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UTSA’s Stonehenge

November 21, 2016

This month we continue “Names and Places of UTSA,” a blog series on university history, with a post co-written by archives student assistant, Kira Sandoval.

stonehenge-kira-for-scale

UTSA Stonehenge with a 5’5″ Kira for scale. Photo by Kristin Law.

 

Have you ever wondered what that thing is? That large concrete mass that sits on the east side of main campus, in the undeveloped acres just west of Bauerle Road? It is a strange composite of rectangular segments displaying a mixture of textures, ridges, nooks and crannies, with a large negative space that allows the Texas sky to be seen in between panels of beige concrete. Is it an abstract sculpture, or some kind of fragment of a wall?

There is no name, no plaque, no identifying information attached to it, making this concrete mass an enigma on campus. Here in the University Archives, we have received numerous inquiries, which piqued our curiosity and jump-started our research. During our investigation, we nicknamed the unnamed structure UTSA Stonehenge.

Detail view of UTSA Stonehenge.

Detail view of UTSA Stonehenge. Photo by Kristin Law.

As we dug in, we looked in the usual places. We searched thorough university publications from the last 40+ years, and checked through records from the UTSA Art Collection. We contacted a recently retired professor from the Art History department who had been here since the 1970s. But even she had little information to contribute. We kept hitting roadblocks.

One afternoon, after some tenacious Google image searching, we finally got the slightest lead in the form of a small feature in the Summer 2015 Sombrilla. The article suggested that UTSA Stonehenge was a remnant from the initial phase of campus construction in the 1970s. With this lead, we were able to find evidence of Stonehenge’s origins in the archives.

The core of the UTSA campus was designed by Ford, Powell & Carson in collaboration with Bartlett Cocke & Associates, with the legendary architect O’Neil Ford taking the lead. The designers chose light beige concrete made from local materials in order to complement the surrounding Texas landscape.

In order to ensure that the completed buildings would live up to their artistic vision, the architects produced exhaustively detailed guidelines for the contractors. In the Office of Facilities Records (UA 04.02.02), we located copies of these specifications, which date from 1972 and span three volumes. In Building Construction: Volume I, page 3D-2 in the Arch[itectural] Cast-In-Place Conc[rete] section, we found these Pre-Construction Requirements:

Excerpt from Building Construction: Volume I.

Excerpt from Building Construction: Volume I, 1972, UA 04.02.02, UTSA: Office of Facilities Records.

These are instructions for creating a “full-scale mock-up” the size of a typical exterior portion of a building (30 feet):

“5.4 Contractor shall construct a full-scale mock-up, using materials, forming system, reinforcing, and construction methods proposed for use in the project. Mock-up shop drawings shall be completed prior to first construction conference. Size of mock-up shall be at least equal to a typical exterior portion 30’ long of HUMANITIES/BUSINESS BLDG., south elevation, at Level 4. It shall include spandrel beams at Levels 3 & 4 and precast tee support beam at level 4 as well as one complete column and roof coping. One of the half openings so framed shall be left open as though for glass. The other opening shall be filled with one half of a typical precast wall panel as detailed. Approved mock-up shall be the guide as to quality, acceptability of permanent Architectural concrete work.”

Among the requirements for the mock-up is the specification of a half opening to be left where a window would exist. The other half of the opening was to be filled with a pre-cast wall panel detail. The gap on the right side of the sculpture and the ridged panel to its left, similar to concrete panels on the McKinney Humanities building, align closely with this description. Further, the large size of UTSA Stonehenge certainly meets the specifications required of the mock-up.

So that’s what Stonehenge is, right? A full-scale construction model made to test the color and quality of the concrete? Case closed, mystery solved.

Not quite. Later, while looking at early aerial photos of campus, we noticed that Stonehenge wasn’t where it should be. Actually, it was on the opposite side of campus, southwest of the Convocation Center. Had it moved? Or were there two? As it would not make sense to move a concrete structure across campus simply for artistic display, we believe that UTSA actually had two Stonehenges.

Aerial photograph of UTSA's campus, as viewed from the west, 1976

Aerial photograph of UTSA’s campus, as viewed from the west, 1976. UA 16.01.01, UTSA: Office of University Communications Photographs.

Our theory is that Stonehenge One was built during the first phase of construction (1972-1976), which included the Library, Convocation Center, and Science, Humanities, and Arts buildings. On the west side of campus, Stonehenge One was located on what had been colloquially dubbed Rattlesnake Hill, named for the number of rattlesnakes encountered during construction. As originally intended, Stonehenge One was demolished after it served its purpose as a materials test.

We believe that Stonehenge Two is from a later phase of construction, perhaps when the Multidisciplinary Studies building was built or the Arts building was expanded (1978-1982). Stonehenge Two was necessary to ensure that the color and quality of the concrete would match the earlier buildings. For whatever reason, it has remained decades after it was needed.

We view this to be a plausible explanation of the origin and purpose of UTSA Stonehenge, and we were glad to find concrete evidence to support the stories we’d heard. We hope that in the future, the university will install an explanatory plaque for this unique and aesthetically interesting piece of UTSA’s history.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2016 8:15 am

    Reblogged this on stillness of heart and commented:
    What a fascinating story

  2. November 21, 2016 11:23 am

    How interesting. I’m not familiar with this university. Art or construction? I wonder… thanks for this. Muriel Kauffmann

  3. November 24, 2016 10:14 pm

    Now you know the rest of the story.

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