Trinity University is taking the first step toward achieving a place on the National Register of Historic Places to preserve the legacy of San Antonio’s most acclaimed architect, O’Neil Ford, whose modernist design for the campus built on an abandoned rock quarry has been called the “Miracle on Trinity Hill.”

Applying through the Texas Historical Commission, Trinity is scheduled to present a 110-page proposal Jan. 20 to the State Board of Review at the Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum in Austin. If approved by the board, a nomination will be made to the Keeper of the National Register at the National Park Service.

The final decision on the designation could be made by this spring.

Trinity President Danny J. Anderson noted in his 2016-2017 President’s Report that seeking a historic district designation is part of the Campus Master Plan, adopted last fall, designed to link the university’s academic mission with its architectural legacy.

“We are excited by the opportunities to recognize and celebrate our significant and coherent collection of buildings, while maintaining the flexibility needed to meet the needs of tomorrow’s students,” Anderson wrote.

Ford began work on his “Skyline Campus” in the mid-1940s and designed most of the red-brick buildings to resemble a “low-lying Italian village” from the 1950s to the late 1970s. Linking the buildings with meandering walkways and lush native landscaping, Ford oriented the campus to provide the best possible views of downtown.

Sharon Jones Schweitzer, Trinity’s assistant vice president for external relations, said as a historic district, the university could earn tax credits with a potential financial benefit of about 20 percent of qualified renovation expenses, among various advantages.

“We felt that a place on the National Register was the appropriate way to protect Ford’s legacy, because it would require the university to preserve the cohesive exterior design of the buildings,” Schweitzer said. “However, except for notable interior features, Trinity would be able to renovate the interiors of the buildings to meet future needs.”

Trinity’s Campus Master Planning Committee, chaired by University Librarian Diane Graves, worked with the Austin-based architectural group Page led by Daniel Kenney, a nationally recognized higher education planner. Lawrence W. Speck, Page senior principal and an expert on Ford, and architect and historic preservation specialist Stan Graves of Architexas contributed to the plan.

The Master Plan also calls for adding a conference facility/ballroom to the Coates University Center that can accommodate 500 people and redeveloping the center as the central dining facility on campus.

“Students asked for more food service on the upper campus, and we needed a larger conference facility where we could hold big events,” Schweitzer said. “We hope to add the ballroom so it will have the famous skyline view that Trinity is known for.”

Improving student housing is another major component of the Master Plan. To provide independent living options for juniors, seniors and graduate students, Trinity has acquired the 141-unit City Vista Apartment complex at the corner of East Hildebrand Avenue and Devine Road. Besides providing more students with apartment-style living, the plan is to improve existing student housing with more single rooms, kitchens and common space in residence halls.

Other key aspects of the plan include establishing a northern gateway to provide an “outward face” for the university, enhancing a pedestrian corridor to meander through the core of the campus from north to south and replacing existing parking lots on the lower campus with intramural green space.

“The idea is to come up with a front door to the university, a place where visitors will feel more of a sense of arrival,” Schweitzer said. “We’d also like a place for visitor parking and a new building that could serve as an admissions or alumni welcome center. Generally, the Master Plan will not have much impact on neighborhoods adjacent to Trinity, but a new entrance and exit might help to relieve some of the traffic going through the neighborhoods after major events at Laurie Auditorium.”

Trinity also bought a 9.2-acre tract of undeveloped land adjacent to the campus at the southwest corner of Shook Avenue and East Kings Highway, expanding the campus to 125 total acres.

However, before embarking on the Master Plan improvements, Schweitzer said Trinity plans major renovations for the Chapman Center, the Halsell building and Trinity University Stadium. A final budget hasn’t been decided.

“We do know that it will exceed the $35 million the university has set aside for the renovations,” Schweitzer said. “As for the football stadium, the renovations needed are extensive since it is nearly 50 years old and has had no enhancements since it was built.”

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