No flushing this prank
The night students got a handle on fun
San Francisco has its Transamerica Building, India the Taj Mahal, Paris the Eiffel Tower.
In the mid-1960s, UTA had its “Big Blue Toilet.”
There the Little Theater sat on Cooper Street, two distinct sections, a large vertical (blue) corrugated steel enclosure housing the ropes and pulleys for hanging backdrops, with a half-oval out front for the seats and lobby. In your mind’s eye, squint a little. That’s it: The Little Theater resembled a giant commode.
All it lacked was a handle.
And one glad morning, briefly, it had that, too.
By spring 1967 the building was two years old. For two years, campus denizens and Cooper Street motorists, the more playful ones, had glanced its way, noted the resemblance and chuckled anew. The “Jolly Green Giant’s john,” Kit Goodwin, then a student and now UTA cartographic archivist, remembers the building being called.
You could say it had become a fixture. If only …
“It needed a handle,” said Ron Albertson, a freshman in 1967 and a member of that year’s Alpha Phi Omega spring pledge class.
So he and a few other APhiOs met at the nearby Cooper Street apartment of fellow pledge Ron Brooks and built one to scale, using 2x4s, cardboard and silver spray paint. Another friend worked as a janitor in the building and agreed to let them in.
On a Thursday evening they hung their 12-foot creation from the roof. The “Toilet” was complete.
Then Roger Townsend took a picture. Presumably The Shorthorn would have, too, except no one had alerted the paper for fear of punishment.
Turns out the worries were unwarranted. Campus reaction was favorable, and memories of the incident seem to be fond.
“Most people thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen,” said Charles McDowell, a military science professor in 1967 and now Russian professor and director of the Center for Post-Soviet and East European Studies at UTA. Dr. McDowell was the Alpha Phi Omega faculty sponsor at the time.
Funny or not, the handle would quickly pass into university lore—by noon the next day physical plant workers had removed it. The building wasn’t damaged (except for that lock on the rooftop access door), and observers spoke approvingly of the image upgrade.
Today, the “Toilet” is still there, but it’s not detectable without knowing what you’re looking for. In 1975, the Fine Arts Building was constructed around the structure, now the Mainstage Theatre, incorporating it into the complex. It can be seen from aerial views.
And with a little imagination, so can the handle.
– Andy McMillen