Pat Neff Hall

For over a century, Baylor University has served as one of the various educational institutions contributing to Waco’s reputation as the “Athens on the Brazos.” Constructed to house the university’s administration, Pat Neff Hall came to serve as a symbol of the university’s legacy and tradition.

Despite the economic uncertainty of the 1930s, enrollment at the nearly century-old Baylor University rapidly continued to increase. The large influx of students under the presidency of former Texas Governor Pat Neff led to overcrowded classrooms and dwindling faculty space. Thus, when the General Education Board, a New York-based philanthropic organization dedicated to supporting higher-education institutions, offered $50,000 for the construction of an administration building to free up classroom space, the university seized the opportunity.

On December 7, 1938, the university held a Masonic cornerstone-laying ceremony to mark the beginning of construction on the new building. The architectural firm Birch D. Easterwood and Son designed a 46,000-square-foot American Georgian-style structure, which cost around $250,000 to complete. Workers finished construction on the building in 1939, although it was not dedicated until February 1, 1940, on Founder’s Day, the day on which the university celebrates its founders and commemorates the anniversary of its charter.

Named for the president who saw the university through a difficult economy which threatened to close the school, the hall features inscriptions on all sides favored by Pat Neff.  The east and west halls bear two quotes from scripture, including the passage form Proverbs advising that “wisdom is better than rubies.” A line under the eaves just above the third floor notes “the youth of a nation are the trustees of posterity,” a quote from Benjamin Disraeli that Neff once used a chapel speech. As noted by retired Baylor professor Robert Reid, the building came to reflect not only Neff’s tremendous passion for the importance of education, but also the hope of the founders of the university to establish a center of learning for “all ages to come.”

One of the building’s most distinctive features today is its gold roof which can be seen from various points throughout the city. Yet the roof was originally stainless steel, and remained so for many years. At the time of its construction, it was only the second stainless steel roof in the entire nation. The university added gold leafing in 2000.

Within the tower lies another famous aspect of Pat Neff Hall: the carillon. In December of 1939, the set of twenty-five chimes donated by trustee Thomas Cullen rang out across campus for the first time with the hymn “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow.” The bells inevitably wore out and in 1988 were replaced by the current forty-eight-bell carillon donated by Regent Emeritus Drayton McLane. The new bells were constructed in France and, after a shipping mishap which sent them to Mexico was remedied, were dedicated on November 4, 1988.

In addition to fulfilling its main function of housing the office of the president and other administrative officials, Pat Neff Hall has come to serve as a center of Baylor tradition. The practice of lighting the hall up with green lights following an athletic win began in 1978 and continues today. Perhaps the most widely recognized use of the hall is its prominent placement on the university institutional mark. Used for all official communication purposes, the symbol featuring Pat Neff Hall serves as a testament to the university’s legacy, tradition, and commitment to education.  

Images

Campus Focal Point

Campus Focal Point

The Georgian architectural style of Pat Neff Hall stood unique from other buildings on campus. The tall lantern tower which today houses the McLane Carillon came to serve as a vertical reference point for the entire university. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Edwark Haake Photography View File Details Page

Masonic Cornerstone-Laying Ceremony (December 7, 1938)

Masonic Cornerstone-Laying Ceremony (December 7, 1938)

For hundreds of years, a masonic cornerstone-laying ceremony has been a part of the dedication of notable public buildings. Masons evaluate the stone, which symbolizes the entire construction project and the building which will result from it, to ensure that the craftsmen did their duty and the stone is set correctly. The grand master then asks that God bless the stone and, in turn, the whole project. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Fit for an Administrator

Fit for an Administrator

Pat Neff stands at the construction site of the building which bore his name in 1939. At the time of its completion just a few months later, Pat Neff Hall held the president™s office and other administrative offices, the John K. Strecker Museum, a memorial room containing mementos of university namesake Judge R.E.B. Baylor, The Texas Collection and eight classrooms. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Fred R. Gildersleeve View File Details Page

Symbolic Value

Symbolic Value

Pat Neff Hall towers above students as they march toward Waco Hall for commencement exercises circa 1960. As a symbol of the university™s legacy and tradition, the hall served an important role for students during their education at Baylor. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Lavern "Windy" Drum View File Details Page

Community Hub

Community Hub

Constructed to free up classroom and administrative space, Pat Neff Hall also served as a social gathering point for students. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

A Sight to Behold

A Sight to Behold

Students gather in front of Pat Neff to study and socialize. Note the stainless steel dome, which adorned the building until 2000, and the inscription “Wisdom is better than rubies,” on the eaves at the top of the building, chosen by President Pat Neff at the time of the building™s construction. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University | Creator: Bob Ponder Studios View File Details Page

Elegant Epigraphs

Elegant Epigraphs

The new chimes installed in the late 1980s bore carefully chosen inscriptions. Some, such as this bell, bore Bible verses. Others carried messages left from Baylor presidents past, such as Rufus C. Burleson, Henry Graves, and Pat Neff himself. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Ring Out, Ye Bells!

Ring Out, Ye Bells!

The bells of the McLane Carillon range in weight from 29 pounds to 4,370 pounds. The carillon is operated by musicians specifically trained in its technique, using closed fists and feet to operate the levers and pedals of the mechanical keyboard. | Source: Image courtesy of the Texas Collection, Baylor University View File Details Page

Kindling School Spirit

Kindling School Spirit

Freshmen garbed in line jerseys bearing their class year gather on the mall before Pat Neff Hall for the Freshman Mass Meeting which takes place each year during the university™s homecoming celebrations. The lit-up hall plays an important part in the ceremony meant to promote school spirit among freshmen. | Source: Image courtesy of Baylor Marketing and Communications View File Details Page

Sic' Em Bears

Sic' Em Bears

The tradition of lighting the dome after sports victories began in 1978 and continues today, making Pat Neff visible throughout the city. This photograph was taken on October 11, 2014, after the Baylor football team scored 24 points in the final 11 minutes of a game against Texas Christian University™s Horned Frogs. | Source: Image courtesy of Baylor Marketing and Communications View File Details Page

Audio

A Surprising Opportunity

Keith Bruce tells about his experience as a young man sneaking into Pat Neff Hall in the 1970s, and then leaving with his acceptance to Baylor University. | Source: Bruce, Keith, interviewed by Stephen Mayes Sloan and Cody S. Knowlton, June 10, 2014, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Amanda Sawyer, “Pat Neff Hall,” Waco History, accessed May 23, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/105.

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