its opening in 1918 until it was torn down in 1971, Guion Hall was the
religious and cultural center of the campus. Its stage hosted a wide
variety of performances and speakers. From band leader
"Tex" Beneke to Robert Kennedy, guitarist Andes Segovia to
dancer Jose Greco, the Aggie Players to the Aggie Follies, and the
Singing Cadets to the Aggieland Orchestra--"Gunnion," as it
was affectionately called, would become A&M's window to the world.
Weekend movies there were often a source of cheap entertainment.
Ultimately, these activities outgrew the building and they were moved
to larger facilities.
In 1916, the Thirty-Fourth Texas Legislature
approved $100,000 for what Dr. Bizzell described as Texas A&M's
most pressing need. The contract was awarded on November 29, 1916 for
a building 93x180 feet with seating for 2,500.
As fate would have it, the United States entered
World War I in April of 1917. Shortages in material and labor forced
contractors Leadbetter and Greathouse of Austin further behind and
deeper in debt. By the time the building was finally completed they
were a year behind schedule and nearly 30% over budget. The
difference came out of the builders' pockets.
When Guion was dedicated on May 25, 1918,
plasterer's scaffolds stood before bare walls and paint cans and
workman's tools were still much in evidence. It was war time on the
campus and Texas A&M was busy winning World War I with its
training programs. Texas A&M President Dr. William B. Bizzell
quoted the Shakespeare inscribed above the entrance, IGNORANCE IS
THE CURSE OF GOD, KNOWLEDGE THE WING WHERE WITH WE FLY TO HEAVEN,
in what long-time Archivist Ernest Langford '13 called, "an
impassioned plea for the acquisition of knowledge and the complete
elimination of ignorance from the face of the earth." The
building was named for Ballinger Judge John I. Guion (1854-1920),
retiring president of the Texas A&M Board of Directors.
The structure quickly became a campus landmark.
Its dignified Renaissance design with a hexastyle Ionic portico of
architectural terra cotta columns evoking the image of a Roman
temple. The auditorium measured 78x135 feet, the stage 27x42.
According to Langford's writings, Guion Hall was not without its
faults. "It had," he said, "the reputation of being
the most loquacious building on the campus--echoes bounced from wall
to wall, floor to ceiling, in such a way that people sitting near
the center of the auditorium heard the voice of the speaker and its
echo almost simultaneously." Langford found the design
"far from what one would expect in an auditorium." This,
he pointed out, was "especially true in the arrangement of the
balcony...where people sitting along the sides faced each other
rather than the speaker." As with most early campus buildings,
Guion was difficult to heat and impossible to cool.
Despite conscientious efforts to save the old
building, it stood in the way of the planned Rudder Tower/Theater
complex. Despite complaints of shoddy workmanship during its
construction, Guion gave up grudgingly as the huge steel wrecking
ball bounced, time after time, off its stubborn walls. Amazingly,
the building held out longer than its projected demolition. Guion,
it seems, was always behind schedule.