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Celebrating the Life

Chemistry Building, 1931-



The Chemistry Department has been located in the building now known as Welch Hall since 1931, when the first part of the new Chemistry Building was completed.

Chemistry Building, 1943
The Chemistry Building in 1943, seen from the Tower (looking northeast after a rare snowfall). The Physics Building (now Painter Hall) is on the lower left; part of Taylor Hall is across Speedway to the right. The empty lot at top is where RLM, Patterson, and Woolrich Halls now stand.

lantern detail The original five-story, E-shaped portion of the building, located along 24th Street at the corner of Speedway, was designed by Herbert Greene and erected from 1929-31. [See also the Greene Exhibit] Paul Cret -- the newly hired supervising architect of the UT campus -- was consulting architect. The Mediterranean Renaissance exterior style matched that of other buildings in the area. While not quite as striking as other Cret-era buildings such as Gearing (Home Economics) and W.C. Hogg, the future Welch Hall had some interesting features:
  • Names of famous early chemists are inscribed in panels running around the 5th floor exterior.
  • The Gothic outside lamps were copies of those found on the Strozzi Palace in Florence, Italy.
  • The only rooms of any decorative interest are the lecture hall on the ground (now 2nd) floor (room 2.122), which has a painted beam ceiling; and the "Old Library" in 4.132, originally the Chemistry Library's reading room.

The interior was meant to be a state-of-the-art facility for chemistry: Professor W.A. Felsing travelled all over the country touring other labs to get ideas for the new building's practical layout and features. Every lab had direct pipes for natural gas, steam, distilled water, and compressed air. A ventilation system changed the air in every room four times an hour. The chemical engineering room even had a traveling crane. When completed in 1931, it cost over $900,000, at that time the most expensive building on campus. It was also one of the largest academic buildings on campus, second only to Old Main. The original wing was renovated in 1980-81 and 1986-88, modernizing its fixtures and systems.

The Chemistry Building received a new west wing in 1960-61, which added 42,000 square feet to the department. This wing is architecturally very sterile, and paid scant attention to the Mediterranean flavor of its older neighbors. A major fire occurred on the fifth floor of this wing in October 1996 (almost exactly 70 years to the day after the Old Laboratory burned), and a renovation project was completed in 1999. This renovation included a building-wide sprinkler system and added a two-story "penthouse" to the West Wing, which houses the air handling system for the entire building.

The 1978 addition, which added 247,000 square feet to the building, extends south along Speedway. This wing formed a new patio enclosed by all three wings of the building, under which the new Chemistry Library was constructed. Large university auditoriums are located on the ground floor of the newest wing. Greenhouses are located on the roof of the center section. The 1978 addition cost over $20 million and made the Chemistry Dept. the largest on campus in terms of floor space.

In 1974 the Chemistry Building was renamed Welch Hall in honor of Houston oilman and philanthropist Robert Alonzo Welch (1872-1952). [4]

Welch north door Welch east side loggia Welch Lecture Hall exterior door
Left: North door detail; Center: East side Loggia, 1978 wing; Right: Exterior Lecture Hall door detail