Texas Hall once regularly hosted big names like Louis Armstrong and Willie Nelson
While spearheading efforts to build Texas Hall, UTA President Jack Woolf never dreamed the building would still be hosting athletic events 40 years later.
“No one could predict what was going to happen. We didn’t think beyond the next year,” said Dr. Woolf, who was president from 1958-68. “We needed a better place to play basketball, and we needed a facility where we could hold commencement. Our largest lecture hall could only hold 100, and our basketball court [the old Women’s Gym, on land now occupied by the W.A. Baker Chemistry Research Building] was not even regulation size and might seat 400 at best.”
Plans to build a special events center have thrust Texas Hall back into the spotlight. The new center (see story) would host a variety of university and community events, including UTA basketball and volleyball games, which the Texas Hall stage has done (awkwardly, it has been argued) since 1965.
“Texas Hall is no longer a viable option for our NCAA Division I teams,” President James D. Spaniolo said in January when he announced the special events center initiative. “But it will remain an important facility for the University.”
And an important link to the past.
Jazz legend Louis Armstrong was the first entertainer to take the stage, on Oct. 18, 1965, in what was then called the Arlington State College (now UTA) multipurpose auditorium.
“The opening event was a big name for the city of Arlington,” Woolf recalled.
The building once was a main stop for acts of all kinds—Jerry Seinfeld, Neil Diamond, Pat Boone, Willie Nelson, Linda Ronstadt, Barry Manilow, The Cars, Crystal Gayle—but it lost that status when Dallas’ Reunion Arena and other large facilities came online.
Renamed Texas Hall in 1968, it featured the largest proscenium stage (the area between the curtain and the orchestra) west of the Mississippi. The oversized stage was built to accommodate a basketball court. Bleachers behind the stage provide a backdrop for athletic events.
The first basketball game was played Dec. 1, 1965, as the ASC Rebels lost a narrow decision to East Texas State. Women’s basketball began playing there in the 1970s, followed by volleyball in the 1980s. Texas Hall hosted the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament this spring.
The building seats 2,709 for stage events and 3,309 for athletic contests. Excluding basketball and volleyball practice days, it’s bookable about 200 days a year. That’s a lot of putting down and taking up the basketball court, all 225 pieces, each weighing 208 pounds.
“For some events, we don’t have to remove the entire floor, and for others we can just cover the floor,” said Paul Cathey, technical services manager.
Over the years, upgrades have included remodeling the lobby, adding new lighting systems and a control booth, and standard improvements to the seating and flooring. Texas Hall rivals the newer and much more costly Ameriquest Field in main-level wheelchair seating.
“We always hear good comments about the building from people who come here for events,” Cathey said.
Those events have included speeches by James Earl Jones, Winnie Mandela and Desmond Tutu and performances by the Fort Worth Symphony, Ballet Arlington and the Chinese Golden Acrobats. Texas Hall has hosted the Miss Arlington Pageant, Miss Teen Texas and the MTV Battle of the Bands. Spike Lee and Maya Angelou have addressed sold-out audiences.
“One of the weirdest acts and weirdest characters that we’ve had was the comedian Gallagher,” said the auditorium’s director, Kathryn Beeler. “His smashing-of-the-watermelon performance was something else.”
Beeler will tell you that Texas Hall isn’t nearly done with smashing shows.
— Jim Patterson