University tower, scene of mass slayings, may reopen Texas building was site of sniper killings, suicides

November 01, 1998|By DALLAS MORNING NEWS

AUSTIN, Texas -- The University of Texas tower, symbol of the nation's largest campus and the bullet-pocked landmark of tragedy, could soon be opened to the public for the first time in almost 24 years.

Under a proposal made this week by university President Larry Faulkner, the tower's 231-foot-high observation deck could be reopened by late spring. His recommendation goes to the Board of Regents, which ordered the tower closed Jan. 31, 1975, in response to several students' suicide leaps.

The regents, some of whom have indicated their support for making the tower accessible, will consider the proposal as part of their Nov. 12 agenda.

"The tower has enormous value as a symbol of academic achievement and aspiration in this state," Faulkner said. "I feel that as long as it's closed, its legacy is frozen."

The tower was built in 1936 and became, in the words of its designer, architect Paul Cret, "the heart of the university the image carried in our memory when we think of the place."

On Aug. 1, 1966, its image was shattered by Charles Whitman, who used it as a sniper's perch. He killed 16 people and wounded 32 before two police officers climbed the stairs to the 28th-floor observation deck and fatally shot Whitman.

The tower was closed after the shootings, but was reopened about six years later before several suicides persuaded regents to block all further access.

Faulkner was teaching on campus in 1966 during the Whitman shootings and said he still has strong feelings about that day. Opening the tower and allowing students, alumni and visitors to absorb the panoramic view "can help us get past a very painful moment in our history," he said.

In his proposal to the regents, Faulkner said in leaving it closed, "we are left with only the history of unfortunate experiences hTC associated with the tower and few occasions to create positive experiences for new generations."

"I think the students are going to be very excited," said student government president Annie Holand, who initially asked Faulkner to consider the reopening. "I think it really does create a strong connection between the university and the students."

Under the proposal, an estimated $500,000 would be needed for a metal barrier to be constructed around the deck, with elevator modifications and accessibility renovations for those with disabilities.

Faulkner said the money would come from private donations and capital funds. The tower houses campus administration offices, as well as book collections.

To maintain business operations, Faulkner said, he envisions that visitors would be limited to evening and weekend hours.

The proposal calls for a $5 to $6 charge for admission, with a potential reduction for students. Groups of 12 would be given 20 minutes. A security officer would be stationed on the deck, and visitors would be restricted to carrying binoculars and cameras.

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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