Architect Paul Cret designed The University of Texas Tower in 1933, with the intention of making it the icon of the institution. Finished in 1937, the 28-story tower dominated the campus and Austin's skyline. At more than 300 feet tall atop a hill in the heart of campus, it became UT's heart and soul. It was exactly what Cret said it would be: "The image carried in our memory when we think of the place."
"It sort of provides that tether between generations of university students and alumni. It's that backdrop, all the time, of commencement, or freshman convocation, or football rallies, demonstrations, or concerts or whatever it may be. The Tower is always there," Texas Ex Jim Nicar said.
In 1966, the Tower was in the midst of an important part of the university's history. Like the rest of the country, race was an issue. The Civil Rights Act was only two years old and the first black undergraduates were admitted to UT just 10 years earlier. The Vietnam War was at its height and LBJ was president. It was also the Darrell Royal-era and a great time to be a Longhorn. Three years earlier they won the national championship in football.
The Tower is now, and was then, a place where people would go to pose for pictures and show pride.
But on the hot summer afternoon of Aug. 1, Charles Whitman used the very heart of the university and tried to break it. After 96 minutes he made the symbol of triumph one of tragedy. When the smoke cleared, 13 people, not including Whitman, were shot dead, and more than 30 were wounded.
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"I think, over the next several years, any time a person just saw the Tower, it made them uncomfortable and it aroused those feelings," James Pennebaker of UT's Department of Psychology said.
Immediately after what was then called the crime of the century, the university closed the Tower's observation deck to the public for several months. During that time, repairs were made to bullet holes from shots fired back at Whitman. The patch marks are still visible today.
The Tower reopened to the public the next year and remained opened until 1974. A series of suicides prompted the university to close it indefinitely, but many people got the sense the sniper attack was what kept the top of the Tower off-limits, including the officer who led the charge against Whitman.
"Sometimes, I feel, somehow that Charles Joseph Whitman still holds the Tower, or The University of Texas, hostage because of what he did," former Austin Police Department officer Ramiro Martinez said.
Martinez, and another APD Officer Houston McCoy, cornered Whitman in the northwest corner of the observation deck and together they stopped him.
Thirty-three years after the shooting, the university and then-UT President Larry Faulkner, himself a UT student when Whitman opened fire, decided to reopen the observation deck on a limited basis. There are now security guidelines, including a metal detector for those who take the one-hour tour. Visitors pay $5 and look through metal bars that surround the deck.
"In a way the Tower had always been something that was a part of the campus, but you could only see it. You couldn't go up and touch it and be inside and see the view and so forth. So, I think, that granting access allows the university to take even greater ownership of its Tower, along with the state," Nicar said.
On the same day the top of the Tower was re-opened, the university renamed the "turtle pond" the "Tower Garden," dedicating it to those who died and were affected. Before the dedication, there was nothing on campus that officially acknowledged the Tower shooting.
"I think generally after something horrible, it's not uncommon for the community to just agree, 'We won't talk about it. Let's just move on.' And it's not until the next generation, 25 or more years later that people say, 'You know, we have enough distance, let's now commemorate it. Let's acknowledge that this affected our history,' " Pennebaker said.
Plans to make the Tower Garden into more of a memorial by the 40th anniversary have stalled. An artist's rendering is all that's complete while fundraising continues.
Above the pond, the Tower itself has stood tall for 70 years. It symbolizes everything that happened over that time, not simply 96 minutes from one horrible day. That's what Cliff Drummond, the student body president from 1966, thinks about when he looks at the Tower today.
"It is a community whether we're members of the faculty or members of the student body or parts of the administration and even though it's a large university it is still a finite community," Drummond said.
And at the center of it all, the Tower is always there.
"So, it's not only just an icon or the most recognizable symbol of the campus, it has moods to it; it shares the joys and sorrows with the campus," Nicar said.