Cotton Memorial exudes a feeling of relaxation as soft music travels through the air vents from the KTEP studio throughout the building. How KTEP and the Communication Department came to occupy Cotton Memorial, a building constructed for artists, is a story as intricate as the radio equipment the building currently houses.
Frank B. Cotton was a businessman from Boston who traveled to El Paso in 1881 and during that time he purchased 30,000 acres of ore land. Cotton hired Walter B. Grant to protect his land; Grant became one of three executors of the Cotton Estate. When Cotton died in 1907 the Estate was to fund technical schools especially designed for girls in the Boston area. In 1937 Grant, the sole remaining executor for the Cotton Estate wrote to the Board of Regents of The University of Texas of his desire to use Cotton’s land in El Paso to establish an industrial school for girls. Not having enough resources to establish an institute separate from The College of Mines (now UTEP) and being in poor health himself, Grant consented to appropriate the funds for the establishment and maintenance of a Department of Applied Arts and Sciences for Women. President D.M. Wiggins used the Cotton Memorial Funds to create a Department of Applied Arts and to finance the construction of a building which would house Fine and Applied Arts studios and labs. Due to legal and tax issues, and World War II, the construction on Cotton Memorial would not begin until 1947.
Once construction began the building took place quickly and Cotton Memorial opened for classes in the summer of 1948. Prior to the opening the Art Department prepared an exhibition of pottery glazes created by members of ceramics classes and jewelry designed and constructed by student artists. The Engineering students who occupied the west-side of the campus where not thrilled to have art students in their territory. In The Prospector they envisioned that students in Cotton Memorial were taking classes in “Greek dancing and basket weaving.” In reality classes and activities in Cotton Memorial were far more diverse. The official opening of the building took place in February, 1948 with an open house where visitors witnessed ceramics, sculpting, and jewelry making classes in process. In October 1949, Cotton Memorial installed offset presses which allowed the college to print in house items, such as stationery, bulletins, and performance programs. On March 29, 1951, Cotton Auditorium held its first forensic contest; the winner was awarded $5. The tradition of forensic excellence would continue and several trophies and awards currently decorate the halls of Cotton Memorial.
Cotton Memorial remained the center for fine and applied arts until the 1970s when the use of the building began to change. Cotton Memorial Gallery displayed the final student exhibit in April 1972; future exhibits were to be displayed in the Fine Arts Complex (now called Fox Fine Arts Center). In 1974 KTEP (formerly KVOF) moved into a new studio in Cotton Memorial and by the end of the year the Mass Communication Department occupied the majority of building. During the early part of the 1970s student bands secretly used the Cotton Memorial Auditorium to practice. The location was ideal because the building was open late for radio broadcasting and the students who ran the studio turned a blind eye to the activity. In 1975 the UT Board of Regents applied for a grant in the amount of $646,000 to improve and renovate Cotton Memorial. The renovation was going to provide more effective use of space for the Mass Communication Department, which included the addition of a television studio and the loss of the auditorium to provide more classroom space. The renovation was postponed until spring of 1977 in order to complete construction on the Library Annex. Due to funding issues the renovation was once again postponed in 1977; it would not be until 1979 when the renovation was finally completed.
Since 1979 the Communications Departments has had full use of Cotton Memorial. KTEP continues to broadcast from the building, and in 2004 the Sam Donaldson Center for Communication Studies was opened in the building. In addition to the forensic awards, theatrical awards are also on display. The front lobby of the building contains two old fashioned machines once used by the students, an old radio feed and a press wire.
[Sources: The Flowsheet, 1954, 1956; Fugate, Francis, The Frontier College; The Heritage House Collection; The Prospector 1/11/1947, 2/28/1948, 4/24/1948, 5/1/1948,10/9/1948, 2/12/1949, 10/22/1949, 4/7/1951, 9/27/1957, 3/29/1973, 9/27/1974, 10/8/1974, 9/19/1975, 5/4/1976, 12/14/1976, 11/15/1977; Dennis Woo, interviewed 07/10/2012; UTEP collection in Special Collections at Library; Undergraduate Catalog Archive, http://academics.utep.edu/Default.aspx?PageContentMode=1&tabid=92839.]
Ashley Swarthout was a student in the Masters of Arts in Teaching English program at UTEP. She graduated in May 2013 and is now teaches dual credit at Chapin High School.