Fifty years ago today—October 22, 2019—several hundred students walked up the 21st Street hill from Waller Creek toward the Tower. Some rested large pecan branches on their shoulders, some dragged feathery bald cypress limbs, and some gathered live oaks twigs in their arms. All were in the midst of what has come to be known as the Battle of Waller Creek, the subject of a new film developed by the School of Architecture (SOA) with funding from Green Fund Program.
“The SOA Dean in 1969, Alan Taniguchi, was a leading voice in the opposition to the proposed construction, and architecture students formed a majority of the protesting students,” says Allan Shearer, SOA’s Associate Dean for Research and Technology. “With this film, we want to promote awareness of the effects of the built environment on our natural environment and to promote environmental activism.”
The Battle of Waller Creek arose when a planned expansion of the football stadium’s south end was made public. This plan required a shifting of San Jacinto Street and the accompanying sidewalk toward Waller Creek, necessitating the removal of several dozen trees. Students—many affiliated with SOA—began to protest the removal of the trees and even sought an injunction. These efforts were cut short when Chancellor Frank Erwin ordered the contractor to “head for the biggest trees first.” Police and firemen pulled students from the area, even cutting off the limb of on tree while a student clung on.
Twenty seven students were arrested and four additional trees were demolished in the confusion. The impact to Waller Creek is still visible where the sidewalk cantilevers over the east bank south of 21st Street.
Once the trees were pushed over, the students walked the remains of 39 trees to the Tower where they piled branches in front of the doors. This final act of protest garnered the assurance from President Norman Hackerman that UT would no longer cement the creek bed as planned. In addition, campus planning has developed into a more collaborative effort since this time.
"Working on the Battle of Waller Creek [film] was a great opportunity to connect with SOA alumni who fought to make sure that student voices would not be ignored in larger campus discussions,” says Annie Liu who was a Graduate Research Assistant and producer/editor of the film. “While we may still struggle with many of the same systemic issues, the project highlights both the incredible resilience of the student body during times of uncertainty and the protest as an important moment in campus history as well as a catalyst for environmental activism in Austin.”
Abbey Judd, the second Graduate Research Assistant who worked on the film, agrees and expands her thoughts on the Battle of Waller Creek and student activism in a blog. In addition to Liu and Judd, Cameron Belcher helped with the documentary’s editing.
Written by Kristin Phillips, Communications Coordinator, Office of Sustainability