Workers digging a retaining wall on the East Mall got quite a surprise earlier this month when they discovered the remains of one of the university’s most legendary buildings.
Brackenridge Hall — the foundation upon which university traditions like Bevo, “The Eyes of Texas” and “Texas Fight” were built — once stood proudly where the East Mall now steps down from the Main Mall.
A men’s dormitory known affectionately as B. Hall, it housed generations of student leaders and future greats. Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn, university President Harry Benedict and U.S. Congressman Ralph Yarborough lived there. Later, prominent faculty members such as Bill Livingston and J. Frank Dobie kept offices in the building.
“This is by far the most storied of all the buildings on campus, because people lived there and UT was brand-new,” Texas Exes resident historian Jim Nicar said. “B. Hall wound up being the sort of fraternity of the sons of pioneers. All these traditions came out of the hall.”
The dorm was so beloved that an entire book, “B. Hall Texas,” was written about the history and hijinks that happened inside its walls during the years. After all, B. Hallers (as they called themselves) played unparalleled pranks. On the eve of March 2, 1925, for instance, freshmen tried to “capture” the hall from upperclassmen after training for weeks with ladders, bed planks and pump fire extinguishers.
But the upperclassmen nabbed the hapless freshmen, shaving portions of their heads, putting bows in their remaining hair and marking them with “B. Hall” in strong red ink. When the ammonia cleared, several thousand dollars in damage had been done.
The administration had had enough, and the dorm was converted into an office building that housed entities like The Daily Texan, the English Department and the university infirmary.
“As the hall began to degrade, instead of putting all this money into upkeep for 100 people who were always causing trouble,” Nicar said, “they decided to close the dorm.”
B. Hall, built in 1890, was more than 60 years old by the time it was torn down in 1952.
But it was not torn completely down.
The UT Heritage Society, which Nicar coordinates, had thought only one item remained from the dorm: a decorative pediment with “1890” on it in large numerals. It was found in storage a few years back and carefully preserved.
A memorial to the hall (complete with 10,000 bricks, loads of stone and an original B. Hall balcony), had once been planned, but those materials have long since disappeared.
But as it turned out earlier this month, tangible pieces of the old dorm still exist. Construction workers digging below the mall found a stone tile floor, a yellow-brick wall and even plumbing pipes that looked nearly fossilized.
To the society, it was an exciting find. The group plans a commemorative display, including the pediment and a story board explaining B. Hall, that will stand finished in the Jester Center lobby by summer’s end.