The University of Alabama

Campus – Always Planned, Ever Changing

Today Gorgas Library anchors the north end of the current Quad.

From the time the Alabama legislature chose Tuscaloosa as the location for the state’s flagship university the shape of campus was planned. Even the initial land purchase was based on needs anticipated through planning, when Marr’s Spring was bought to ensure a plentiful water supply for the new school.

Through 180 years the University has developed through a series of plans, each one of which changed the face of campus. The first plan was designed in 1828 by architect William Nichols, who based his vision of the campus on Thomas Jefferson’s scheme of a community of scholars living in their own academic village.

Some of the most important changes to the University landscape were not planned, however. When the Civil War broke out, the campus had dormitories, a library (called the Rotunda), the president’s mansion, an astronomical observatory and academic buildings. But after the attack by Union forces on April 4, 1865, most of campus was in ruins, with only a handful of buildings spared.

Rebuilding took decades, and in 1906 campus was enlarged again thanks to what was called the “Greater University Plan.” Then in the 1920s, under the presidency of Dr. George H. Denny, the “Million Dollar Plan” was launched.

In the years between the Greater University Plan and the Million Dollar Plan, the University was affected by other cultural changes, such as more women enrolling, students and professors leaving to fight in World War I, and technological advances — including the auto.

This photograph of the original Quad (now Woods Quad) from the 1917 “Corolla” captures the change in the University as horses and wagons left campus and cars entered. It also appeared in Suzanne Rau Wolfe’s “The University of Alabama: A Pictorial History.” (photo courtesy of The W.S. Hoole Special Collections Library, The University of Alabama)

It is unlikely that when the first car rumbled onto University property people realized what changes it would bring. Research conducted by staff of the Hoole Special Collections Library shows that cars appeared on campus in or around the end of World War I. A photo from a 1917 “Corolla” captures an evocative moment on the Quad (later known as Woods Quad) when a horse and buggy are leaving the circle roadway and an early-model car is entering from the other side.

But from that time until decades later, the few cars on campus were parked along streets. Planning continued and the University grew in enrollment and buildings, but even in 1941, campus maps still showed no designated parking areas.

During the 1960s and 1970s, modernism was the preferred style of architecture for Tutwiler Hall, the Ferguson Center and other new buildings. A campus map from 1968 shows some streets enlarged for parking but nothing that would be considered a parking lot today.

Dr. Robert Mellown, associate professor emeritus in the department of art and art history, is an expert on campus architecture and growth. He was also a student at the Capstone in the 1960s.

“People seem to have forgotten that up to about the late 1960s the majority of students didn’t have cars, lived on campus in dormitories and chapter houses, and walked to class. Faculty, of course, lived off campus and parked their autos near the buildings where they taught. It was in the early 1970s that parking became a problem when students began to move off campus to apartments,” Mellown said.

“From that decade onwards there were constant complaints about lack of parking and traffic congestion on campus as students and faculty fought over the limited parking spaces on campus. I know this from personal experience! I was a student here from 1963-67 (no car) and a faculty member from 1971-2012,” he added.

A 1970 campus map showed areas that might have been used for parking lots, and by 1982 several named parking lots were listed in the University Factbook. Solutions to the parking crunch, such as decks, underground parking and transit systems, however, were still far in the future.

By the 21st century, campus master plans were updated each five years, shaped not by just one architect but by a team of designers, administrators and planners who surveyed UA students, employees, alumni and area residents for input and suggestions. One of those planned changes was to make the central part of campus more pedestrian-friendly, and in 2007 a free campus transit system, Crimson Ride, was launched.

The current campus master plan also calls for changes, including additions and renovations to the Ferguson Center, infrastructure work, and additional student housing on the south side of campus. This latest transition will affect parking on both the north and south side of campus. (See the latest parking map and information at bamaparking.ua.edu and wayfinding.ua.edu.)

With the purchase of the Bryce Hospital property, continuing enrollment growth and renovations of older buildings, the shape of campus will continue to change and improve as UA grows.