The college’s name changed to the University of Houston when HISD made the college a four-year private institution. UH offered day classes for the first time to its 909 students at Houston’s Second Baptist Church.
HISD Superintendent E. E. Oberholtzer became the first president, a post he held until 1950.
Ora D. “O.D.” Brown became UH’s first graduate, and the only one that year, when he received his arts and sciences degree and teacher certification in August 1934. He waited until 1935 to walk with fellow graduates at the first annual commencement, which was held at Miller Memorial Theatre.
The first issue of The Houstonian yearbook appeared. Published in just two weeks’ time, the 32-page annual sold for 75 cents.
After an early proposal to locate the campus in Memorial Park collapsed, the University of Houston acquired nearly 110 acres of land for a permanent campus from donations by the Settegast and Taub estates, southeast of downtown between St. Bernard Street (now Cullen Boulevard) and Calhoun Road. The gift stipulated that construction of the university’s first building must begin by January 1, 1938.
Administrators approached Houston oilman Hugh Roy Cullen for financial support to the fledgling university. He was the grandson of Ezekiel W. Cullen, who was considered the father of Texas public education. When Texas was an independent republic, he introduced a bill known as the Cullen Act in 1839 that set aside government lands to establish public schools and institutions of higher education. Following this family legacy, Hugh Roy Cullen agreed to head the university’s first fundraising drive.
When the fundraising drive for the university’s first building began, Hugh Roy Cullen gave the first of his many donations to UH, with one requirement: UH must always be a college for working men and women and their sons and daughters.
When classes moved to the new campus, the university’s 2,067 students attended classes in the Roy Gustav Cullen Memorial Building, named for Cullen’s son who had died in an oilfield accident. The building is thought to be the first American higher education building with air conditioning.
The university adopted an official seal based on the coat of arms of General Sam Houston, who was descended from a Norman knight, Sir Hugh. The escutcheon awarded by William the Conqueror was changed considerably. A winged hourglass was added above the motto, In Tempore (In Time). Greyhounds placed at the sides indicated the speed with which Sir Hugh came to the king's aid. Martlets, symbolizing peace and deliverance, replaced the original ravens.
Founded in 1939, Frontier Fiesta featured musical and theatrical performances, carnival booths, cook-offs, and concessions. The festival has enjoyed three runs: 1940-1941, 1946-1959, and 1992 through the present. During its second run, the event grew to its greatest popularity, and Life magazine proclaimed it to be the “Greatest College Show on Earth.” During its heyday, Frontier Fiesta attracted as many as 100,000 people to the UH campus, including celebrities and visitors from across the nation, including Ed Sullivan, Kenny Rogers, and Humphrey Bogart, to name a few. Early Fiestas raised money to address campus building needs. Currently, Frontier Fiesta funds scholarships for entering freshman and current students.