The UT Tower observation deck spent the better part of two decades closed to the public for tragic reasons. But in 1998 the Board of Regents re-opened the deck with new safety barricades and security escorts. Touring the Tower is a process that's not as simple as showing up any time and heading on up.
|Admittedly, you feel a bit like you're in a bird cage.|
Before attending and while you're on the tour, you must follow these steps:
1. Check the tour schedule here.
2. Reserve tickets for your selected time by calling (512) 475-6636.
3. On the day of the tour, pick up and pay for your tickets at the Hospitality Desk, located on the first floor of the Texas Union at 24th & Guadalupe. This is the same building where the Cactus Cafe is, for you local music lovers.
4. If you have a bag or purse with you, pay an extra $1 to check your bag with the Tower guides. They will lock it up for you. No bags or purses of any size are allowed on the tour.
5. Follow the orange tape on the sidewalk from the Texas Union to the western entrance of the tower.
6. Wait on the ground floor for the guides to check your bag.
7. Line up along the wall where they tell you. You must pass through a metal detector before getting on the elevators.
8. Ride the elevators up to the 27th floor.
9. Take three additional short flights of stairs. There, you will be given a quick safety briefing before heading out to the deck.
10. After 20 minutes, the guides will invite you back inside for a quick rundown of facts about the tower and its history. (No mention is made of the Tower's tragic back story.)
11. You can spend another 10 minutes out on the deck until it's time to take the elevators back down as a group.
The whole tour takes about 50 minutes from start to finish. It's a fascinating look at one of Austin's most iconic structures. You can loan binoculars, and my five-year-old swore she could see our house. And the view is nothing short of breathtaking.
Here are five fun facts I learned about the Tower:
1. It originally defied a city-wide mandate that no building may be taller than the Texas State Capitol. Though it's height is 307 ft and the Capitol is 308 ft, the Tower's base is 6 ft higher than the Capitol.
2. If you never knew what "carillon" meant, here's your answer: it's an instrument composed of at least 23 bells. The UT Tower carillon has 56 bells and is played every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 12:50 by Tom Anderson, who has been the official bellringer since the 1960s. He has a cheeky sense of humor and will play "Let It Snow" in July, "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head" during thunderstorms and "The Final Countdown" during finals week. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, The UT Guild of Carillonneurs take over the bells and play more modern songs. All mini-concerts end as the clock strikes 1pm with "The Eyes of Texas" as the final song.
3. The Tower was originally built as a library. You would request a book from the card catalog – kids, ask your parents what that was along with the Dewey Decimal System – and grad students on roller skates would get the books from the main stacks and send them down in a dumbwaiter. Yep, grad students on roller skates.
4. Ever see the Tower lit up in burnt orange? They have lights going all the way around the observation deck and can switch on whatever color scheme they choose. And they all mean something.
5. Contrary to one of UT's most famous urban legends, the Tower was NOT designed to look like an owl by a Rice-educated architect. As our nice guide pointed out, it's difficult for any clock tower to not look like an owl. (Read the myth here)
BONUS FUN FACT. There are no vending machines on the ground floor of the Tower. This is important if you're with children who immediately whine that they are hungry. Feed them first or promise them pizza after the tour.
Parking is always tricky at UT. The closest parking garage to the Texas Union and Tower is behind the University Co-Op at 23rd & San Antonio. Click here for the fee schedule.
Enjoy your tour, and don't forget to sign the guestbook!
About the author: After growing up in Pittsburgh and bouncing around The West, Lisa Caldwell settled in Austin in 2012 with her husband and daughter with the dream of eating tacos for the majority of her meals. In her spare time, she writes at Hip-Baby Mama.