SFA Story: The History of Stephen F. Austin State University

The Early Steen Administration: An Explosion

The buildings of the 1960s

Haas discusses Steen’s building program

“The original Student Center,” recounted Charles Haas, was Dr. Steen’s first building. Steen had seen what the Memorial Student Center had done for Texas A&M and wanted the same for SFA. Phase one of the building, designed by the Lufkin firm, of Kent, Marcellos, and Scott, was being implemented when Haas arrived. Haas became the coordinator for the building projects for Steen in the summer of 1959; the conceptual drawing of the UC was released just before he arrived. Haas, as the Business Manager, wrote the bond issues, completed the contracts, acted as the SFA superintended the jobs, “down to each door knobs,” in his words.

From Joe Lacy, Paul Wilson, San McKewen and others, “I learned all kinds of things, and I realized how both Dr. Birdwell and Dr. Boynton produced a miracle with nothing to work with.” Haas said he could not find a good map of the campus when he came; there was the small map produced by Madge Stallings for the back of the bulletins. As a part of the Griffith Park questions, Haas continued: “I built a map of all our property, with every acquisition with the volume and page number [from the County Records.] They still have it in my old office.”

Haas gave an easy formula by which to remember the Steen building programs. “We built dorms in the 1960s and classrooms in the 1970s.” The legislation creating federally guaranteed loans by the Housing and Urban Development Department changed the 60s, and the building use fee passed by the Texas Legislature changed the 70s. “We finished the Boynton buildings first: Fine Arts, Units 3 for 112 boys to go with Units 1 & 2, and the apartments on East Starr.” The general contractor, who was his own job superintendent, died while on the job. This delayed the building “for some months;” construction had just started again when Haas arrived. The first performances in the Fine Arts Building in December of 1959. The name Griffith became attached as part of the trade off to get the heirs of the Griffith estate to sign the releases on Griffith Park.

The UC and the next buildings, North and South Dormitories, were paid for with revenue bonds sold on the private market. “These two buildings were never fine enough to attract a patron’s name.” He continued: “Starting with the New Raguet apartments, we applied for federally guarantees bonds. Boynton did not have this law; it changed everything.” In quick succession, Haas said Steen added Dorms 7, 10, and 13, built with 1963 bonds.

In 1964, at the time Dorm 14 was being proposed, Haas said they faced a predicament. They wanted to double the size of the UC, but the bonds on the original building were inadequate. “We refunded the old bonds and established a new housing bond system. And from there, all of the buildings were put together into one pledging of revenues. If in the second summer term, for instance, a dorm did not have any revenue, the combination was what mattered. Dorm 14 and the expansion of the University Center provoked the refunding and financial arrangements for the whole campus.” Other campuses were doing the same thing.

Giving another clue as to how to remember the Steen buildings, Haas said the last digits of the buildings correspond to the years their bonds were funded: Dorm 14, for instance, in 1964, Dorm 15 in 1965, 16 in 66, 17 (Gladys Steen in 67), 18 (Kerr) in 68. [Note the date of Dorm 15, Griffith Hall, proposed back in 1958, did not open until 1965; the Griffith Park complications are discussed elsewhere. Griffith Boulevard was paved in 1964 at the same time as the Vista.]

The cafeteria spaces in Wisely and Gibbs were given up next to provide for even more dorm rooms. The decision to expand the UC, however, claimed a more visible casualty: the Vista. When asked if it caused a controversy, Haas comment: “Oh, there were some who wanted it to be left as a walkway, because they could remember walking there thirty years before. … Nostalgia still sets in sometimes.”

Steen regretted his under-estimations of the rate of growth for SFA. “He was not going to be embarrassed again on the enrollment issue when something predicted did not happen,” reflected Haas. The planning process went secret, in Haas’ opinion, because people would have said they were crazy for thinking SFA would go to even higher enrollment. “Steen, Wilbur Kent, and I knew about [new plans] for five years before we told a sole.” One of the things commissioned in the period was a mock-aerial view of the campus which did not receive any publicity until about 1970.

While Haas denied that the arguments over Griffith Park changed anything, the arguments by opponents–that the campus should move east and north, across Raguet Street–became the core of the new Steen plan. Steen’s early arguments–that the college’s land in the flood plain was not suitable for building–provides an interesting irony when one considers the future placement of the new coliseum. The shift to the east started in 1964 with the building of Dorm 14, followed by Dorm 16 and the East Cafeteria. The access problem north and south for the city also loomed large; Raguet Street would have to be closed in the future if more buildings went on the east side. The expansion east is another story. (Story, here.)