, and more than 30 others were injured during the horrific melee, which ended following a 96-minute standoff between the sniper and the police. After a temporary closure, the observation deck reopened only to be closed again in 1974 after a string of tragic suicides. It remained closed to the public until 1999. The observation deck, which offers sweeping views of the campus and the city beyond, largely remained publicly accessible following its reopening via guided Tower Tours (save for in 2002 and 2003 following the 9/11 attacks). These tours, however, are currently suspended.
Like other prominent landmark buildings in cities across the globe, the Tower is also illuminated—in this case, in a dramatic burnt orange—in observation of major holidays, campus goings-on, and, of course, UT sports victories.