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Architectural Gems

Architectural Gems

During a five-year period from 1928 to 1933, the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas underwent a building program that dramatically changed the face of campus. Masterminds Frederick Giesecke, chief campus architect, and Samuel Charles Phelps Vosper, chief designer, constructed 10 buildings at a cost of approximately $3 million.

The new facilities not only added learning and residential spaces, but also physically reoriented campus. With the construction of the Administration Building (named in 1998 for Texas A&M University President Jack K. Williams), campus’ main entrance turned eastward toward a new state highway instead of westward toward the train station.

Remarkably, all 10 buildings remain, a testament to both their appeal and quality. Each has a unique flair, but all contain Depression-era architectural remnants—from detailed cast stone reliefs and finely crafted exterior ironwork to colorful tiles, decorative plaster work and richly painted interior spaces.

Architectural Minds

Giesecke graduated first in his class from Texas A&M in 1886 with a degree in mechanical engineering and joined the faculty that same year, at the age of 17. Two years later, he was named head of the department of mechanical drawing. He left to study at Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Illinois before returning to Texas A&M in 1905 to head the university’s first architecture program. In 1910, he designed the first campus plan and introduced classicism as the preferred style for campus buildings, replacing the earlier Victorian style structures. He left in 1912 to serve as the second head of architectural engineering at The University of Texas at Austin, where he remained for 15 years. In 1927, with oil revenue available for a building program on the Texas A&M campus, Giesecke returned to College Station to lead construction.

Vosper, a Pratt Institute and Columbia University graduate who taught architecture for five years with Giesecke in Austin, joined Giesecke at Texas A&M in 1928 to lead the design of the buildings.

Here’s a look at their creations.

Chemistry Building (1929)

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.

Cushing Memorial Library (1930)

Cushing Memorial Library and Archives is a three-story outgrowth of Texas A&M’s first library, which was destroyed when the Old Main Building burned down in 1912. It is named for Col. Edward Benjamin Cushing (Class of 1880), a former president of Texas A&M’s Board of Directors who saved Texas A&M when the state legislature threatened to consolidate the debt-ridden university with The University of Texas at Austin. Cushing backed Texas A&M with his own personal funds to obtain credit and ensure the university remained in operation.

As the first stand-alone library on campus, Cushing later became library storage and office space after the Sterling C. Evans Library opened in 1968. It now houses collections of rare books, manuscripts, photos, artifacts, works of art and an archival repository for the university. 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 in addition to Vosper’s characteristic cast stone animal heads and tilework. 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. The first floor once featured paintings by local College Station artist Marie Haines, but these paintings were lost to time.

Cushing underwent major renovations in 1998 to restore the building to its original splendor.

Animal Industries Building (1931)

Designed as a memorial to the pioneer livestock men of Texas, the Animal Industries Building reflects Vosper’s 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.

While its design is exquisite, the building is more well-known for its tragic past. On Nov. 14, 1959, a death occurred in the basement—once home to the university’s animal meat lab—when meat locker foreman and Texas A&M employee Roy Simms bled to death. While cutting a slab of meat, Simms’ knife slipped and sliced across his left leg, severing his femoral artery. Simms crawled toward the elevator but died before help arrived. As a result, the building has a haunted reputation. Over the years, custodians and students have reported hearing screaming and footsteps in addition to seeing strange moving objects near the elevator.

Hart Hall (1930) and Walton Hall (1931)

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. Built on the site of the old Assembly Hall (a campus chapel and auditorium), Hart Hall was named in honor of Lawrence J. Hart, a prominent San Antonio businessman who served the university’s Board of Directors from 1911 to 1925. Walton Hall is named after Texas A&M’s ninth president, Thomas Otto Walton.

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. After World War II, Hart Hall served as married-student housing and was later the first co-ed dormitory to provide women with a low-cost housing option.

Staying true to his design style, Vosper laid the floors of Walton Hall with tile and finished the walls with white plaster. Blue paint around windows and doorframes adds a feminine touch. 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. It was converted to a co-ed dorm in 1998.

Veterinary Hospital Building (1932)

(Now the Civil Engineering Building)

Now home to the civil engineering department, the Veterinary Hospital Building was once the crown jewel of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. The U-shaped, concrete-floored building featured an east wing for small animals and a west wing for large animals. At the time of its construction, the building was one of the most modern and well-equipped veterinary facilities in the United States.

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.

Administration Building (1932)

(Now the Jack K. Williams Administration Building)

Named in 1998 after the university’s 17th president, the Jack K. Williams Administration Building is the most grandiose of Vosper and Giesecke’s creations. Its construction physically reoriented campus, while landscaping efforts transformed the surrounding grounds and created an impressive entrance to campus. A five-pointed bronze star at the base of the flag pole on the front lawn bears the names of some of the university’s first presidents.

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. The massive bronze doors at the building’s east entrance show figures representing agriculture and engineering, along with stylized “A” and “M” letters superimposed over a background of antique Belgian glass.

Inside, the A&M theme expands to include iconography of Texas and the Southwest 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. The sites of major battles of the Texas Revolution are indicated by crossed sabers. Also marked are the locations of Washington-on-the-Brazos (where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed), the capital of Texas and Texas A&M.

Petroleum Engineering Building (1932)

(Now the Michel T. Halbouty ’30 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 used to maintain pressure in the campus heating system.

Named after distinguished alumni and Houston oilman Michel T. Halbouty ’30, 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. Other cast stone figures and mosaics in the building also reflect Mexican architecture.

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. A breezeway connects the addition to the original building.

In 1997, the Dudley Hughes ’51 Lecture Hall underwent a facelift and technological renovation. Every effort was made to preserve the historical characteristics of the room, including the beautiful stained glass windows that depict mineral classes, while modern educational technologies such as a smart lectern and surround sound were installed.

Agricultural Engineering Building (1932)

(Now Scoates Hall)

Originally known as the agricultural engineering building, Scoates Hall was designed in a classical revival style. In 1945, the Texas A&M University Board of Directors named the building in honor of Daniels Scoates, professor and head of the department of agricultural engineering from 1919 to 1939. The south entrance has a decorative two-storied element with intricate carvings and beautiful ironwork frames, lamps and grillwork. 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 facade is adorned with symbols in cast stone including owl figures. The main auditorium houses the building’s crown jewels: extravagant agricultural murals painted by artist Gertrude Babcock and a one-of-a-kind chandelier made from plow parts.

Over the years, many of the building’s original features were hidden or painted over—including the main auditorium’s colorfully-stenciled ceiling tiles, which were partially painted white before an acoustical drop-ceiling was installed. From 2013 to 2015, Scoates Hall underwent a $10.6 million renovation projected completed by Dallas-based Quimby McCoy Preservation Architecture that restored the building to its former splendor.

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    Intricate ironwork above the main entrance, historic.
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    Scoates Hall, present.
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    ​Main entrance, present.
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    Letters above the main entrance stand for “agricultural engineering,” the discipline housed in the building.
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    ​Iron roses on the main doors.
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    ​Cast stone owls line the exterior.
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    An inscription over the main entrance reads “agricultural engineering” in Latin.
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    ​A chandelier inside the foyer.
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    ​Intricate ceiling work inside the foyer.
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    ​The main auditorium in Scoates Hall.
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    The main auditorium houses a one-of-a-kind chandelier made from plow parts and colorfully-stenciled ceiling tiles.
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    ​A chandelier of plow parts in the main auditorium.
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    ​Agricultural murals in the main auditorium.
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    ​Agricultural murals in the main auditorium.
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    ​Agricultural murals in the main auditorium.

Horse Barn (1933)

(Now the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station Annex Building)

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. Vosper drew on inspiration from Texas’ agricultural roots to design the building. 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.

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    Construction of the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station (TAES) Annex Building.
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    ​TAES Building, historic.
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    TAES Building, historic.
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    ​Former horse stalls in the TAES Building.
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    ​TAES Building, present.
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    The main entrance is decorated with a shield that displays grains flanked by profiles of horse heads.
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    ​A copper cupola depicting a cowboy trying to control a horse bucking in reaction to a snake.
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    A copper cupola depicting a cowboy roping a rabbit in a cactus patch.