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Trinity to Pursue National Historic Designation

Thursday, April 20, 2017
O'Neil Ford (left) with Trinity President James Woodin Laurie (right) at Skyline Campus.

O'Neil Ford (left) with Trinity President James Woodin Laurie (right) at Skyline Campus.

University’s Campus Master Plan reinforces the historic nature of the Trinity campus and architectural legacy of O'Neil Ford

by Sharon Jones Schweitzer '75

Trinity University will seek placement on the National Register of Historic Places to create a historic district for the Trinity campus. The initiative is part of the University's recently completed Campus Master Plan, which pairs Trinity's academic mission with its architectural legacy to create a vision that is inspiring, functional, and enduring.

Renowned San Antonio architect O'Neil Ford had an early and lasting impact on the design of Trinity's Skyline campus, located just north of downtown San Antonio. Beginning with a master plan in the mid-1940s, Ford designed most of the campus buildings between the 1950s and the late 1970s. The campus was built on the site of an abandoned rock quarry, and Ford used the site's unique topography to create the feel of a "low-lying Italian village" comprised of modernist red brick buildings connected by walkways and lush native landscaping. "The result is a campus setting that is unmatched in character among Texas universities, and is one of America's first modern campuses," said Trinity President Danny Anderson. "We are heirs to a historic mid-century modern masterpiece."

Artist illustration of Lower Campus.

Trinity will apply for designation on the National Register of Historic Places through the Texas Historical Commission. A historic district can afford Trinity a number of benefits, including earning the University tax credits with a potential financial benefit of approximately 20 percent of qualified renovation expenses. As a historic district, the University will preserve the cohesive exterior design of buildings. Except for notable interior features, Trinity will renovate the interiors of the buildings to meet the needs of tomorrow's students.

"Trinity's campus is truly distinctive in that it was a significant collection of architecturally acclaimed mid-century buildings designed by a single architect," said Diane Graves, University Librarian and chair of Trinity's Campus Master Plan Committee. "We are among a handful of college campuses considering how we preserve our mid-century modern buildings."

Trinity's Campus Master Planning Committee, in partnership with architectural group Page, guided the development of the campus master plan that will have a lasting and positive impact on the Trinity campus. Page is a national firm specializing in higher education. Daniel Kenney FAIA, AICP, a nationally-recognized higher education master planner, was Page's lead consultant on the Trinity project. Lawrence W. Speck, FAIA, Senior Principal at Page and a specialist on the architectural design of O'Neil Ford, also contributed significantly. Architect and historic preservation specialist Stan Graves of the firm Architexas guided the historic district consideration and process.

Trinity's Campus Master Plan goes beyond the decision to seek designation as a historic district. It includes features that enhance the power of connection in O'Neil Ford's original design.

Artist rendition of new entrance to campus.

Some of the signature features in the plan include:

  • Establishing a main entrance on Hildebrand Avenue to serve as the University's "front door." This gateway project proposes a new building that could serve as an admissions or alumni "Welcome Center."
  • The plan highlights the "living/learning corridor" that runs north to south through our campus. This corridor strengthens the connections between upper and lower campus, improves pedestrian navigation, and engages activity nodes to strengthen the campus' east-west connections. This corridor will make the center of campus a more inviting public space for community life.
  • Redeveloping the Coates University Center as the central dining facility on campus and adding a 500-guest ballroom that can be reconfigured for use as a conference facility.
  • Improvements to existing student housing and the addition of independent living options for juniors and seniors. The plan identifies the need for more single rooms, kitchens, and common space in residence halls. Trinity's recent purchase of City Vista apartments, which will begin housing juniors, seniors, and graduate students this fall, helped the University leap ahead on one of the residential initiatives – to provide an apartment-style living option.
  • A new wayfinding program to provide signage for better navigation of the campus.
  • Replacement of some of the existing parking lots on lower campus with intramural green space.

The Plan also includes design guidelines that establish criteria to guide decisions for renovations, enhancements, space usage, and new construction in the coming decades. The Campus Master Plan includes priorities to renovate some of the University's oldest Ford-designed buildings, now more than 50 years old.

City Vista Apartments.

Founded in Tehuacana, Texas in 1869, Trinity moved to Waxahachie, Texas in 1902. In 1942, at the invitation of the San Antonio Chamber of commerce, the University relocated to the Alamo City. What transpired is called the "Miracle on Trinity Hill" as the University began to build from scratch the Skyline campus in 1948. This year Trinity University celebrates 75 years in San Antonio.

Sharon Jones Schweitzer is assistant vice president for external relations. You can follow her @sjschweitzer.

Hi Res versions of the images from Trinity's Campus Master Plan are available upon request.