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UT Austin celebrates its oldest building with open house

Engineering students tinkering with turbines in the basement; the U.S. Weather Bureau checking temperatures at its weather station on the roof; and Walter Cronkite, Liz Smith and Liz Carpenter hammering out stories on classic typewriters.

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AUSTIN, Texas —Engineering students tinkering with turbines in the basement; the U.S. Weather Bureau checking temperatures at its weather station on the roof; and Walter Cronkite, Liz Smith and Liz Carpenter hammering out stories on classic typewriters.

The Dorothy L. Gebauer Building, the oldest academic building at The University of Texas at Austin, holds all these memories and more.

Built in 1904, the building, located just northeast of the UT Tower, has been occupied at various times by engineering, journalism, geography, speech and the Dean of Students’ Office. It narrowly escaped the wrecking ball in the 1990s, underwent extensive renovations and, since April, has housed the University’s College of Liberal Arts.

An open house celebrating the recently renovated building will be held Sept. 22 from 4:30 to 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public. UT Austin President Larry R. Faulkner and System Interim Chancellor R.D. Burck will speak briefly at the event. Richard Lariviere, dean of liberal arts, will preside. The event also will feature musical entertainment, guided tours and a photo-and-memorabilia exhibit chronicling the building’s 96 years.

“The old J-Building, as we called it, was a marvelous place if you were energetic and wanted to be a journalist,” said Carpenter, who received her bachelor of journalism from UT Austin in 1942 and went on the become press secretary for Lady Bird Johnson when she was first lady. The building, Carpenter said, housed The Daily Texan,the Rangermagazine and the Cactus. “We’d spend our evenings around the horseshoe-shaped table of the Texan hoping to catch an assignment from an evening editor. I look on it as some of the happiest days of my life, and also a place where my husband-to-be (Les Carpenter, also a Texanreporter) and I were soulmates,” said Carpenter.

Cronkite, who worked on the Texanstaff from 1933-35, said of the J-Building: “This was where we really graduated, where we knew we had left behind forever those days of putting out the semi-occasional high school newspaper, where we got the first sniff of printer’s ink and knew the deadline excitement of getting out of daily newspaper.”

Nationally syndicated columnist Smith, who received her bachelor of journalism degree from UT Austin in 1950, remembers the J-Building as “antediluvian, dated and in poor shape. I worked in that building for four years writing for The Daily Texanand the RangerÃWe never thought anything about (its condition)Ãwe all knew journalism was a decrepit, downbeat, but important, occupation and everything should be right out of The Front Page. Therefore, the building’s condition seemed normal to us.”

The Gebauer Building was designed by the San Antonio firm of Coughlin & Ayres and constructed at a cost of nearly $85,000. Atlee B. Ayres was the grandfather of UT Austin Professor James Ayres, who recently completed 30 years as director of the University’s Shakespeare at Winedale program. When Gebauer first opened in 1904, it provided accommodations for the University’s newly established civil, mining and electrical engineering departments. It served as the Journalism Building from 1932-52 and, subsequently, other areas such as the Centers for Asian Studies, Middle Eastern Studies and Mexican-American Studies, before it was found to be unsafe and condemned in 1992. Eight years earlier, it had been renamed for Dorothy L. Gebauer, former dean of women and a driving force in campus life for several decades.

“Various proposals were put forward for the building, including destruction for a parking garage,” said Lariviere. “After much discussion of its fate, the decision was made in 1997 to renovate for our use — the interior was completely gutted and rebuilt.

“As we launch into the first academic year of the 21st century in our new quarters, the move is significant in more ways than one,” said Lariviere. “Last, but not least, is Gebauer’s location, just northeast of the much-younger UT Tower, at the core of the original 40-acre campus, just as the liberal arts are the core of a sound higher education.”

The 150-piece exhibition, drawn from archives and collections both on and off campus, documents the Gebauer Building long history. Among the items in the exhibit are engineering tools, a 1934 issue of the Texan,architectural drawings from 1904, various photographs and puppets, masks and religious items from Asia and the Middle East, reflective of the building’s later usage.