• Part 1 - General Information - History & Evolution - The Call For a Student Union - Phase I: The Student Union Becomes Reality

  • Part 2 - Phase II: Growing Pains

  • Part 3 - Phase III: Changing with the Times

History of the MSC - Part 2

Phase II: Growing Pains

By the mid-1960's, Texas A&M University had outgrown the MSC's facilities due to an influx of students and the rapid development of technology. In order to keep up with the original goals of the MSC, the building needed to be renovated. In January 1968, the Texas A&M Board of Directors began considering plans for expanding and redecorating the MSC. The board also decided to start construction of the J. Earl Rudder Tower and Theater Complex.

Preliminary studies for expansion and construction were reviewed in 1968 by the Board of Directors during their February meeting. In preparation for this meeting, the Board solicited the assistance of two architectural firms to investigate and develop plans to be used for consultation purposes. The architectural firms were Dede Matthews and Associates of Bryan and Jarvis, Putty, and Jarvis of Dallas. The Board of Directors acknowledged that suggestions from the architectural firms were both essential and cost effective; therefore, work on the MSC and the J. Earl Rudder Tower and Theater Complex was approved by the Board later that month.

Bids for the project were received in the late 1960's, and construction began in 1971. The Texas A&M University Board of Directors approved the following companies:

Theater Arts Center and Conference Tower:

  • Architects: Jarvis, Putty, and Jarvis of Dallas
  • Auditorium Consultant: J.W. Ditamore, W. Lafayette, Indiana
  • Acoustical Consultant: McCandless Consultants Inc., Austin
  • Mechanical Consultant: Ratliff Purdy McGuire, Dallas
  • Structural Consultant: William L. Cobb Associates Inc., Dallas
  • Food Service Consultant: G.G. Rice, Dallas
  • Interior Consultant: William Pahlmann Associates Inc., New York
  • Construction: Manhattan Construction Company, Houston

Memorial Student Center:

  • Architects: Matthews and Associates, Bryan
  • Mechanical Consultant: Lockwood Andrews and Newman Inc., Houston
  • Structural Consultant: Matthews and Associates, Bryan
  • Food Service Consultant: Mulhauser McCleary and Associates, Bellaire
  • Interior Consultant: William Pahlmann Associates, Inc., New York
  • Construction: Spaw-Glass Inc., Houston

The project was performed in a number of stages. As a new section became available, it was put into use. Most of Rudder Tower was completed by the middle of 1973, and the Theater Complex was in use that same fall. All construction was completed in 1974.

The total footage for the J. Earl Rudder Conference Center was 302,240 square feet, though only 143,878 square feet were assignable. The Memorial Student Center was expanded to 285,355 square feet with 200,463 square feet assignable.

The changes proposed to the MSC did not significantly alter the structure of the building; however, the changes did alter its contents significantly. Among the changes considered in renovating the MSC facilities was a proposed plan to double the dining and cafeteria facilities. The increase in space was needed to reduce overcrowding during the peak dining hours.

The student lounge areas were also becoming increasingly crowded. For this reason, more lounge and study space had to be created. Solving this problem required changing the MSC promenade into what is known today as the "Flag Room." The faculty, which desired its own lounge, was provided one during this renovation.

The post office, also affected by the increase in student population, required more boxes and, therefore, was moved to a new location within the MSC. The new location would accommodate a larger number of post office boxes. Almost 2,500 boxes were added to the then present 3,089. The old combination locks were replaced with key locks. In an article in The Battalion on 1 February 1973, Postmaster Stanley Sartain said he felt key boxes would "provide greater security."

A bookstore for students was designed for more convenience. Additional meeting rooms were planned to ensure that student organizations and other groups would have a place to hold meetings. The recreation area was relocated to the basement which was enlarged, and additional bowling lanes, pool tables, and other games popular at the time were installed.

The hotel in the MSC, which accommodates guests attending conferences and other events held on the Texas A&M campus, was also scheduled for remodeling and redecoration. The 65 room hotel would now offer, among other things, color televisions and a notary available until 10 p.m. To encourage guests of the hotel to browse around the MSC, which was known as "The C" in the 1970's, all the accommodations including the barber and beauty shops, travel agency, and art galleries were made readily accessible.

The Association of Former Students was able to build a new alumni center during this renovation. The center, located in the southwest corner of the MSC, was dedicated to James "Scotty" Forsyth on 9 February 1974. "Scotty" Forsyth worked as a blacksmith in order to send his four sons and four other boys to Texas A&M. His son, James M. "Cop" Forsyth, Class of '12, showed his gratitude to his father by donating $300,000 for the new alumni center.

Although the J. Earl Rudder complex is not part the Memorial Student Center, renovations in the early 1990's connected the two buildings. Together these two buildings are referred to as the University Center Complex, and they have become the focal point for student activities and organizations.

The J. Earl Rudder Tower and Theater Complex included a theater arts center and a conference tower. The complex, which replaced Guion Hall, is dedicated to former university president James Earl Rudder who was the President of Texas A&M University from 1959 until his death on 23 March 1970. He also served as commander of the 2nd Ranger Battalion during World War II and, later, as Texas Land Commissioner. During Rudder's administration, the university doubled its enrollment, expanded its research program, improved academic and faculty standards, and began allowing women to attend the university.

The Theater Complex was designed with a large 2,500 seat auditorium, a 750 seat theater, a 250 seat forum, and a large exhibit hall. The Complex was fashioned to support the fine arts on campus, such as movies, operas, and theatrical events as well as seminars and conferences.

To meet the growing need of office space for various campus departments, the Board proposed construction of the J. Earl Rudder Conference Center which would house such departments as the Office of Continuing Education, Student Placement, and Student Aid. Three floors were set aside for much-needed office space, while five floors were to be used for meeting rooms. Rudder Tower, a twelve floor structure, includes a University Information Center located on the first floor, conference registration facilities, and three elevators. There are a total of twenty-five meeting rooms, the largest of which accommodates up to 342 people.

The project was not without problems. In order to build the Rudder Conference Center, the landscape had to be significantly altered. The major concern was the removal of many trees specifically the relocation of thirteen trees, all of which were over fifty years old. Several environmental organizations, as well as members of the faculty, protested the trees' removal, fearing that the trees would not survive. Robert H. Rucker, A&M Physical Plant Landscape Architect, voiced the loudest objection and placed most of the objection on the age factor of the trees. Nevertheless, many trees were destroyed. The thirteen older trees, about half of which survived, were relocated to areas around Sbisa Dining Hall, the All Faiths Chapel, and the Y.M.C.A. Building. Two were placed by the Systems Building.

After the renovations of the MSC were complete, objections arose over the new decorating. William Pahlmann Associates Inc. was the interior decorator for the project. Many Aggies found Mr. Pahlmann's taste in furnishings too extravagant and inappropriate for the purpose of a student center.

The objections caused a large enough problem that they became a joke throughout Texas. For example, The Texas Observer wrote an article 25 March 1975 entitled "It's on you: The biggest Aggie joke of all," which discussed the problems with Pahlmann's decorating scheme. The article also scrutinized the amount of money Texas A&M put into the furnishings.

Nearly all the furniture was purchased in New York where Pahlmann Associates was based. The Texas Observer reported purchases which included:

  • six Spanish style chairs ($400 each)
  • one English pine refectory table ($1650)
  • thirty-seven steerhide benches ($470 each)
  • five bronze and glass virtrines ($1,100-$1,800)
  • Japanese silkscreens
  • Chinese mandarin figurines, and
  • Italian marble busts

A questionnaire written by the campus newspaper, The Battalion, was distributed 10-11 December 1975. Ninety-two percent of the respondents did not like the furnishings in the MSC. In a later article, The Battalion noted that many felt the atmosphere "stiff, formal, unfriendly." They called the building "a cheerless, drafty mausoleum built as a showplace . . . [with] little thought for the needs of students and faculty." Many also felt the money spent on furnishings was extravagant and were upset that they would have to pay it with a tuition increase of two to six dollars per semester hour.

A particularly unpopular aspect was the new MSC Flag Room. It contained mounted heads of several African big game animals, including an ibex, a waterbuck, a bontebok, a cape buffalo, a bongo, a wart hog, a gerenuk, an eland, a bighorn, and a black rhinoceros. The concern was that the heads did not reflect an appropriate atmosphere and did not complement the decor.

Eventually, the animal heads were removed from the Flag room. Unfortunately, the problem did not stop there. Pahlmann claimed the heads belonged to the university, and he did not want them back. The president of the university, Jack K. Williams, disagreed. He retorted that the university had not paid for the animal heads, and, therefore, they did not belong to the university. Consequently, the animal heads were removed from the Flag Room and placed in a hangar on Texas A&M's riverside campus.

A minor setback to the Center's advancements occurred in 1977. On 8 July, a fire broke out in the basement of the Memorial Student Center. The fire, which started in a supply room, destroyed several documents belonging to the Association of Former Students. The fire was contained to the supply room and was concentrated in a stack of directories which held former students' names. Many items in the storage room were damaged by water, but there was minimal smoke damage to the basement.

In addition to the large scale renovation that the MSC underwent in 1973, there were numerous additions and changes of a smaller scale that continued to take place. As the student population grew, remodeling of the basement concessions and stage area became necessary. Expansions within offices also took place, including the current Browsing Library. Originally established in 1950, the library offered students and faculty entertainment and relaxation. Already offering magazines, newspapers, and headphones for listening to music, the library remained in tune with the changing times and added a video tape player for its visitors to use. Another addition, Rumours Snack Bar, offered nighttime entertainment for the students in addition to its normal operations as part of A&M's Food Services.

Part 1 | 2 | 3

Be part of something