Button to scroll to the top of the page.

by Nicole Elmer, May 3, 2016


The Old Main Building in 1903. From History of UT Physics.

The School of Biology lived in the basement of the Old Main Building, also know as “The Parthenon of the University’s Acropolis,” from its very beginnings in 1891 until 1899. Old Main’s construction was in the style of Victorian Gothic. The West Wing was completed in 1884 and the East Wing in 1899, at a cost of around $250,000. Before the completion of the building, classes were held in the State Capitol.

The year of 1899 also marked the separation of the School of Biology into the School of Zoology and School of Botany. In that year, both schools moved into the third floor of the Old Main Building, sharing it with the School of Geology until 1925.





Class enrollment in zoology and botany continued to increase in the early 1900s, but the state constitution prohibited the use of general revenue for buildings. This lack of funding to meet the need for expansion meant that classes, including in zoology and botany, were held in temporary wood frame buildings. This was referred to as “Shackeresque” architecture, and professors would lecture in the cold months around pot-bellied stoves. University President S.E. Mezes wanted these unpainted shacks to be usable but so ugly that Texans would be ashamed of them, and be forced to find money to replace them. That money would soon come in the form of "black gold."

 "Shack" classrooms in the 1920s on Speedway. From Walter Geology Library Geology Library, Geological Sciences Newsletter.


Early 20th century biology lab room in Old Main.  From Discovery, Centennial Issue, 1983

Oil findings on UT land in the early 1900s dramatically changed the architectural landscape of the university. The Texon Oil and Land Company’s Santa Rita No. 1 well blew on May 28th, 1923, on university lands, and this well can still be seen today at the corner of MLK and Trinity.

With constitutional amendments and oil money, UT decided in the 1920s to construct a new building to house classes and research for zoology and botany. By this time, the two schools had changed their names to the Department of Zoology and the Department of Botany and Bacteriology. Both left the bat-infested Old Main in 1925, for their new home in the Biological Laboratories Building (BIO) that is still in use today.

The Old Main building was eventually torn down in 1934, over the protests of many, with one UT instructor going so far as to write a poem to the building. The 1882 corner stone of the Old Main can still be seen at the current Main Building on campus, near the south entrance.



Originally planned to be built at the corner of Guadalupe and 24th, the BIO building was moved farther east to save three of the oldest trees on campus, called the Battle Oaks. These trees range from 250 to 300 years of age, and are still standing today.   

 BIO in the 1920s, BIO in 2016. Left photo from UT History Corner. Right photo Nicole Elmer.


This building was completed in 1925 for a cost of $400,000. One of the most interesting rooms in BIO is room 214, which is paneled in 46 varieties of American woods. In addition, the "Fly Room" in which Hermann Muller conducted some of his Nobel-prize winning research is also located in BIO.

With more space and better facilities in BIO, graduate student enrollment increased. The ending of World War II also brought a surge of new students. Research in genetics and speciation was expanded, along with the development of advanced courses in these fields. The two biology departments would soon outgrow the building. It was time for another.



When the Experimental Science Building (ESB) was completed in 1951, it was one of the largest buildings in the U.S dedicated to scientific research. Costing $4,272,000, it had 64 laboratories, 39 teaching labs, and many classrooms. The building had five floors and was longer than the UT Tower is tall.

Experimental Science Building 1952, showing the north front entablature for bacteriology and zoology where names of prominent scientists were displayed. Photo by Martin Dworkin, FEMS Microbiology Reviews

At the time of its completion, ESB was the first building on campus to be air-conditioned, specifically the area occupied by biological sciences and biochemistry. The groups in genetics, cytology, and physiology moved into ESB as well, and Botany remained in BIO.

According to UT Professor C.P. Oliver’s 1952 history of UT Zoology, the building was actually one roof over three separate buildings. Two ends were occupied by Biochemistry and Organic Chemistry. Bacteriology was the central unit with the Zoology group.     

In 2005, defects were found in ESB’s natural gas lines, and this forced the demolition of the building in 2008. A time capsule was removed from the building on April 23, 2008, containing amongst other things: a catalogue of courses at UT in 1893; an extensive list of publications from UT PhDs in zoology, botany, and bacteriology; JT Patterson’s 1925 publication of “History of Biology in the University of Texas;” and a 1950s freshmen recruitment catalogue.

The Norman Hackerman building (NHB) took the place of ESB. The building was completed in late 2010 and the official opening was held in March 2011.



The Patterson building (PAT) was completed in the spring of 1969 at a cost of $4,110,000. It was named after John Thomas Patterson (1878-1960), who was an instructor in Zoology from 1908 to 1955 and a leader in genetics research at UT. PAT was built for offices and laboratory uses exclusively, not for classroom use. 

 From Brick by Brick: A History of Campus Buildings at the University of Texas at Austin, 1883-1993

The basement of PAT was finished in 1972, used by the then Department of Zoology for genetics research. In 1980, the Board of Regents authorized the replacement of the building's roof for the use of greenhouses. Chicks used for cancer and muscular dystrophy research were housed on top of PAT before the the Animal Resources Building was built.

Today, biology at UT Austin occupies numerous buildings on campus, including BIO, NHB, NMS, MBB, and PAT. Faculty members in Integrative Biology are located mostly, but not exclusively, in BIO and PAT.






Barry, Margaret C. Brick by Golden Brick: A History of Campus Buildings at the University of Texas at Austin, 1883-1993. LBCo Publishing, 1993.

Dworkin, Martin. “Sergei Winogradsky: a founder of modern microbiology and the first microbial ecologist.” Federation of European Microbiological Societies Review, August 11, 2011.

Hartman, Carl. Untitled autobiography 1967. Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, UT Austin.

Ramos, Mary G. “The Beginnings of the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University.” Adapted for online publishing in Texas Almanac.

UT System article, Santa Rita No. 1  https://www.utsystem.edu/bfl/santarit.html

Handbook of Texas Online, William James Battle, "University of Texas At Austin," accessed February 17, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/kcu09.

Nicar, Jim. “Heads Up!” The UT History Corner. August 12, 2014, http://jimnicar.com/tag/garrison/

The Main Building at the University of Texas at Austin. 1999 online article. https://www.utexas.edu/tours/mainbuilding/oldmain/index.html

Oliver, C.P. “Zoology at the University of Texas.” Bios, Vol 23, No. 2, May 1952.

Painter, Theophilus. “John Thomas Patterson 1878-1960. A Biographical Memoir.” National Academy of Sciences, 1965.

UT News, “Science Building Named for Norman Hackerman, Esteemed Chemist and President Emeritus,” January 13, 2009