Christian Church

Photo Credit: Guillermo Hernandez-Martinez | Daily Texan Staff

As a campus with limited room for expansion, UT has grown around neighboring privately owned properties that now sit on campus and have formed an unintentional border for campus expansion.

As the University continues to grow far beyond the original 40 acres, its relationship with properties along the edges of the UT campus has evolved as it has tried to make use of available space. While the University has resorted to using costly and drastic measures to force some entities out in the past, it has mostly tried to retain the long-standing community connections the properties — mostly churches — have built over time.

These entities — many of which were built early in UT’s history — sit next to other UT buildings and appear like part of campus along Whitis Avenue, Guadalupe Street and University Avenue. They are not owned, operated, maintained or overseen by the University in any way, but they have interacted with the University and its students in several ways. 

“The University has expanded far beyond its original footprint when it was founded,” UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said. “Those [surrounding properties] are not UT property but they are part of the community.”

Architecture professor Larry Speck said the University has borrowed from the architectural design of the nearby churches as the University has implemented the Campus Master Plan, which includes plans for future buildings and goals for maintaining existing buildings and infrastructure on campus. The plan is meant to preserve architectural history on campus and the neighboring environment. Speck is a former member of UT Campus Master Plan committee.

The University United Methodist Church, at the corner of Guadalupe and 24th streets, was completed in 1909 with the familiar terra-cotta tiled roof, which is mimicked by many UT buildings and has become an architectural aspect for which the campus is known.

“This was, I think, the first building in the area to use the local limestone with a red tile roof to create a ‘Mediterranean feeling’ building,” Speck said. “That church that set a strong precedent for two generations of buildings to come on the campus and for the architectural character often associated with UT.”

Marc Erck, University United Methodist Church director of music and worship, said the building feels like a part of campus because of its matching style and consistent UT congregation, and the church building even hosted freshmen orientation in the 1930s and 1940s.

“It’s always been a center for religious activity for UT students since it opened and many of our members in their 80s were students at UT, landed here and stayed here,” Erck said.

For many of these historic buildings, their connection to the University has declined in recent decades.

The University Christian Church, located on University Avenue, just south of the Tower, was the first to offer accredited Bible study courses to UT students, providing classes at the facility on religious studies from 1908 to 1987, according to church historian Nancy Bessent.

Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, one of several churches bordering north edge of campus, maintains a close relationship with UT through a joint-degree program, according to Kristy Sorensen, seminary associate library director and head of archives and records management. 

The church participates in a dual-degree program with the School of Social Work, which provides both a master’s of divinity from Austin Seminary and a master's of science in social work.

President William Powers Jr. also served as a member of the church’s Board of Trustees from 2004 to 2010. During that time, Powers was the dean of the School of Law, before becoming president in 2006.

“The two campuses were not adjacent in 1907, since UT’s original 40 acres ended at 24th Street, but we have gotten closer in proximity as the University has expanded to the north,” Sorensen said. “In 1966 and 1967, seminary property east of Speedway was sold to UT under threat of use of power of eminent domain.”

Eminent domain is the right of a government or its agents, including the UT System Board of Regents, to condemn or legally obtain private property for public use, according to Texas property law and condemnation proceeding rules. UT was first granted permission to use eminent domain in 1965 to acquire property along the north, east and south borders of campus as the University grew expansively, according to the Texas State Historical Association.

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo said the last time the UT System used eminent domain to condemn a property was nearly a decade ago in 2004 in a case at UT-Pan American.

“The eminent domain process, which is expensive, is not used very often,” LaCoste-Caputo said. “Eminent domain proceedings are used only as a last resort and usually come after a long period of negotiations for the sale of the property have failed.”

Also in 2004, the University attempted to use eminent domain to obtain a property adjacent to the AT&T Conference Center to use as a parking lot. The property owners of the land, where Players restaurant is located, were not willing to sell at the time, and were supported by members of the Texas House of Representatives, which passed legislation blocking the acquisition. UT System policies now prohibit the use of eminent domain for parking or lodging areas.

The University eventually acquired the property where Players is located in April 2012 to begin building a structure that will house the graduate business program. The building was bought with help from the McCombs School of Business Foundation, which is an independent nonprofit that fundraises for the McCombs School of Business.

When Players was willing to sell, the University intended to purchase the property, but Players was requesting $3 million. State law does not allow the University to purchase property for more than the appraised value. Instead, the McCombs Foundation purchased the property for $3 million and then sold it to the University for $1.5 million, below its appraised value of $2.5 million.

Since the Players deal, Amy Wanamaker, campus director of real estate, said the University is not currently in discussions with landowners to purchase property near the conference center, but it’s open to potential purchases of properties near campus — subject to an acceptable agreement and approval by the Board of Regents.

Wanamaker said instead of reaching out to nearby property owners for potential land purchases, sellers near campus often contact the University if they are considering selling their properties.

“We do purchase properties from a willing owner, if it meets our campus needs and we reach agreement on terms,” Wanamaker said. “We are not currently looking at purchasing property but are always open to considering purchases near our campus.”

CAIRO, Egypt — Pope Shenouda III, the patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church who led Egypt’s Christian minority for 40 years during a time of increasing tensions with Muslims, died Saturday. He was 88.

His death comes as the country’s estimated 10 million Christians are feeling more vulnerable than ever amid the rise of Islamic movements to political power after the toppling a year ago of President Hosni Mubarak. The months since have seen a string of attacks on the community, heightened anti-Christian rhetoric by ultraconservatives known as Salafis and fears that coming goverments will try to impose strict versions of Islamic law.

Tens of thousands of Christians packed into the main Coptic cathedral in Cairo on Saturday evening hoping to see his body. Women in black wept and screamed. Some, unable to get into the overcrowded building, massed outside, raising their hands in prayer.

This undated photo provided by the Cyprus church shows the fresco of Christ Pantocrator that the Church of Cyprus said will be returned to the island next year along with other rare frescoes from an American museum where they have been exhibited for the last 28 years. (Photo courtesy of the Church of Cyprus)

NICOSIA, Cyprus— A Houston-based museum exhibiting a set of rare 13th-century frescoes that were looted from Cyprus more than three decades ago has agreed to return them, the leader of the divided island’s Orthodox Christian church said Friday.

Archbishop Chrysostomos II said the Menil Collection plans to return the Byzantine frescoes early next year after the church insisted that they not “allow them to remain there even for one second longer.”

“I salute this decision by the Menil Collection because embarking on a court battle would honor neither us nor the Collection,” the Archbishop said.

Antiquities smugglers looted the frescoes from the Ayios Themomianos church in northern Cyprus following a 1974 Turkish invasion that split the island into a Turkish-speaking north and a Greek-speaking south.

Menil Collection founder Dominique de Menil obtained the frescoes in 1983 and struck an agreement with the Cyprus church to keep and exhibit them at a purpose-built chapel in Houston.

A decade later, the Cyprus church granted the museum a loan extension until February 2012 in recognition of its efforts to reassemble and restore the fragmented frescoes.

But Chrysostomos said he turned down requests to keep the frescoes longer, offering instead to dispatch an iconographer to recreate them on the chapel’s dome and apses, along with a gift of 10 late-19th and early-20th century icons.

“While this moment is bittersweet, the story of these frescoes — from their rescue, to their long-term loan to us, and now to their return — very much reflects the essence of the Menil Collection, its focus on the aesthetic and the spiritual, and our responsible stewardship of works from other nations and cultures,” Josef Helfenstein, director of the Menil Collection, said in a Sept. 23 letter to friends and supporters.

The frescoes depict Christ Pantocrator surrounded by a frieze of angels, as well as the Preparation of the Throne attended by Virgin Mary and Saint John the Baptist.

Another section depicts the Virgin flanked by Archangels Michael and Gabriel.

The Cyprus Antiquities Department will oversee the transportation of the frescoes back to Europe, department Director Maria Hadjicosti said.

The church says scores of religious artifacts, including icons and mosaics, were looted from Greek Cypriot churches in the island’s north.

Many have since appeared on the international art market. Chrysostomos said “millions” have been spent purchasing them with the purpose of repatriating them. The church’s biggest success was the recovery of several priceless 6th century mosaics.

“We’ll rest only when all our antiquities, all our ecclesiastical objects return to where they belong,” he said.

Christianity in Cyprus stretches to the faith’s earliest years. The Apostle Paul is said to have preached the gospel in Cyprus in A.D. 45 and converted the island’s Roman governor Sergius Paulus — the first Roman official to undergo conversion.