January 11, 2016

Historic Hoops: The Frank Erwin Center in Austin, Texas

Welcome to our Historic Hoops series, where we offer a guide to historic places related (at least tangentially) to a televised men’s or women’s NCAA basketball matchup each week throughout the 2015-2016 season. Whether you’re a die-hard fan or simply stuck watching with your significant other, we’re here to assist your viewing experience with some historic context beyond the hardwood.

This week’s matchup: #6 Baylor Lady Bears at #4 Texas Lady Longhorns

Time: Sunday, Jan. 17 at 3:30 p.m. EST

Channel: ESPN2

Venue: Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas

Opening Tip: This week, we turn our attention to the ladies and a stellar top-10 matchup between two Lone Star State rivals at the 1977 Frank Erwin Center in Austin. These two premiere women’s programs are separated by less than a two-hour drive on the edge of Hill Country, so expect at least a few Baylor fans to grace the friendly confines of the Erwin Center.

The exterior of the Frank Erwin Center

photo by: J.Byerly/Flickr/CC BY NC 2.0

The Frank Erwin Center opened in 1977.

Fast Break:

Yes. I know. We’re all wondering who on earth Frank Erwin is.

Turns out, Frank Erwin is a former Texas politician, and a somewhat polarizing one at that; he led the conservative faction of the Democratic Party in Texas. Erwin was also a former member of the university’s board of regents, where he was accused of enabling the regents to award university building contracts to political allies. And he also apparently pursued a fairly vicious campaign of removing professors whose liberal politics he did not approve of, and even prevented student and faculty movements to cancel classes as a form of protest of the Vietnam War.

So, for better or worse, the arena in which this game will be played is named after him.

Inside the Frank Irwin Center

photo by: Dave Wilson/Flickr/CC BY NC ND 2.0

The largest crowd to attend an event at the Frank Erwin Center was 17,829 for a 1978 John Denver concert.

Three Points:

  • The Modernist Frank Erwin Center was designed by B.W. Crain and Ralph Anderson and opened in 1977. The duo were part of the team that designed the Houston Astrodome in the 1960s.
  • As a prominent member of the Democratic Party in Texas, Frank Erwin was instrumental in ensuring that the Lyndon Baines Johnson presidential library was developed on the University of Texas’ campus in Austin.
  • The Texas Capitol building, just a short walk from the Erwin Center, was built from 1884-1888 in exchange for 3 million acres of land in the state’s panhandle. At the time, the land was valued at roughly $1.5 million, while the capitol cost $3.75 million. Today, the same land is valued at more than $7 billion.
The Texas Capitol building

photo by: Stuart Seeger/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The Texas Capitol is constructed of Texas red granite.

Buzzer Beater: The Frank Erwin Center is scheduled to be demolished sometime before 2030 to make way for the university’s new medical school.

And-1: #1 Kansas travels to #17 West Virginia for a Big12 matchup at the WVU Coliseum, voted “Outstanding Concrete Structure of the Year" by the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Concrete Institute. (Amazing.)

David Weible headshot

David Weible is a former content specialist at the National Trust, previously with Preservation and Outside magazines. His interest in historic preservation is inspired by the ‘20s-era architecture, streetcar neighborhoods, and bars of his hometown of Cleveland.

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