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Trinity to Pursue National Historic District Designation

O'Neil Ford (left) with Trinity President James Woodin Laurie (right) at Skyline Campus.

Trinity University celebrates 75 years in San Antonio this year. It was a bold decision to move here in 1942 at the invitation of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce. The "Miracle of Trinity Hill" transpired as the University built the Skyline campus. Renowned San Antonio architect O'Neil Ford had an early and lasting impact. He developed a master plan in the mid-1940s. He then designed most of the campus buildings between the 1950s and the late 1970s.

I often recall Winston Churchill's 1943 comment about the restoration of the House of Commons: "We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us." Generations of graduates from the Skyline Campus have told me how our O'Neil Ford campus shaped them. It played a role in awakening their academic aspirations and their personal connections. During my first year at Trinity, I experienced our campus much like the alumni I met. Ford's campus paths and building sites promote discovery, surprise, and personal connections.

We are heirs to a historic mid-century modern masterpiece. Our Skyline Campus is a treasure for future generations. For this reason, Trinity University will seek to become a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. This initiative is part of the University's recently completed Campus Master Plan, identified as a foundational objective within the Trinity Tomorrow strategic plan. This is a dramatic step forward that will bring national attention to Trinity's unique campus. As a historic district, the University will preserve the cohesive exterior design of our buildings. Except for notable features, Trinity will renovate the interiors to meet the needs of tomorrow's students.

Artist illustration of Lower Campus

Artist illustration of Lower Campus.

The Campus Master Plan has engaged faculty, staff, students, alumni, and external stakeholders over a year and a half. The plan pairs our academic mission with Trinity's architectural legacy to create a vision that is inspiring, functional, and enduring. The plan goes beyond the decision to seek designation as a historic district. It includes features that enhance the power of connection in O'Neil Ford's design.

Artist rendition of new entrance to campus

Artist rendition of new entrance to campus.

Some of the signature features in the plan include:

  • Establishing a main entrance on Hildebrand Avenue to serve as the University's "front door." This gateway project proposes a new building that could serve as an admissions or alumni "Welcome Center."
  • The plan highlights the "living/learning corridor" that runs north to south through our campus. This corridor strengthens the connections between upper and lower campus, improves pedestrian navigation, and activates activity nodes to strengthen the campus' east-west connections. This corridor makes the center of our campus a more inviting public space for community life.
  • Re-imaging the Coates University Center as the central dining facility on campus. This is one "activity node" along the corridor that brings us together as a community. A proposed 500-person ballroom could amplify the impact of this "activity node."
  • Improvements to existing student housing and the addition of independent living options for juniors and seniors. The plan identifies the need for more single rooms, kitchens, and common space in residence halls. The recent purchase of City Vista apartments, which will begin housing juniors, seniors, and graduate students this fall, helped the University leap ahead on one of the residential initiatives – to provide an apartment-style living option.
  • A new wayfinding program to provide signage for better navigation of the campus.
  • Activating the linkage among a renovated Chapman Center and Halsell Administrative Studies with Coates Library. Academic activities are at the heart of this connection, and building design can enhance them. One possible strategy is a structure connecting these buildings, expanding space, and fostering interaction across disciplines.

City Vista Apartments

City Vista Apartments.

The campus is now more than 50 years old. We can preserve our O'Neil Ford legacy by adapting it to meet 21st century needs, and the Campus Master Plan will be our guide. It includes priorities to renovate some of our oldest buildings and facilities – such as Chapman Center, Halsell, and the Trinity football stadium. It also includes new ideas that continue O'Neil Ford's spirit of innovation for the future. Like O'Neil Ford and early campus planners, Trinity's new Campus Master Plan will have an impact on future generations. I invite you to imagine our campus preserved for the future and renewed for today. Imagine all the things we can do together to ensure that Trinity remains a "University of the first order," connected to San Antonio, thriving deep in the heart of Texas, and engaged with our nation and our world.

Best regards,
Danny Anderson

As Trinity's chief storyteller, I love to share news about the University. But I also love hearing from you. Please feel free to contact me at

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