The namesake of Gregory Gym was one of the first 13 graduates of The University of Texas, having received his LLB in 1885. Admitted to the Texas State Bar immediately after graduation, Gregory began a solo practice, and at a time when university libraries were sparse, made his private collection open to UT students. From 1891 to 1894, he served as Assistant City Attorney of Austin, followed by a partnership with Robert L. Batts, a former UT law professor. Throughout his early law career, Gregory remained active with his alma mater, forming the Alumni Association in 1885, becoming one of the original purchasers of Clark Field, and organizing the Texas Gamma Eta Chapter of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.
Politically, Gregory served as a delegate to the Democratic national conventions in 1904 and 1912, serving as vice president of Woodrow Wilson's Texas campaign. In 1913 he was appointed Special Assistant Attorney General of the United States and a year later was appointed Attorney General of the United States under President Woodrow Wilson. In 1916, Gregory was offered a Supreme Court seat but declined the position, continuing to serve as Attorney General through World War I. Even after his term was completed, he served President Wilson as a member of the president's Second Industrial Conference.
Upon completion of his duties in Washington, Gregory relocated to Houston where his children had settled. When Gregory was elected president of the Ex-Students' Association in 1926, he began in earnest a drive to build a university gym. His fund-raising efforts, supplemented by University funding, made possible what we now know as Gregory Gym, Anna Hiss Gym and the Union Building.
Gregory died following a severe case of bronchial pneumonia on a trip to New York City to confer with then President-elect Franklin Roosevelt. Two railway cars were chartered – one to carry the body back to Austin, the other to carry the flowers. He was received by an honor guard of fraternity members and his body laid in state in the building named for him.
In tribute to his great contributions to the University, students raised $1,200 to commission a medallion in his honor, which is now implanted on the wall outside the entrance to the gym. It reads: "LL.B., 1885. Regent, 1899–1907. Attorney General of the United States, 1914-1919. Faithful friend. High-minded citizen. Upright lawyer. True Christian."
Gregory Gymnasium, built in 1930 at an approximate cost of $500,000, was at its onset one of the pioneering projects for the advancement of The University of Texas campus. The proposal for a new modern gymnasium came about in 1907 by Thomas Watt Gregory, the first ex-student appointed to the Board of Regents. Called upon to raise $50,000 by University President David Franklin Houston, Gregory waged a one-man fund-raising campaign with a goal of raising $75,000. In one year alone, he collected an estimated $29,000. Gregory continued his efforts until 1914, when he was appointed Attorney General of the United States under President Woodrow Wilson. In the interim, two individuals – H. Y. Benedict and John A. Lomax, Secretary of the Ex-Students' Association - took over and invested the funds raised thus far. By the time Gregory returned to Texas, the sum had grown to $75,000.
In 1925, Gregory presented a proposal to the regents for three recreational facilities to meet the needs of the growing University population. The proposed project included a women's gymnasium (which eventually became Anna Hiss Gym), a student union (The Union Building) and an auditorium-gymnasium (Gregory Gym). The regents approved what became known as the Union Project and construction began on the auditorium-gymnasium on May 10, 1929. The new auditorium-gymnasium was completed and formally dedicated one year later on April 12, 1930, at the first annual Longhorn Round-Up. The recommendation that the new building be named for Thomas Watt Gregory was approved on May 30, 1930.
For 46 years, Gregory Gymnasium served as the home for the UT basketball and swimming teams until the Erwin Center and the Jamail Texas Swimming Center were built. Until 1977, it also hosted the University Interscholastic League state basketball championships. University registration took place in Gregory Gym until Bellmont Hall was completed in 1972, as well as many other large events such as Longhorn Round-Up, dances, speeches and performing arts presentations.
In the spring of 1962, the addition of the Gregory Annex became the first renovation. The three-floor addition connected to the south side of the building and extended down to 21st Street. Among the unique details of the addition were electric clocks for the new basketball courts, a large gymnastics facility, and an observation walkway above the gym. Perhaps the most unique manner in which the addition was designed was its capacity to enable women to use the gym to watch competitions - an activity they had never been able to do before.
In December of 1995, Gregory Gymnasium was closed to begin a $26.8 million renovation. Completed after 22 months of construction, the facility reopened on Nov. 12, 1997. The renovated Gregory Gym features a retail store, exercise lounge, the Outdoor Rental Center, the Wellness Center, an indoor jogging/walking track, an indoor climbing wall, and air conditioning throughout the building. In addition, the redesign created a bright and airy setting that unites the heritage and tradition of the old Gregory with the functional, state-of-the-art design of the modern interior.
The Gregory Gym renovation project was completed with the creation of the Gregory Gym Aquatic Complex featuring a complete renovation of the then 75-year-old Natatorium and the addition of a new two-acre outdoor complex consisting of an outdoor lap pool, two outdoor leisure pools, a spa, reception garden, deck for lounging, wireless Internet and lush landscaping. The complex opened in two phases: the outdoor complex debuted on Nov. 18, 2005, and the Natatorium opened on Dec. 16, 2005.