The Tale of a Happy Union between UTD and Richardson
The UTD campus as seen in 2016.
Editor’s Note: This article, “Town & Gown” by Sophia Dembling BA’04, appeared in the winter 2012 issue of UT Dallas Magazine. Read the full article here.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE LATE 1800s, there was a small town, more like a village really, that came to be when a man named Richardson built a railroad.
It boasted a general store, a post office and a drugstore. By 1910, it had electricity, and by 1914, a red brick school building. In 1925, it elected its first mayor, and by 1926 had issued bonds to support waterworks, so that residents could have indoor plumbing. In the 1950s, the U.S. Postal Service began delivering door to door.
Not long after that, a big company moved nearby, and the one-time village without plumbing or home mail delivery suddenly became a small city. The big company (also a big employer) thought the small city practically perfect in every way except one: no university.
The big employer (Texas Instruments) decided to create the kind of university (UT Dallas) that would complement both its needs for highly educated employees and, it was hoped, the city’s ambitions and dreams.
And so the Richardson-UTD town-gown marriage was arranged. While early records recount near love at first sight—or even before—like any long partnership, observers say, this one is tempered and shaped by the tests it has weathered, and the stresses and strains of everyday life together.
Richardson Chamber of Commerce publication from the 1960s, touting the Graduate Reasearch Center.
Like an old married couple, Richardson and UT Dallas have a shared history of difficulties overcome and achievements celebrated. They take pride in one another’s accomplishments and try hard not to get on each other’s nerves.
Before the organization that would ultimately become UTD opened as the Graduate Research Center of the Southwest in 1962, locals were practically giddy about it.
Early news articles located it “in the Plano area” or “just north of Dallas” or in the “Dallas North metropolitan complex.” A Dallas Times Herald headline crowed: “Like Science Fiction, Space-Age Signs Appear for Area.” The article reported on the nascent tech corridor: “ … now, on the farmlands of Richardson and Plano where cattle graze, one of the nation’s leading science meccas will start rising …” As the school grew, local papers described groundbreakings and research grants, the beards the professors sported (Were they copying beatnik style? The Dallas Morning News wondered.) and the annual Christmas get-together of the Graduate Research Center Wives Club.
The UT Dallas campus does touch Plano, Dallas, Dallas County and Collin County as well, but its beating heart has always been in Richardson. In 1966, Richard T. Lipscomb, associate director of development for the school, forecast in a speech to the Richardson Chamber of Commerce that payroll at and around the Graduate Research Center would be $100 million within 10 years.
In 1967 the center became the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies, and Richardson ran an advertisement in the Times Herald boasting that it was “Contributing to the amazing growth of Richardson” and that “… it will make a great contribution to This City and all mankind.”
And when the center became The University of Texas at Dallas by joining The University of Texas System in 1969, everyone from the mayor to the man on the street was thrilled.
“Look at any college city anywhere in the country, and you’ll find that the growth of the community is directly tied in with the presence of the college in the city,” Cliff Cassidy, president of Richardson Savings and Loan, told the Richardson Daily News. “This new university is the greatest thing that has ever happened to this city,” agreed Walter Massie, who owned an office supply store.
More than 40 years later, UT Dallas and Richardson are still a powerful and productive alliance. People closest to the happy couple see a cooperative, tandem effort for the economic and cultural development of both. Richardson’s civic leaders are cheerfully resigned to the fact that the school is called UT Dallas and not UT Richardson.
UT Dallas has never had to grasp at its neighbors’ holdings. A major factor contributing to the congenial union is the dowry the University brought: land, land and more land. UT Dallas’ founders endowed the school with about 325 acres in Richardson, Plano and Dallas, that by 1993, through other gifts and purchases, had become more than 1,200 acres encompassing unincorporated parts of Dallas and Collin counties, as well as the cities.
The mid 1970s saw the Phase II construction plan take shape. Among the buildings added were the Eugene McDermott Library (foreground), Cecil H. Green Hall and the Erik Jonsson Academic Center.
In its early days, the campus proper was surrounded by so much open acreage that it was invisible to the community, said UT Dallas Police Chief Larry Zacharias. Zacharias spent 31 years on the Richardson police force, serving as Richardson’s chief of police from 2002 to 2008. In 1977, when he joined the force, the city was only about two-thirds of today’s geographic size, population about 70,000. “Campbell and Coit were two-lane blacktop,” he said.
The days of UT Dallas hiding behind a tall grass prairie are over — banners along surrounding streets announce its presence to passers-by. Local businesses tout their school spirit, with Fuzzy’s and Sonny Bryan’s displaying UT Dallas sports jerseys as décor, and many offering “Comet Card” discounts.
Richardson will never be a college burg — it’s too sophisticated for that. But it is UTD’s home, and the partnership between the city and UT Dallas has only grown stronger over the years. Here’s to a long and happy union.