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Frank Erwin Encounter -- 1970's


On the UT Campus on Red River near Interstate 35 is the University Of Texas Special Events Center named "The Erwin Center." It houses the UT basketball games, concerts, the circus and social events. When it was first built, the folks here in Austin called it the "Super Drum" because of its shape. I will admit, it looks more like a super drum than it looks like Frank Erwin.

Frank was well known in Austin, and throughout the state, as a strong willed individual. He was quite successful in his law practice, and a great supporter of UT. In fact, he became Chairman of the UT Board of Regents. It was during this time that The University was expanding, and clearing land near Waller Creek next to the DKR Memorial Stadium. Some ecologists, often referred to as "tree huggers," decided that none of the trees along the creek should be removed.

In order to prevent their removal, the "huggers" climbed up into the trees and sat there as the bulldozer approached. The driver stopped. Someone called Frank Erwin and told him about it, and in very short order he appeared on the scene. He saw what was going on, and told the bulldozer driver to go ahead and push down the tree. The driver shook his head, so Frank climbed up to the driver seat and told the operator to move over. As soon as the driver had explained how the machine operated, Frank gave it the gas and moved forward. The tree hugger left his perch rather quickly.

Frank was a friend, and one day I called him about something that had no relation to the incident above. I can't remember what the call was about, but he was out of his office, so I had to leave my number. Frank obviously was a busy man, and did not call back that day. The next afternoon I was in downtown Austin driving east on Seventh Street just past the Stephen F. Austin Hotel. I had stopped for the light--in the middle lane-- in front of the entrance to the Driskill Hotel.

It was summer time, and my car window was open and I heard someone yelling "Vic" and saw someone running through the traffic headed my way. It was Frank Erwin. He got there about the time the light changed, but took time to apologize for not returning my call. Now the traffic was moving, but he stuck his head in the window on the right side and wanted to know what I was calling about. Well, I didn't know whether to hold a discussion there with him, or tell him that we were fouling up the traffic, and that someone might knock his rear end off.

I really don't remember what happened, but I suspect that Frank held his ground until we had completed our conversation. This was really no place to argue with a man who was willing to take over a bulldozer to complete one of his pet projects. I suppose I should just consider myself "bulldozed."

Vic Mathias -- April 24, 2011