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Iconic Austin: University of Texas Tower

published on November 21, 2011

The stars at night shine big and bright. And when the city isn’t awash in light pollution, those stars shine around the epicenter of one of the largest public universities in the United States, the University of Texas Tower. This beacon that stands tall in the middle of campus is a source of pride not only for the students, the alumni, and the citizens of Austin, but also for many Texans. When the tower glows orange, indicating an academic or athletic victory, a triumph over those who would stand before the might of the mighty Longhorns, it becomes an almost supernatural beacon, causing those who are drawn to it to mutter those two powerful words: “Hook ‘em.”

Originally erected in 1937, the 307-foot-tall tower in Central Austin was designed by Paul Cret of Philadelphia. It serves as the Main Building to the university, housing administrative offices and two small libraries. At the top of the tower, one can find a carillon of 56 bells, the largest of its kind in the state. The bells are played regularly by students and a pair of resident carilloneurs. In addition to the orange lighting, white lights help to mark special occasions, and the tower goes dark during more somber times.

The observation deck is another of the great places to take in Austin’s incredible views, including a close-up of the sprawling UT campus. The tower spent 18 years closed off from the public after unfortunate incidents marred its history and purpose, including the infamous shooting spree by Charles Whitman in 1966 and a string of suicides in the early ‘70s. The deck reopened to the public in 1999 after a security system and other safety measures were added. It was closed again in 2002 and 2003 after the September 11 attacks, and reopened in 2004.

Through its openings and closings, its victories and its tragedies, the tower has remained a true symbol for the university. 

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