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Back To On Campus Home September 2007 Volume 33, Issue 11 Home


The truth behind the Tower: the university’s most common myth

The TowerThe University of Texas Tower

Myth: When viewed at an angle, the university’s Tower looks like an owl because it was designed by a Rice University graduate.

Of all the campus myths, this is the one I hear most frequently. If you view the top of the tower from a corner, two of the faces of the tower clock are supposed to resemble a pair of owl’s eyes, while the corner of the observation deck suggests a beak.

All of this was allegedly on purpose, as the architect of the Main Building and Tower, it’s claimed, was a graduate of Rice University.

Actually, the architect was Paul Cret, who was born in Lyon, France and graduated from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

The origin of this myth might be connected to Dr. William J. Battle, who was hired in 1893 to teach Greek and rose through the ranks to be a full professor, dean and, for a short time, the acting university president.

He founded the University Co-op, designed the UT Seal and for many years was the chairman of the Faculty Building Committee, the group that advised the Board of Regents on campus construction.

Battle’s work on the campus was so trusted that no building was approved unless he agreed.

When Battle was first hired, he wound up with the office on the top floor of the Old Main Building. He named his new digs the “owl’s nest.”

In the 1930s, when Old Main was demolished and the new Main Building and Tower were completed, Battle was again given an office on the top floor and continued to call it the owl’s nest. It may be that persons pointing out Battle’s office added the clock faces as owl eyes. After Battle retired in the 1950s, the Tower design might have been mistakenly associated with Rice University.