October 3, 2017

A blueprint for Preston Geren Jr.’s life was mapped out before he was even born. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, the 1945 graduate of Texas A&M University was destined to take his rightful place among the “First Family” of Texas A&M architecture.

Geren’s ties to the Texas A&M architecture program can be traced back to its beginning. His grandfather, Frederick E. Giesecke, established the state’s first formal architectural education program at Texas A&M more than 100 years ago. Giesecke also oversaw the design and construction of many of Texas A&M’s most revered buildings.

A member of the Class of 1886, Giesecke earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at only 17 years old. After studying architectural drawing at Cornell University and architectural design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he was appointed head of A&M’s Department of Mechanical Drawing. In 1904, Giesecke established Texas A&M’s first architectural program and served as head of the program until 1912 before accepting a position at The University of Texas at Austin. There, he engaged in research as head of the Division of Engineering’s Bureau of Economic Geology and Technology.

In 1924, Giesecke earned his fourth degree, a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. He returned to Texas A&M three years later as the college’s official architect and served his second stint as head of its architecture program. During the Great Depression, Giesecke designed and oversaw construction of ten Texas A&M buildings: the Halbouty Building, the Chemistry Building, the Jack. K Williams Administration Building, the Animal Industries Building, the Veterinary Hospital (now the Civil Engineering Building), the horse barn (now the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Annex Building), Cushing Memorial Library and Archives, and Scoates, Hart and Walton halls.

  • Animal Industries Building

    Designed as a memorial to the pioneer livestock men of Texas, the Animal Industries Building reflects the love of color and decoration. The exterior of the building is ornamented with stone casts of cattle skulls, horse heads and cornucopias, while the main entryway is adorned with cast-iron cattle brands that represent many of Texas’ largest Depression-era ranches. The Texas theme carries inside, where ram, cow and horse heads adorn the tops of columns that rise from the building’s unique marble laid floor—distinct from the tile used in most buildings of the period.

  • Chemistry Building

    Built as a shining jewel of fundamental scientific education and research, the Chemistry Building’s design reflects classical proportions and details. Ornamentation throughout employs a variety of color schemes in tile inspired by Mexican-American art, including patterns of animal heads, skulls, bones and fossils. A monumental staircase leading to a pedimented doorway highlights the main entrance, while the foyer’s ceiling features intricate painted gold grillwork against a backdrop of dark Russian marble panels and complementary lighting fixtures. An additional staircase leads to the building’s historical heart and soul, a lecture hall named after distinguished chemistry professor Arthur E. Martell.

  • Civil Engineering Building

    Built in classical proportions, the building’s fluted pilasters are crowned with deep capitals which extend two stories. Perched above the single-story entrance is an elaborately-designed cartouche in scale with the rest of the building. A shield at the main entrance bears a veterinary symbol topped by animal heads and a five-point star, while other cast stone figures line the exterior. The building’s interior walls are made of glazed tile. In 1991, the facility underwent a $38 million renovation to accommodate the university’s rapid growth.

  • Cushing Library

    The exterior of the neoclassical-style building is adorned with the names of time-honored scholars such as James Watt, Francis Bacon, Louis Pasteur, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton and Plato. The chief designer who worked with Giesecke, Samuel Charles Phelps Vosper’s characteristic cast stone animal heads and tilework can also be seen around the exterior. Inside, the neoclassical design prevails in colorfully-stenciled ceilings, hand-carved bookcases and doorways bordered with an egg-and-dart crown molding, while iron grillwork outside of the Kelsey Reading Room features early Texas cattle brands.

  • Halbouty Geosciences Building

    Originally known as the petroleum engineering building, Halbouty is designed in an eclectic and highly-ornamented style. The original four-story building was in the shape of a T and included a high central tower over the main entrance that concealed a large water tank. The building features castings of seashells, pebble mosaics and recessed doors with iron grillwork on its south entrance. A heroic panel over the side entrance symbolizes petroleum exploration, while Mexican tile adorns the building’s front exterior. The building underwent massive renovations in 1972 when the original tower was removed for safety reasons and a much-needed 60,000-square-foot addition was completed.

  • Hart Hall

    Characterized by extravagant detail and an organized structure, Hart Hall’s design served as the inspiration for Walton Hall and other Depression-era campus dormitories. Hart and Walton Halls were the first dorms on the Texas A&M campus to use a ramp-style construction, meaning that rooms are accessible from outside stairwells instead of hallways. The four-story dormitories feature double and single suite-style rooms. Vosper’s influence is obvious in the ramp entrances, which are decorated with miniature horse heads and cattle skulls and elaborate masonry.

  • Scoates Hall

    Originally known as the agricultural engineering building, Scoates Hall was designed in a classical revival style. A Latin inscription over the main entrance reads potentia (power), aqua (water), machinae (machinery) and edificia (buildings). These represent the early subject matter areas of agricultural engineering. The main auditorium houses the building’s crown jewels: extravagant agricultural murals and a one-of-a-kind chandelier made from plow parts. Over the years, many of the building’s original features were hidden—including the main auditorium’s colorfully-stenciled ceiling tiles. From 2013 to 2015, Scoates Hall underwent a $10.6 million renovation projected that restored the building to its former splendor.

  • Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Annex

    Consisting of a stallion barn and a main barn, the Horse Barn provided stalls and equipment for up to 50 horses. In addition to the two main stables, there were six large exercise pens, a small pasture for the horses to roam and a large office for faculty. The main entrance is decorated with a shield that displays grains flanked by profiles of horse heads. Of particular significance are images on the copper cupolas: one depicts a cowboy roping a rabbit in a cactus patch, while the other shows a cowboy trying to control a horse bucking in reaction to a snake. Freshmen in the Corps of Cadets are still required to recite the location and meaning of these images to their cadet superiors.

  • Walton Hall

    Walton Hall (along with Hart Hall) were the first dorms on the Texas A&M campus to use a ramp-style construction, meaning that rooms are accessible from outside stairwells instead of hallways. The four-story dormitories feature double and single suite-style rooms. Nicknamed “Walton Hotel” in its early days, this dormitory was at one time the most luxurious on campus due to the quality and size of its rooms, in addition to being the first dorm with spring mattresses.

  • Administration Building

    Designed in a classic Beaux Arts style, the building is made of light grey stone rather than brick. Its long front portico contains a tiled floor, ornate ceiling and huge urns set between 14 enormous ionic columns. Each column features the face of a warrior and a woman on opposing sides. 128 ram heads line the building’s perimeter, while 124 lion heads line the copper roof’s edge. Inside, the iconography of Texas and the Southwest is expressed in ornamental metals, stained glass, plaster, decorative paintings and a large terrazzo Texas map on the foyer floor. Colors of the map portray Texas geography, while brass markings represent Spanish missions, rivers and cattle trails. Also marked are the locations of Washington-on-the-Brazos, the capital of Texas and Texas A&M.

In addition to his architectural contributions, he was the first head of the Texas Engineering Experiment Station and led the formation of the first Alumni Association, the forerunner of The Association of Former Students. In 2004, Giesecke was posthumously honored as an Outstanding Alumnus of the College of Architecture. He was, without question, the first Aggie architect.

Following in Giesecke’s Footsteps

Giesecke’s son-in-law, Preston Geren Sr., would carry on his father-in-law’s legacy. After earning his bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M in architectural engineering in 1912 and served as supervising architect for buildings on the A&M campus for two years, he established his own Fort Worth-based architectural firm, Preston M. Geren Architects & Engineers, in 1934. The Giesecke-Geren family quickly became known as the “First Family” of Texas A&M architecture, a nickname that Preston Geren Sr.’s son would solidify further.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Preston Geren Jr. came to Texas A&M in 1941 but left in 1943 to serve in World War II. For his service in the European theater, he was awarded the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.

Geren completed his education at Georgia Tech in 1947, earning a bachelor’s degree in architecture before returning to Texas. He later joined his father’s company, growing it into one of the largest and most successful firms in Texas. Today, the firm has completed projects at many major Texas universities including Texas Christian University, campuses within the University of Texas System, the University of Texas Medical School, Southwestern Baptist Seminary and Texas A&M. He was especially proud of his design of the Clayton W. Williams Jr. Alumni Center, headquarters of The Association of Former Students.

Architectural Legacy

While the Geren architectural legacy reaches across Texas, their commitment to Texas A&M is exemplified by Preston Geren Jr.’s gifts benefiting the university, students and faculty.

During his lifetime, Geren Jr. made many gifts through the Texas A&M Foundation to support the university, including a President’s Endowed Scholarship and a Sul Ross Scholarship. He also created the Preston M. Geren Excellence Fund and the Dr. F.E. Giesecke 1886 Lecture Fund to cover the cost of bringing renowned speakers, showcases and events to Texas A&M architecture students. These lectures give students and faculty the opportunity to hear groundbreaking ideas by leaders in all disciplines of architecture, including both built and virtual environments. Many of these activities take place in the Preston M. Geren Auditorium in the Langford Architecture Center on campus, named in honor of his father.

To create an even greater impact, Geren Jr. added a planned gift of life insurance to his already established annual gift payments, creating a blended gift to support the university.

Blended gifts—which combine current and after-lifetime gifts to the Foundation—increase the impact of an individual’s giving, provide greater tax savings, and preserve wealth for an individual and their family. A blended gift option allows individuals to increase their giving by either adding a planned gift to their annual contributions, or by making an outright gift to accompany a designation already made in their estate plans.

“Preston and his family embodied the concept of leading by example,” said Dr. Jorge Vanegas, dean of the College of Architecture. “They left a physical legacy in the iconic buildings they helped create on campus, and through Preston Jr.’s endowed scholarships and the one-of-a-kind experiences he created for students at Texas A&M, the family left a lasting impact on the College of Architecture.”

To support the College of Architecture or learn more about blended gifts to support Texas A&M, contact Angela Throne ’03 in the Office of Gift Planning at athrone@txamfoundation.com or (800) 392-3310.