Campus Tour: Halloway Suites

-July 10th, 2013

Earlier in our campus tour we stopped by the Danford Male Dormitory, so it’s only fair that today we take a look at the Halloway Suites female dorm. Standing here on the sidewalk, the differences couldn’t be more any more plain. While Danford is a modern, five story building, Halloway is more like a vintage Queen Anne-style, two-story bed and breakfast.

Halloway is the oldest standing building on campus, having been built in the 1890s to serve as the only dormitory in a time before the school accepted male students. Of course no matter how well built, few buildings of that age can claim to be completely untouched. Over the years remodeling included the addition of indoor plumbing, electricity, a new wing for a larger kitchen and dining area, air conditioning, and much more.

Sadly, by the mid 1990s Halloway was in terrible  condition and universally scorned by female students. Although many people called for the building to be bulldozed and a female version of the Danford dorm built in its lot, history buffs rallied a few wealthy alumni to save the grand old home. With their sponsorship, campus officials hired an architectural preservationist to oversee a major renovation.

Over the next 24 months contractors tore out much of the shoddy or gaudy additions (including–I kid you not–moldy green shag carpet) and restored old Halloway to its original architectural glory. During this period, rumors surfaced that construction workers made more than a few unexpected discoveries such as a “weird design” under some wallpaper and an “unusual symbol” painted on the wooden floor hidden beneath some carpet. One construction worker even claims to have found human remains inside a wall, but campus officials insist that what he was were bones from a trapped an animal.

Regardless of any idiosyncrasies uncovered during renovation, the preservationists did a marvelous job of erasing all signs of Halloway’s bumpy past and restoring it to its former glory. When completed, the building featured beautifully restored wooden floors, comfortable private suites, modest but classical bathrooms, fire safety features, and a state-of-the-art security system. After its grand reopening Halloway skyrocketed from the butt of jokes to the most sought-after female dorm on campus. At only 24 rooms, it is the most exclusive and expensive dorm on campus.

Those ladies lucky enough to be residents of Halloway Suites tend to be an extremely tight-knit group. Sadly, that has lead to unkind things said out of jealousy.  Depending on who you talk to, students have claimed that Halloway is haunted, that the residents are witches, or that an invitation to Halloway requires membership in an all-female secret society.

This 1950s building was constructed during the Dixiecrat movement and named after one of the area’s most well-known military figures, a Texas Ranger who fought in the Mexican and Civil Wars. Unlike other campus buildings that have seen departments come and go, the “Dale Building” was purpose-built for military sciences classes and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program. It sports an indoor gun range, armory, classrooms, and a small gym with changing rooms and showers. The nearby drill field is the site of morning and afternoon physical training, and it offers bleacher seating for Drill Review. Further to the east is a challenging obstacle course known as the “meat grinder.” North of the building is the “War Zone,” a small outdoor paintball field.

One interesting feature of the Dale Building is that it does not have a single, distinctive entrance. Rather, the large, single-story building features many modest entrances and exits that all lead like spokes to an open, central hub. A bronze statue of Edmund Dale in uniform sternly stands watch at one end of the lobby, overlooking the benches and study tables that pepper the area. Legend says that Captain Dale will fight again should the need arise. A favorite ROTC anecdote is that in 1970 someone upset over the war in Viet Nam stormed into the Dale building and took aim at the first person in uniform. The shot missed, hit the Edmund Dale statue, and ricocheted back to the shooter, who was struck dead.

Of course urban legends thrive on campus, but like many buildings this one is purported to be haunted. Late at night, students leaving the building sometimes meet a sad-looking fellow student in out-of-date uniform approaching down the hall. The students call him the “sad soldier” and he usually only appears once every four or five years. Because he looks so real, most people usually describe their realization that something was amiss only when they noticed that he makes no sound. The ghost morosely traverses the hall and disappears when he enters the central lobby.

The other ghost is Sgt. Alvarez, the building’s first quartermaster. Sgt. Alvarez was a crusty WWII veteran who had lost his leg and was thus passed over for service in Korea. The Sergeant was well known both for his foul moods and foul mouth.  He was especially notorious for foul browbeating he would give any students who failed to take care of the equipment he issued them. Sgt. Alvarez haunts the armory, where he sometimes curses at careless trainees.

Well the Spring semester came to a close and a few thousand relieved graduates crossed the stage at the end of the Roost stadium. Campus was quiet for a few weeks between sessions, but now the summer session is in swing and prospective freshmen are again wandering the campus in wide-eyed innocence. I reckon that means it’s time to resume our own Campus Tour highlighting interesting spots on campus.

Truth be told, most tours for prospective students start at the Edgar Garland Student Center. The student center was completed in 1969 and is a popular campus destination for killing time. From the outside it may look like just another plain, two-story, rectangular building. Inside, students can get their fast food fix in the food court, pick up necessities in the overpriced convenience store, buy and sell textbooks at the bookstore, and avoid studying at the small movie theater or game room. In fact, if you come to college without wheels you can find just about anything you need (or at least the essentials) without ever having to drive off campus.

In contrast to the hustle and bustle of the first floor, the quieter second floor hosts offices related to some student services and various sized meeting rooms used by clubs, study groups, and the occasional couple looking for privacy.

While all of those features are fine, most student agree that the best part about the student center has nothing to do with what’s indoors, but what isn’t. You see, deeper inside lies a huge, open courtyard with a fountain, modest shade trees, and patio furniture. Although the building walls block much hope of a breeze, the trickling  fountain offers relief from oppressive Texas heat and lulls studying students into peaceful torpor. The same can’t be said, however, during football season when fans cram shoulder-to-shoulder for raucous pep rallies and ceremonially dunk the mascot in the fountain.

Although campus legend claims that the courtyard is haunted, level-headed naysayers claim the ghostly voices are only an acoustic trick. After all, to hear anything unusual the courtyard must be near-silent–which usually means at late night when the courtyard is empty–at which time one can sometimes detect phantom conversations presumably funneled from unseen corners of the building. The “courtyard ghost” is also a popular and sometimes elaborate prank, making it even harder to know if there’s a kernel of truth behind the stories. Maybe one day it’ll all be explained.

Regardless of spooky nighttime noises, the student center is a designated “safe zone” and is open 24 hours a day.  Students who feel in danger after dark are encouraged to take shelter there and call campus security. In fact, a sign at the main entrance reminds students of the “triple s”: seek Shelter, stay in Sight, and call Security. As long as you stay alert and play your cards right, one day you’ll be one of those relieved seniors crossing the stage.

From the outside, the most striking features of  ETU’s DuBose Aquatics Center are the bas-relief carvings of sailing vessels and divers which frame the entrance. Students who answer the carvings’ call to adventure find a pleasant but less ostentatious interior. The single-story building offers a training pool for diving and swimming, as well as an Olympic pool with two sets of bleachers. The adjacent outdoor recreational pool is popular with students in the late Spring and early Fall semesters but during the Summer the sun’s rays heat the shallow water to the temperature of a warm bath. At that point students who are desperate to beat the heat usually retreat to the “Lost Pond”, a natural, spring-fed pool in the heart of Pinebox green space known as Crenshaw’s Woods.

Although construction of the the Aquatics Center was completed in 2004, the entrance’s distinctive bas-relief carvings harken from the school’s original natatorium which had been built in Neo-Classical style. The original natatorium was the last campus building to be completed prior to the Great Depression and by the time money finally loosened up again after WWII, architectural trends had changed. Its distinctive, classical design (as well as cool waters) made it a beloved campus landmark. While the outside boasted bas-relief carvings of wooden sailing ships, sea creatures, and brave divers, the interior was every bit as impressive. An enormous statue of King Neptune loomed over visitors in the lobby and both indoor pools were lavishly decorated with murals depicting lifelike mermaids and other sea creatures which alternately beckoned or threatened swimmers.

Sadly, in the late 1950s the beloved natatorium suffered from a seismic event that rendered it structurally unsafe. Administrators arrived to work one morning to find numerous puddles throughout the building and both pools cracked and half-empty. Engineers determined that the soil beneath the foundation had shifted, causing in effect a “mini earthquake”. Not only were the pools cracked, but the foundation and walls as well. Tragically, the beautiful murals overlooking the pools experienced some of the most violent structural damage, looking practically smashed in places. Although the building was condemned for safety reasons and eventually destroyed, students mounted a campaign to save as much of the old building as possible. Unfortunately, with the murals destroyed and the statue of Neptune misplaced in the confusion, little remained that could be salvaged except the bas-relief designs.  These were carefully removed and placed in storage until a replacement natatorium could be built. Ironically, the old site didn’t stay vacant for long. After many surveys and much bulldozing, the Ravens basketball arena–the Roost–was constructed on the site of the old natatorium in the early 60s.

Yet, for nearly 50 years campus politics and shifting priorities pushed a replacement natatorium down the priority list. During this period the swim team trained on open water at Lake Greystone, about which the less said the better. Let’s just say it was “character building”. It wasn’t until a wealthy alumnus with fond memories of the natatorium left a donation for a replacement that a proper swimming facility finally returned to campus. A university archivist eagerly directed architects to the still-warehoused bas-reliefs, allowing designers to create a building that acknowledged earlier times. Sadly, other than the carvings the DuBose Aquatics Center shares little of the glamour of its predecessor. Even so, students are glad for a place to swim on campus and the ETU swim teams are thankful for being able to practice without getting mud between their toes.

Not only does ETU require Freshman and Sophomore students to live on campus, but the majority of the dormitories are still single-sex. While the practice may be less “enlightened” than other campuses,   many young women and men say they feel more relaxed and “at home” without social pressures inherent with living in close proximity to the opposite sex.

Built in the mid 1990s and still in relatively good condition, the Danford Male Dormitory is one of the more sought-after dorms on campus. Danford is also the largest male dorm on campus, at five stories tall. Each floor has its own common area with a wide-screen tv, game console, couches, and even some compact workout equipment. The ground floor includes a mail room and an oversized common area with a pool table and vending machines. Building access is restricted to student ID cards keyed to their dorm.

Unlike older buildings at ETU, Danford offers few urban legends to titillate its residents. The most notorious is the prank residents call “feeding the beast”. It seems that students figured out how to use a giant, home-made slingshot to lob items at the dorm’s giant air conditioning condenser units positioned next to the building. These large machines, surrounded by a locked, steel privacy fence, use large spinning fans to exchange the heat from inside the building. However, students found entertainment in lobbing leftover food into the fans’ path for a spectacular spray of watermelon, spaghetti, or whatever else was sorted that night in the dining hall.

Obviously Feeding the Beast wasn’t popular with the campus maintenance crews, so it became a once-a semester prank the Danford men saved the night before the first final exam of the Spring semester. According to legend, the problem began shortly after the turn of the millennium. The story goes that the Danford men had fed “the Beast” several plates of scraps, when a genuine beast shuffled through the darkness to feed. Depending on who you talk to it was either a big dog like a Great Dane, a young black bear, or bigfoot. Whatever it was, the creature was drawn by the smell of food and charged right into the cheering crowd. Before they could sort out what happened, several young men received deep, bloody scratches and one had to be taken to the hospital with bite marks. The animal was never caught and probably faded right back into the Big Thicket after feeding.

Although a Danford men were still game to follow traditional the following year, there wasn’t much enthusiasm and it looked like the prank had finally run its course. However, the morning of Finals maintenance crews found numerous scratches and dents in the security fence protecting the air conditioning condenser units. Worse, the upper half of a Danford resident was found atop “the beast”. The bottom was never recovered, but campus officials and local law enforcement officials ruled the poor resident had been the victim of an alligator attack.

Ever since, the Danfords carefully follow tradition and Feed the Beast the night before finals. These days it’s a quick affair with not a lot of fanfare. Just a sacrifice to unknown forces for the sake of “good luck”.