Honoring Rev. J.B. Tidwell While Growing Campus
The earliest plans for the Tidwell Bible Building appeared in 1936, which was 12 years before official ground-breaking, 18 before the building was operational, and two full decades before all ensuing legal actions regarding construction were finally resolved (Baker, 1987). From the building’s first conception until it was finally erected, Baylor officials had to balance a great deal of contention, revision, and compromise in order to eventually create a facility to accommodate the growing Bible Department.
Although Josiah Blake Tidwell passed away before ground could break on his namesake (Dr. J.B. Tidwell Dies Sunday, 1946), Tidwell’s influence was undeniable as it marked the beginning of the university’s approach to teaching Religion outside of a ministerial context. This shift allowed for the study of the Bible in a more academic, rather than vocational, setting. By building a place devoted to the Bible department separate from Baylor’s Seminary, the university stood to not only honor a well-respected man important to the university, but also to further cement its commitment to providing a distinctly Christian education to all of the men and women in attendance, regardless of their interest in pursuing ministry as a profession. With the opportunity to grow much-needed facilities, achieve espoused values, and increase institutional prestige, there was ample incentive to pursue this building initiative. However, this incentive was nevertheless marred by unfortunate timing, logistical complications, and ineffective planning on multiple fronts.
Original Plans for Bible Building
One of the earliest illustrated plans for the Tidwell Bible Building was produced soon after a group of Rev. Tidwell’s former students gathered to form both direction and initial fundraising efforts in late 1936. In comparison to every plan that followed, this proposed building was distinctly modest both aesthetically and in terms of size. Standing at two stories and boasting a simple porch with second-floor balcony, the building was designed to accommodate classrooms and offices for the Bible department, facilities for the Baptist Student Union, and a library (Artist presents Tidwell building, 1936, p. 3). At the time these first plans were drawn, fundraising goals were publicly unspecified, though the Lariat reported a number of Rev. Tidwell’s former students were able to raise $5,300 within a relatively short period of time, resulting in “the backers hop[ing] to have the structure erected by the year 1938” (Artist presents Tidwell building, 1936, p. 3).
Going from preliminary architectural sketches to constructing a building within a year is an impressive feat under the best of circumstances, and virtually impossible with only a few months of fundraising without comprehensive strategic planning. As such, it was unlikely that Tidwell would have ever been built by 1938. Still, the extensive delay between the Tidwell Bible Building’s conception and creation comes down to the general disruption of many building projects during World War II (Baker, 1987) as well as a breakdown of negotiations and communication between the Bible Building Committee, the university’s chosen architect, and eventually, Baylor’s senior leadership in the early and mid-1950s.
Choosing an Architect and Second Iteration of Plans
Because building endeavors ground to such a sudden halt when the United States joined the war effort, Baylor administrators made a concerted effort to renew a variety of construction efforts as soon as wartime restrictions were lifted. As such, it did not take Baylor administrators long to pick up where they left off and hire an architect to begin drawing plans for the structure. In November 1944, the university announced it had chosen Guy Carlander of Amarillo, Texas and son-in-law of J.B. Tidwell himself (Guy A. Carlander Appointed Architect for Tidwell Building, 1944, p. 1). For his part, Carlander produced plans for what would eventually be billed as a ten-story tower topped with a cathedral-like “crown” that housed a meditation room, the Tidwell Bible library, a nursery, and a chapel capable of seating 800 worshippers (Tidwell Bible Building Drive Amasses $215,000 Toward Goal, 1947, p. 5).
The central element of Carlander’s design was his so-called “Wall of Light:” a massive series of windows to run the length of the tower complete with elaborate lighting surrounding the glass. This unique design element was treated as a major selling point for potential donors as well as an opportunity to highlight how visibly Christian the whole endeavor was. President White’s solicitation letter from 1950 describes the feature in full aggrandizing fashion, calling the installation
one of the most distinctive features to be found in any building on any campus in America. In addition to the beautiful light that goes through the plate of glass, some 120-feet high, it will also bring out the illuminated cross and crown of tremendous size. At certain intervals our beautiful chimes will play the Old Rugged Cross. It and the building will symbolize the emphasis given The Word of God which we believe to be the most fertile soil for the production of character (White, 1950).
All told, Carlander’s lofty plans drafted in 1947 were a far cry from what may have been built prior to the war.
Early Concerns, Revisions, and Delays
Potential issues with funding Carlander’s vision began to manifest in conversations between the architect and the Bible Building Committee after vague discussions of the project’s price were finally formalized. In reacting to the “proposed expenditure of $600,000… Mr. Carlander stated that it would be impossible to erect building according to plans submitted for [that amount]” (Tidwell Bible Building Minutes, November 2, 1948). The plans in question specified for 79,660 square feet. When committee members broached the idea of scaling down architecture plans, Carlander warned the committee that any alteration would cause him to begin his planning process anew, meaning the $6,000 he had already been compensated in producing plans would “not be counted in payment of [his new] fee.” Carlander went on to inform the committee that since he and the university were not under contract seeking construction bids yet, the building committee was free to seek the services of a different architect because all parties present considered his work to date paid in full.
The Bible Building Committee decided to move forward with revising the plans and met the next day to present Carlander with new specifications in an effort to make the endeavor more affordable. The committee requested Carlander draw up plans for a 60,000 square foot building. To account for the reduction of nearly 25% of the building’s square footage, the committee acquiesced a number of rooms included in the earlier draft, resulting in the elimination of the entire left wing and conversion of the originally-proposed library into a more manageable reception room (Tidwell Bible Building Minutes, November 3, 1948).
Breaking Ground without Group Consensus
In February, 1949, despite lacking full clarity among all parties regarding the final cost of the Tidwell project or even what the specifications would look like, the building’s campaign committee voted to recommend beginning construction “from the standpoint of the campaign and the amount of the funds available at the present time” (Tidwell Bible Building Committee Meeting Minutes, February, 1949). This recommendation came with the caveat that President White and the Board allocate further funds to the building project from various designations, namely the “enlarged Convention program” and the “Statewide Denominational Enlargement Campaign Improvements.” At the same meeting, the committee received an update from Vice President for Finance Roy McKnight that the total amount of funds received for the building to that point was $352,910, less than 60% of what the was said to be required to complete construction. Given the amount raised by early 1949, that which had to be reallocated according to the Committee’s recommendation was sizeable without substantial fundraising to offset the discrepancy. In hindsight, this shortfall indicates the degree to which the budget was extremely tight and ultimately untenable. Still, the committee made the recommendation to break ground later in the spring and Carlander was charged to make “plans for the foundation [to] be made ready for the breaking of ground on commencement day May 30th” (Tidwell Bible Building Committee Meeting Minutes, March, 1949).
The Bible Building Committee held their next meeting over the summer, this time inviting Carlander as well as the Advisory Committee. Among the items discussed were possible changes to the building’s plans in order to maximize the money already raised for this endeavor. During the meeting, the Advisory Committee approved a motion that the “Building Committee [serve] as central authority having full power to act with reference to plans of building or changes in plans” (Tidwell Bible building committee meeting minutes, July, 1949). At the same meeting, the committee explicitly requested Carlander submit a contract to be executed before any “further details concerning the building” are considered until additional “information concerning money available [is] received from Dr. White and Dr. Williams” (Tidwell Bible building committee meeting minutes, July, 1949). This misguided directive to move forward with a contract without first achieving consensus would inevitably have legal and financial ramifications for the university. Even so, the Tidwell Bible Building’s trajectory would continue in a holding pattern as negotiations continued between architect and committee, for “full plans” were requested of Carlander who requested six additional months in order to produce something that would fit into the proposed budget (Tidwell Bible building committee minutes, August, 1949).
Evidence of Baylor administration’s waning patience began to surface the following August with George Jones, building committee chairman, explicitly writing to Carlander that the “most optimistic” projection of available funds would be around $647,000 (Jones, 1950). He added that Carlander “was commissioned to prepare plans for a building that would cost no more than $600,000… [Jones] thought it best at this time to call your attention to the fact that [amount] will probably be the maximum amount we will have to spend for the construction of our building” (Jones, 1950). At this point, Baylor officials and Carlander had been struggling to find common ground on plans and price for almost two years despite continued efforts. It would be another two before actions were taken to force the stalemate.
Carlander’s Termination and Legal Action
With the support of the Board, President White sent Carlander official notice of termination to their business arrangement (White, 1952). With all sides previously seeking arbitration prior to the dissolution of the relationship, Carlander had requested to be compensated for services rendered, which he valued at $67,200. President White took umbrage with the sum and characterized it “clearly out of line.” Instead, he offered to pay the architect $52,500. Finding that counter offer unsatisfactory, Carlander and his attorney filed a lawsuit. Rather than sue the university for the amount originally requested when discussing his termination, the architect sought nearly double that amount (Carlander, Amarillo Architect, Sues Baylor for $109 Thousand, 1952). Carlander’s claim of $109,000 was derived from the very source of contention that finally caused Baylor to abandon Carlander’s plans. After years of revision and negotiation, the Bible building committee was under the impression that the plans they had finally settled on would fit within the budgeted amount. However, when the plans were sent to contracting agencies, Baylor received a single bid that “offered to execute Carlander’s plans for $1,511,000” (Carlander, Amarillo Architect, Sues Baylor for $109 Thousand, 1952).
$1.5 million being a bit more than the $600,000 working goal of several years, Baylor’s senior leadership took steps to distance itself from a building project that had dragged on without completion for 15 years. Unfortunately, in refusing to meet the architect’s terms related to their breach of his contract, the university was compromised with the inflated bid which Carlander’s plans had attracted. As such, Carlander sought the value of his services as outlined in his contract—6% of the total construction bid, plus $10,000 in legal fees (Carlander, Amarillo Architect, Sues Baylor for $109 Thousand, 1952). The lawsuit continued on over the next six years through long bouts of inactivity from the complainant’s side, with Vice President McKnight at one point remarking, “we have no word whatever from Mr. Carlander. It looks like he filed the suit and then went off and left it… it was filed largely as a bluff or a nuisance suit” (McKnight, 1953). Unfortunately for Baylor, McKnight was wrong about his assessment of Carlander’s lawsuit.
The Dean of the Law School (who would go on to serve as the next President of the university), Abner Vernon McCall, commented on the “impossible situation” Baylor had worked itself into by failing to secure appropriate legal counsel early on in the negotiation process (McCall, 1981, p. 264). McCall went on to say that the Bible Building Committee
accepted the plans and then… wanted me to represent the university in handling the thing and it was impossible because they’d already made the contract and owed the man $150,000… We recommended they settle but they wouldn’t settle. We tried the thing about two weeks before a jury and I told them, ‘We don’t have a defense.’ And it turned out we didn’t.
Baylor lost the lawsuit and eventually, an appellate court ordered Baylor to pay Carlander $92,000 (Court Affirms Law Suit Against Baylor, 1958).
Tidwell Downsized, Completed Within Budget
Ultimately (and after more than a few years), the Tidwell Bible Building opened its doors in 1954 (Dedicatory Services for Tidwell Bible Building Scheduled, 1954). For all of the effort to keep the building under budget, the structure was completed within the budgeted amount previously made impossible by Carlander’s original and amended plans (Summary of Receipts and Disbursements January 1 Through August 5, 1954, 1954). In his letter to D.K. Martin, Vice President for Finance Roy McKnight writes than upon “finally” getting a contract established for the Bible Building, it “was for the total sum of $590,000. It looks like our estimate of $600,000 which we have maintained through several years was about right” (McKnight, 1953). McKnight’s assertion obscures the amount of logistical maneuvering that was required to keep the project affordable.
The most obvious design piece to be scrapped was the now-controversial “Wall of Light” that Carlander remained unwilling to part with throughout the revision process. New plans maintained the central tower as the preeminent element, though it was several stories short of the original ten. Even once construction was underway, Baylor officials made additional negotiations with Leslie Crockett Construction to limit the cost of building supplies. Between last-minute efforts to ditch ceiling tiles, water fountains, 60% of the budgeted funds for electrical fixtures, and a number of other building materials, Baylor administrators successfully reduced the cost by $23,590. Cutting back also occurred on the outside of Tidwell with only a fraction of the 68 limestone panels depicting scenes from the Bible ultimately being installed (Bairrington, 1960, p. 3). These panels were essentially used in decorative place of the “Wall of Light” after it was deemed too expensive. Each weighing approximately a ton, there were to be 28 panels devoted to the Old Testament and 31 to the New. All of the Old Testament offerings were successfully installed, but only nine panels depicting stories from the common era were included on the finished building, including images of Jesus on the Cross, but notably not of his birth.
Wall of Blight
The turmoil surrounding construction of the Tidwell Bible Building did not go unnoticed within the Baylor community. In a letter to President White, alumnus Jack E. Hightower (’49) wrote in response to Board of Trustee member Greg Jones’ resignation (Hightower, 1952). After implying that this resignation occurred in response to mishandling of the Carlander situation, Hightower scolded Baylor administration for improper financial planning, citing the recently-constructed Armstrong-Browning as one such “extravagance” the institution built when the university could not necessarily afford to do so. Hightower argued that getting rid of the Carlander plan was an opportunity to build something necessary and not excessive, so long as administration used the lessons learned appropriately. In an attempt to appeal to President White’s sense of ethos on the matter, Hightower (1952) wrote “I do not need to remind you that Dr. Tidwell built his own memorial in the lives of his students,” and presumably, not an elaborate tower.
Legacy of Tidwell Bible Building
At the end of it all, Guy Carlander’s grandiose structure lost its crowned roof, Wall of Light, three stories, and a great deal of its square footage, yet it still bears the name and legacy for which it was originally intended. What was born as a labor of love became a complicated web of miscommunication, delayed decision-making, and unfinished plans. In spite of this, Rev. Tidwell’s namesake was successfully built to house the inheritance his life’s work. However, the efforts made to achieve this task within the given budget were only successful outside of the context of the Calander lawsuit. For all of the planning, finagling, and revision, the building came with the additional cost of $92,000, a fee which could have been mitigated by establishing the budget earlier and in a more concrete fashion, bowing out of negotiations when Carlander gave the committee the chance, or by paying the relatively paltry request he made to fulfill the contract which itself was undertaken without due legal consideration.
Artist presents Tidwell building. (May 31, 1937). Baylor Lariat, p. 3. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/lariat/id/35719.
Baker, E.W. (1987). To light the ways of time: An illustrated history of Baylor University, 1845-1986. Waco, TX: Baylor University.
Bairrington, R. Carving on Tidwell not complete (July 21, 1960). Baylor Lariat, p. 3. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lariat/id/13855/rec/6
Dedicatory services for Tidwell Bible building scheduled (October 14, 1954). Baylor Lariat, p. 1. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/lariat/id/37116.
Dr. J.B. Tidwell dies Sunday; Bible teacher here for 35 years. (March 19, 1946). Baylor Lariat, p. 1. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lariat/id/34280/rec/1262.
Carlander, G. Amarillo architect, sues Baylor for $109 thousand. (August 6, 1952). Baylor Lariat, p. 1. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/lariat/id/25698.
Guy A. Carlander appointed architect for Tidwell building (November 24, 1944). Baylor Lariat, p. 1. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/lariat/id/34027/rec/9.
Hightower, J. E.. (June 19, 1952). Letter to W. R. White. W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records. Box 10, Folder: 1952. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Jones, G. (August 8, 1950). Letter to G. Carlander. W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records. Box 10, Folder: 1948-1950. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Memo from Leslie Crockett Construction (April 8, 1953). W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records .Box 10, Folder: 1953. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
McKnight, R. (April 17, 1953). Letter to D.K. Martin. W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records (Box 10, Folder “1953”). The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Sawyer, A. & Reilly, E. Tidwell Bible building. Waco History, accessed November 28, 2016, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/102. Tidwell architect lawsuit underway. (1957, March 7). Baylor Lariat, p. 1. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/lariat/id/27878.
Tidwell Bible building drive amasses $215,000 toward goal. (1947, April 4). Baylor Lariat, p. 5. Retrieved from http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/ref/collection/lariat/id/22268.
Tidwell Bible building campaign committee meeting minutes (November 2, 1948). W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records. Box 10, Folder: 1948-1950. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Tidwell Bible building campaign committee meeting minutes (November 3, 1948). W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records .Box 10, Folder: 1948-1950. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Tidwell Bible building campaign committee meeting minutes. (February 14, 1949). W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records. Box 10, Folder: 1948-1950. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Tidwell Bible building campaign committee meeting minutes. (March 10, 1949). W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records. Box 10, Folder: 1948-1950. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Tidwell Bible building campaign committee meeting minutes (July 25, 1949). W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records. Box 10, Folder: 1948-1950. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Tidwell Bible building fund expenditures: January 1, 1944 through August 5, 1954. W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records. Box 10, Folder: 1954. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
Tidwell Bible Building Fund Summary of Receipts and Disbursements: January 1, 1944 through August 5, 1954. W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records. Box 10, Folder: 1954. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.
McCall, A.V. Interviewed by Charlton, T. L. and Turner, T. E., September 14, 1981, in Waco, TX, transcript, Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. http://digitalcollections.baylor.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/buioh/id/6454/rec/72.
White, W.R. (July 14, 1952). Letter from White to Carlander. W. R. White Collection, Subseries: Baylor University Records. Box 10, Folder: 1952. The Texas Collection, Baylor University, Waco, TX.