The Texas Union was built in 1933, to serve as a college independent community center or “living room” on campus. It is one of the Beaux Arts buildings designed by Paul Cret who also designed the Tower, Main Building, Goldsmith Hall and Texas Memorial Museum on campus. Money to build the Union was raised by the Texas Exes in a campaign led by Thomas Watt Gregory.
In 1931-32 when the Texas Union construction was just begining, Peter Mansbendel was commissioned to carve “UT Presidential Medallion” plaques of the current and past UT Presidents to be installed in a special presidential lobby. It was said that UT officials questioned his quote to execute these medallions, saying that a competitor had come in with a lower price. Peter told them “My competitor is an honest man, he’s knows his work is not as valuable” and Peter got the job.
Peter carved 11 plaques in all, with the presidents portraits shown in bas relief with their names and date of presidency below the portrait. The medallions and surrounding ornamentation were all executed in Red Gum wood and Mansbendel continued adding new medallions up until his death in 1940. This medallion tradition has continued since Mansbendel’s passing and these presidential medallions can still be seen on several levels of the lobby today. He also carved two lowboy cabinets which featured western scenes and Old Main on the UT campus on the panels. As of 2012, the cabinets were also located in the lobby. These presidential medallions were said to be some of Peters favorite works that he created and it’s easy to see why.