As part of UTEP’s Centennial Celebration and long-term Campus Transformation plan the inner campus segment of University Avenue will close permanently on May 20, 2013. Because University Ave. runs through the heart of UTEP’s campus—flanked by Memorial Triangle and Leech Grove–the road has played an integral part of the University’s history, from its origin as a narrow road with a wooden bridge to the center of campus activities.
The road is almost as old as the school. Shortly after the School of Mines and Metallurgy (now UTEP) moved to its current location on the Franklin Mountains, Lowenstein street was constructed to allow vehicular access to the school. Students and faculty using Lowenstein street to drive onto campus traversed a wooden bridge over the arroyo; the bridge was located near where the Liberal Arts building now stands.
Around the time that the school’s name was changed to Texas Western College (June 1, 1949) Lowenstein was renamed College Ave. On March 13, 1967, Texas Western College was renamed the University of Texas at El Paso and it wasn’t long before students began writing letters to the editor of The Prospector urging the University and the city of El Paso to approve a name change for College Ave. The Student Association visited property owners on the street asking them to urge City Council to change the name of the street in order to reflect the school’s new status as a university. City Council approved the name change and in October 1967 and the street officially became University Ave.
In 1961, after the completion of the Liberal Arts building, College Ave. became a frightening and dangerous place for pedestrians on campus. The automobile traffic posed a hazard for students crossing the street between Liberal Arts and the Student Union. Stop signs and pedestrian cross-walks were placed on College Ave. after a handful of accidents, including a few which included pedestrians, were reported.
University Ave. has been the center of student activities for many years. The Homecoming parade travels down the street, and, because of its centralized location, the street has also been the location of rallies, protests, including the Chicano protests, and other student events. Perhaps the most well-known protest movement to have taken place on University Ave. took place during the month of March in 1974. On Monday, March 6, 1974, a student streaked down University Ave. at 9:25 a.m. wearing only a ski mask and shoes. At that time in the morning, several students and faculty were walking along the avenue and witnessed the event. During that month, several other individuals streaked down University as part of a social protest calling for the impeachment of President Nixon. The streaking protests were part of a national movement taking place on several college and university campuses. One of the protestors, known simply as “Grandpa” created quite the stir as he rode nude atop a car with a sign taped to a suitcase that read, “I’m proud to be a Grandpa.” Later, Henry Quintana Jr., a student at the time of the streaking, said, “Seeing him was a surprise to me because I knew him under quite different circumstances.” The Prospector reported that the elderly man was arrested by police for his actions, which took place in front of a group of Coronado High School students who were visiting the campus, but he was released without charges after UTEP students gathered outside the police station chanting, “We want Grandpa!”
Since the 1970s, University Ave. has continued as a hub of activity on campus. The avenue hosted the homecoming parade route and a parade for Danny Olivas. Engineering students march down University Ave. on TCM Day; during the march the students serenade the dean of liberal arts as part of the pedoogie – peasant rivalry. During Greek Week the street was used by the student Greek organizations as the location for their bed races. University Ave. has also been the site of blood drives, student art presentations, student band exhibitions, and take back the night.
For nearly 90 years, University Ave. has provided University students and faculty with a way onto campus and has been the epicenter of University activity. While the purpose and look of the street will soon be changing, it is certain that in another 100 years new stories will be told about the events and activities that will take place on the transformed inner-campus of UTEP.
Sources: Heritage House Collection; The Prospector, October 13, 1967, and March 14, 1974; Fugate, Frontier College, p. 89; Hamilton, Pictorial History of UTEP, p.115; and Diamond Days, P. 206, 211, and 222.
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.