Reprinted with permission of The Daily News
The Ashbel Smith Building at the University of Texas Medical Branch is the oldest medical school building west of the Mississippi River and is the scene of at least one shooting.
The 122-year-old building, known as Old Red thanks to its red brick and sandstone exterior, was also dangerously close to becoming a parking lot in the 1960s, author Heather Wooten said.
If it had been flattened and paved over, it would have been a loss to the entire health care legacy of Texas, Wooten said.
Wooten, who attended classes at Old Red on her way to receiving a doctoral degree, spoke about her new book, “Old Red: Pioneering Medical Education in Texas,” recently on the UTMB campus. The book is published by the Texas State Historical Association.
“In addition to the building’s beauty and its mystique, the health care legacy in Texas, of which we are so very proud, started right there in that building,” Wooten said.
Wooten, who authored “The Polio Years in Texas: Battling a Terrifying Unknown” in 2009, remembers her time as a student at Old Red. She attended class on the second floor, and the sharp smell of formaldehyde would drift down from the third floor where medical students studied cadavers. She first thought about researching and writing about the stately old building while a graduate student, Wooten said.
Her book touches on Nicholas Clayton, the prominent Galveston architect who designed the building and the stories of faculty and students who have passed through its doors.
One story that caught her eye, Wooten said, was how in the late 1800s students brought their guns to class. An 1895 argument between two students led one student to shoot at the other, she said. Fortunately, no one was hurt, she said.
The building was set to be demolished in the 1960s, but faculty, alumni and the community rallied to save it, Wooten said. Her book focuses mainly on the building’s first 75 years and the efforts to save and renovate the building.
“I am really surprised and delighted that that building is still here,” Wooten said.