I got an email last night from someone who gently reminded me that just before I took off talking about storm sewers, I was about to explain how the early residence halls were laid out. This is true–it was while I was looking for pictures of dorm construction that I stumbled across the riveting saga of drainage on the Rice campus. So I’ll return here to the original problem, even though it lacks the inherent drama of intermittent flooding. (But fear not, there are more stories of water to come.)
In order for the Institute to open for business in the fall of 1912, there had to be a place to put the students, at least the male ones. (There never seems to have been any question of housing women–it would have been too complicated.) The original General Plan called for four dormitories for men to be constructed along the southern edge of campus. Three were built before World War II, all designed, like the Administration Building and Mechanical Laboratory, by the architectural firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson. This fantastic picture of the first dormitory under construction was taken in July, 1912 from the roof of the administration building. (I beg you to zoom in on it. It’s a great shot.) The building closest to the water tank (and closest to Main Street as well) was the first residential quarters for students, called South Hall. Today it’s part of Will Rice College. Next to it is the Institute Commons, now part of Baker College. The Commons had a kitchen and dining room, a common room, and quarters for unmarried faculty and graduate fellows in its five-story tower.
In 1915, a second dormitory, called East Hall, was completed. This is also now part of Baker. The picture doesn’t have a date on it, but it looks like it was taken soon after the building was completed. It was also taken from the opposite side than the first picture above, with the photographer standing out by Main Street, so it shows the “back” of the dorms–East Hall is on the right.
Finally, construction of the original residence group ended in 1916 with the completion of West Hall (now Hanszen College). This was the last dorm built at the Institute until 1950, when Wiess Hall went up. For anyone interested in more information about why the buildings were designed and placed as they were, I can’t recommend Stephen Fox’s books enough. His Campus Guide to Rice University is thorough and accessible. And if you really just can’t get enough, there’s more detailed information in his short monograph called The General Plan of the William M. Rice Institute and Its Architectural Development. Its available online at the Rice Digital Scholarship archive and sometimes you can find a used copy at Amazon or abebooks.
So here comes a shocker. I may have misdated something! When I was writing earlier about airplanes on campus, I claimed that this picture was taken in 1917. I admit that this was a guess, but I think now that it might have been a bad one. The plane is pointed right at South Hall and you can see the Commons to the left. But I can’t see either East Hall or West Hall, although they may be obstructed or only just out of camera range. So I have an airplane question: was this kind of plane around in 1915? Anyone?