Battle Hall is a typical early twentieth century library building type that features a grand reading room and an adjacent book stack.
This plan shows two of the three floors:
Main or First Floor (originally referred to as Ground floor in plan)
- Second Floor (originally referred to as First floor in plan)
Not featured: Ground Floor (basement) plan or other five levels of book stack
Note that room configuration and use varied slightly as built and floor names changed over time. To make it more complicated, the stack room was assembled over time, as funds became available.
Throughout the building, there are character defining features and building technologies that were “state-of-the-art” in 1911. The landscape around the building has also changed over time. See the sections below for more information about the spaces within Battle Hall and the surrounding site.
From its elegant staircase to its c.1911 state-of-the-art building systems, Battle Hall has numerous features that define its historic character. These details are what continue to feed research and scholarship on the building as well as the enjoyment of visitors. Enthusiasts continue to document and share features, such as the elevator, resulting in visitors from around the world.
Although some mechanical components are not in use anymore, like the internal vacuum system or the internal book delivery elevator in the stacks, you still find evidence throughout the building. Take a look around, inside and out, to observe the ornament in the zodiac signs, owls, dragons, cherubs, and other building adornments.
One of the most remarkable features of the building is its staircase. Missing in this early construction photo are the intricate wrought iron balustrades and brass handrail.
In 1948, upon preparation of the dedication of the Barker Texas History Center, the original slate stairs were refurbished with new marble steps. The stairs may have worn down as early as 1936, as evidenced by a request for repairs by the Centennial Committee.
Domed "ceiling light"
The service desk, once called the receiving area or delivery hall in the library, is naturally lit through a leaded glass “ceiling light” or glass dome from the major roof top skylight. According to a photograph taken during construction of Battle Hall, the central medallion of the leaded glass dome once contained the seal of Texas, just as it was designed by the architect. The fabricator is not known. Sometime during the history of the building, this part of the dome was removed and replaced with a modest leaded glass pattern. The only plaster ornament in the building occurs in a ring around the leaded glass dome in the rotunda.
Doors, windows and hardware
The original specifications called for use of Red gum wood for all interior doors and window frames. A survey of Battle Hall's doors indicate that many of these extant doors are in good repair, but the windows need work. The only alteration is the addition of vents to some of the doors. Original cast door hardware is found throughout the building. In the Librarian's Office, one of the few remaining ornate door knob and back plate displays the seal of the University of Texas per the architect's design.
The ironwork company of H.B. Milmine of Toledo, Ohio, fabricated the wrought iron balconies on the exterior as well as the wrought iron balustrade that grace the interior staircase of the building. The firm reported one hundred and five employees around 1900. The general specifications allow for up to $800.00 for the wrought iron lanterns on either side of the main door on the east facade.
Battle Hall has numerous features of historic importance. Enjoy the following:
Red tile roof
Deeply recessed, monumental windows
Specified “best selected Cedar Park Stock”, otherwise known as Cordova Creme limestone from the local Featherlite quarries near Cedar Park
Terra cotta surrounds and roundels on the exterior
Use of symbolism including that of the zodiac
Colorful bracketed exterior soffits
Decorative ironwork on the exterior balconies, grills and lanterns, as well as the interior winding staircase balustrade railing
Elaborately carved wooden tracery grills and doors in the reading room
Interior cast door hardware with the seal of the University of Texas
Early use of “battleship” linoleum floors
Alabama marble wainscoting and trim throughout the interior
Leaded glass skylight above the library service desk
Red quarry tile floors
Building and Technology
Battle Hall boasted modern “state-of-the-art” building systems when it was completed in 1911. Some features included:
“Fire proof” design with load bearing masonry walls capped with clay roof tiles
Self-supporting multi-story book stacks with integral air ducts
“Damp proofed” design
Forced air system that humidified and heated the air
Otis Elevator (original 1912, machinery and cab replaced 1948)
Wired for the telephone
Early use of an internal vacuum system piped throughout the entire building, including the book stacks. The Spencer Turbine Company formed after its vacuum cleaner was invented in 1905. Other prominent customers include: the White House (1925), Chrysler Building (world’s tallest building in 1930) and Empire State building (then the world’s tallest building in 1931).
Architect Cass Gilbert had originally designed a terrace with a balustrade around the front of the building. It was not built, perhaps a victim of then Governor Colquitt’s budget cuts. In 1934, the site was reconfigured as part of architect Paul Cret’s campus plan. Nationally known landscaping and planning firm of Hare and Hare provided landscape design for the main terrace area. The South terrace staircase was installed as part of this plan. Beck's Lake Beck's Pond or Lake was situated on the west side of Battle Hall. In the early 1920's the library was already overcrowded and plans were seriously considered for an addition that would replace the pond. The library addition was never realized and Beck's Lake remained there through 1932.
“Soon Beck’s Lake, the trysting place of the University, will be gone with shacks and other relics of former time. The night watchman will not need to pace the main walk so vigilantly as now. The campus lake, where man and maid meet to watch the elephant ears grow, will be covered and cornered by the new addition of the Library. The present lake with its fascinating waterfall, its water lily, and its comfortable, picturesque stones, was the creation of H. B. Beck’s brain and a natural spring. Beck attended the St. Louis World’s Fair about twenty years ago . Among the unusual features of the international exposition he saw the French-imitation of the waterfall at Versailles. He admired greatly the beauty of the fall and the ingenuity of the Frenchmen. His interest carried him so far that before he came back to Austin he had a fair idea of the mechanics behind the water falling from a stone ledge.” --Excerpted from "True Story of Beck’s Lake Reveals History of Pool" by Madeline Jaffe, The Daily Texan, April 11, 1923.
“At the northwest corner of the Library (now Battle Hall), was a small pond built by Harry Birk Beck, the first steward of “B” Hall and later superintendent of Buildings and Grounds. He piped in enough water to fall over some old stones left from the construction of Old Main. Crude as it was, it was a lovers’ rendezvous for a number of years and was also the scene of many dunking parties. The trysting place gave way to progress in 1932 when Goldsmith Hall was being constructed.”