Prior to 1951, the Chemistry Department was housed in Chemistry (now called Quinn Hall). The department quickly outgrew the facility and in 1941, after years of requests for a new building, plans for a new Chemistry Building were approved. The building, however, was never built due to shortage of funds and materials induced by World War II. By 1949, when the college was able to acquire funds for new buildings, the Biological Sciences Department was also in need of a new facility. The Texas Western College (now UTEP) received an aggregate of approximately $3,000,000 to construct new buildings; the first two to be constructed were an auditorium (Magoffin Auditorium) and a Science Building to house offices, classrooms, and laboratories for the Chemistry and Biological Sciences Departments. In March 1949, the Board of Regents approved the buildings at the cost of $400,000 each and construction began on both buildings in October. The site chosen for the Science Building (now called Psychology) was near the center of the campus, replacing the student tennis courts. The Prospector reported that “the Science Building will be the largest building on the campus.”As the campus expanded and more buildings were being constructed there was a need to level the some of the landscape. One well-known feature that was to be broken down was a rock a hill located between Vowell Hall (then called Kelly Hall) and Old Main; the students called the structure “the little ol’ rock hill.” The hill was used in Sadie Hawkins Day races and was a popular place for the female students to have their picture taken. The builders of the Science Building decided to enshrine the hill by using the broken-down rocks to construct the walls of the building, thus honoring a student tradition. By the end of the 1950, the Science Building was near completion at a final cost of about $500,000. The building was open for class instruction and office use by the Spring Semester of 1951 and the final laboratory equipment was installed in May. The state-of-the-art equipment included deionizing water pipes, glass blowing tools, a greenhouse, and bacteria incubators. In addition to the classrooms, laboratories, and offices the building housed a Science library on the second floor.
Though the building was expansive, it contained only five actual classrooms and by the 1960’s both departments needed more classroom space. The Chemistry Department moved into the Physical Sciences Building when it was completed in 1967, and the Sciences Building was renamed the Biology Building. Renovations on the building’s interior were completed in 1969. The Biology Department also outgrew the facility and in 1976 the department relocated to the new Biology Building located in the Engineering-Science Complex. When the biologists moved out the psychologists moved in and the building was once more renamed the Psychology Building. The Psychology Department was previously housed in the Liberal Arts Building.
Since 1976 the Psychology Department has been housed in the structure which has facilitated a variety of laboratories including a primate lab used to study memory factors. The Chimpanzees, named Don, Ted, Big D, and Houdini, were loaned to the university from Holloman Air Force Base. Houdini received his name after he escaped from his cage when the lab was located at Kidd Field; he was found in a tree close to the facility. Current laboratories in the building include: Lab for Judicial Processes, Hispanic Health Research Lab, David B. Vinson Lab for Psychological Research and Data Analysis, Experimental Psychology Lab, Bilingual Cognition Lab, Psychobiochemistry, Alzheimer’s Disease Research Project, and Psychobiology Laboratory Histology. Future plans for the Psychology Building include shaded pavilions and terraces that will link it to the envisioned Centennial Plaza. (More information about UTEP’s transformations can be found at campus.utep.edu.)
[Sources: Fugate, Francis, The Frontier College; The Prospector, 2/12/1949, 3/5/1949, 10/8/1949, 10/29/1949, 12/3/1949, 9/30/1950, 5/12/1951, 9/21/1951, 10/16/1954, 6/10/1976, 3/1/1977, and 7/14/1977; 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.