The Cullen Family’s First Major Donation To The University
On this day in 1939, the Roy G. Cullen Building was completed. It was the first permanent building on the brand new University of Houston campus.
Officially named the Roy Gustav Cullen Memorial Building, it is believed to be the first building on a college campus with air conditioning. Construction began on April 1, 1938, and was completed in just 13 months. The building was dedicated and occupied a month later.
A city-wide funding campaign was launched to construct the building on the 110 acres gifted to UH by Ben Taub and the Julius Settegast estate. Hugh Roy and Lillie Cullen gave $260,000 to the University in memory of their son Roy. Roy G. Cullen had died in 1936 when an oil derrick collapsed on him outside of Edinburg.
Architect Lamar Q. Cato designed Roy G. Cullen as well as the Science Building, which would open later in 1939. Cato chose the stripped classicism style and added a hint of art deco. Stripped classicism was a popular style for government buildings in the 1930s, many of which were built with WPA funds.
The two buildings have shaped the heart of the University of Houston campus for the last 80 years. When Roy G. Cullen was completed, the University had an enrollment of 2,737 students.
A young Jack Valenti, while a student at UH, wrote that “Lillie and Roy Cullen want this world to be better when they leave it.” The Roy G. Cullen Building was their first step in leaving a better world. Eight years after the building opened, the couple created the Cullen Foundation which has now given away over $520 million in grants.