This piece by former Texas Collection director Kent Keeth was originally published in The Baylor Line in February 1979. Blogging About Texas periodically features selections from Looking Back at Baylor, with hopes of sharing Keeth’s work with a new audience.
As we enter a new semester in the dreary, cold of winter there is always warmth in the red brick surrounding campus. Read on to find out how the brick came to be, where it is found, and the man who watched it happen.
Neill Coker Morris worked his way through Baylor with the help of a part-time job in the campus heating plant, the building whose tall white smokestack remained a campus landmark for five decades. When he graduated in 1927 he was immediately hired by his alma mater as assistant superintendent of buildings and grounds. Retiring in 1973 as Director of Plant Operations, he assumed the emeritus title of Adviser to Plant Operations, a position which he held at the time of his death in June, 1978. In addition to participating in most major building projects on the campus, Morris accumulated during his half-century at Baylor a vast fund of knowledge about the minutiae of its development. Interviewed in 1975 by Baylor’s Program for Oral History, he recorded for future reference some of these facts which might otherwise have become lost with the passage of time. The following excerpt from his memoir, which has been edited and slightly paraphrased for the purpose of clarity, tells of one almost unnoticed transition in the appearance of the campus: the heyday and the eventual supersession of the type of bricks known as “Baylor Red.”
INTERVIEWER: Was there any attempt to make the campus buildings uniform in architectural design?
MORRIS: The planning committee tried to stick to the same color as a rule, on the buildings, with the red brick which became so popular that the brick company at Brownwood named it the Baylor Red. It’s on Memorial and Allen-Dawson and Alexander [dormitories] and Pat Neff Hall. The planning committee always tried to hold to the red brick, but we had varied from the Baylor Reds on two or three buildings. Collins [dormitory] was made out of a Mineral Wells red brick that matched very closely; but Mans McLean Science Building, Sid Richardson Science Building, the air-conditioning center, and Moody Library are all out of a different brick entirely.
INTERVIEWER: Why? Why didn’t you stick to the original Baylor Red; do you know?
MORRIS: Yes, the architects on Mars McLean convinced the building committee that they could use red, but shouldn’t use the Baylor Red because it had a little orange in it. They wanted a straight red. The building committee went along with them. Then, after they got that one in, there wasn’t anything else to do with Sid Richardson and Moody Library but to use the same brick. You couldn’t get that close together with two different bricks.
INTERVIEWER: Why did the architects insist on the darker red? Was it just a matter of personal preference with them?
INTERVIEWER: Did you agree with that at the time?
MORRIS: As long as it was red it didn’t make me too much difference. I don’t remember now who was on that building committee, but they — or the board of trustees — liked it all right, so we went ahead with it.
The old heating plant, in which Morris had first stoked the furnaces as a student and later had supervised the maintenance of campus building and grounds, was remodeled in the mid-1970s. With its smokestack removed and its interior reshaped, it became an administrative annex to Pat Neff Hall, and also remained the headquarters of plant operations. In January 1979, with the approval of Baylor’s Board of Trustees, the building which had served as Morris’ campus base for more than half a century — constructed in the early 1920s of a brick which antedates the popularity of the Baylor Red — was officially renamed and dedicated in his honor as “Neill Morris Hall.”
Neill Morris Hall, built in 1921, was also the long time home for the Baylor Communication Sciences and Disorders department. An anonymous $10 million gift allowed Baylor CSD to renovate and move into the Cashion Academic Center after the relocation of the Hankamer School of Business to the Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation. Neill Morris Hall was demolished in 2017.
A full transcript for the Neill Coker Morris oral history interview can be found in the libraries’ digital collections while an audio file is available by contacting the Baylor University Institute for Oral History.