Built to Last: UA has only lost three major buildings since the Civil War
By Leah Goggins
On the corner of 10th Avenue and 12th Street in Tuscaloosa, construction workers have been laboring over the new Julia Tutwiler Residence Hall since 2019.
The construction project, which is scheduled to complete in August 2022, will be fully in use once the existing Julia Tutwiler Hall on Bryant Drive is brought down. While the University of Alabama has made many additions to its campus in recent years, the number of buildings totally demolished remains fairly low. The last building on campus to be demolished was Rose Towers, another 13-story dormitory housed on the opposite end of campus.
Including Rose Towers, there are just three named buildings that have been removed from campus in recent history. The university does have a robust but distant history of buildings being totally destroyed. Gorgas House, which sits on the northwest corner of the Quad, is the only remaining building from the university’s 1828 master plan—an 1865 invasion by federal troops during the Civil War left most of the campus razed.
Maxwell Hall, the President’s Mansion and the Little Round House also survived the wartime raid, though those buildings were not among the handful of original campus landmarks. The book “The University of Alabama: A Guide to the Campus Buildings” by Robert Mellown goes into depth on the phases of construction on the UA campus.
Buildings brought down after the Civil War include the original Tutwiler Hall, Dressler Hall and Rose Towers.
Named for Julia Tutwiler, an activist for the rights of female students and female prisoners in Alabama, the original Tutwiler Hall was erected in 1914 as the first dormitory built explicitly for women on campus. Until Tutwiler was built, female students lived in former faculty quarters, which were later demolished and replaced with Bibb Graves Hall.
As the female student population at the University rose, Tutwiler Hall was expanded. After Mary Burke Hall and Martha Parham Hall, both dormitories for women, were built, Tutwiler was demolished and eventually replaced with the Rose Administration Building.
The current Julia Tutwiler Hall was built in 1968, the same year that the former Tut came down.
Dressler Hall, while a recent building to come down, wasn’t demolished on the university’s orders. The wooden building was burned during May 1970 demonstrations on campus.
The Crimson White reported that the building was set on fire in the wee hours following a rally in remembrance of the four students killed at Kent State University. The fire wasn’t even the culmination of the protests—a week later, around 100 students were arrested for failing to leave the scene of an unlawful assembly. Tuscaloosa police officers clubbed some students, and at least three were sent to Druid City Hospital to have their injuries treated.
The arson at Dressler Hall, which was a mostly out-of-use recreation building, was considered one of the contributing factors to increased violence between students and police. Later, on a public broadcast television show, a UA student admitted to having set the fire on behalf of the Tuscaloosa Police Department and an FBI agent. The FBI denied the student’s account.
“It’s a really strange story that you wouldn’t expect from our campus,” said Rebecca Griesbach, the editor-in-chief of The Crimson White. “The CW covered it, the Tuscaloosa News covered it, but it’s mostly forgotten. A lot of people know that the FBI was very active in progressive movements in the ‘60s and ‘70s, but they don’t realize that happened here.”
The university demolished Rose Towers in 2012 to make way for Presidential Village II. Built just one year after the current Julia Tutwiler Hall, Rose Towers was imploded, rather fittingly, on July 4. The university set up a viewing area for the implosion, which was well-attended.
Noah Cannon, a former UA student, was set to begin his freshman year at the university when the towers were demolished. Cannon remembers going to watch the implosion before he moved onto campus.
“It’s weird to think that I was there when it happened,” Cannon said. “It was such a wild thing to watch.”
Branna Burns, a UA graduate who lived in Rose Towers, also made it over for the dorm’s grand finale. Burns recalled riding her bike over to the sight to watch it come down, like a surreal midday fireworks display.
Burns had lived in Rose Towers during the 2010–2011 school year, which was brought to an abrupt end by the April 27 tornado super outbreak. While she had some fond memories of living in the dorm, her experience was mostly colored by how the year ended.
“Watching the building come down was more crazy than sad,” Burns said. “I feel like the year that I lived in Rose was so strange that I almost wanted to forget that that year happened.”
While the university has been more concerned with building onto its campus than dismantling the buildings it has in place, other spots around the heart of the university have come down over time as well. A recent documentary about The Strip chronicled the relentless carousel of buildings and business just down the road from the university. And the apartment complex Burns lived in after Rose Towers, called Four Quarters, was also demolished recently. Seeing those formative places disappear is disorienting, Burns said.
“I lived a year of my life in that building,” Burns said. “It was a really strange experience to see your home implode.”