Where Was Commencement?

This is yet another post where I have to explain that I thought I knew something but it turns out that I didn’t. I was startled into this particular realization by a photo I ran across of the 1955 commencement:

That’s the parking lot.

They’re actually having commencement in the gravel parking lot.

Here’s a picture of it a couple of years later without all the people, still a parking lot:

This was very unexpected. I had in my mind that graduation was held in front of the Chemistry Building until the parking lot was turned into the grassy lawn we now call Founder’s Court, seen here at President Pitzer’s inauguration in 1962:

This meant that I had to go get this figured out, which was tedious but not difficult. So here we go:

From 1916 through 1933, Commencement was held (always on a Monday, by the way) in the Administration Building Quadrangle:

In 1934 it rained and the indoor venue was St. Paul’s church (rather nicer than the gym):

From 1935 to 1943 they graduated in what was called the Court of the Chemistry Laboratories:

During World War II, when there were multiple smaller graduations, it hopped between St. Paul’s and the Faculty Chamber (now called the Founder’s Room).

By 1947 it was back in front of Chemistry, where it stayed until 1950, moving to Saturday’s in 1949. The biggest surprise for me was that in 1951 they moved it to the the gym — on purpose. I guess it was brand new and it must have seemed like a good idea to avoid any rain issues but they never did it again. I’d bet it was sweltering.

It was after the gym experiment that commencement moved to the parking lot, later the east lawn, where it remained until 1985. In 1986 we went back to where it all started, the Academic Quad, where the rearrangement of the hedges meant that more people could now fit in front of the stage. It’s been there since then, except for when it rained and moved to Autry Court. The last few pandemic years either we didn’t have a commencement or it’s been held out in the stadium.

I have no clue what wild idea these people will come up with next.

Bonus: The view today. Looks like a picnic set up for the freshmen.

Welcome to Texas:

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A Window And Some Trees

I ran across this photograph a couple of years ago and couldn’t immediately place it. It is, of course, the west side of Anderson Architecture and it was taken soon after the 1981 addition:

As soon as I figured it out I went over to look at it, wondering how I’d missed the off-center round window. Approaching from the back of the library it was immediately clear why:

So when I was on campus yesterday my heart leapt at this sight and I wiggled inside of the construction fence to get a picture, which I will file under “If You Hang Around Here Long Enough You’ll See Everything Twice”:

Sometimes you have to be quick, though, because another building might suddenly spring up. Cannady Hall soon to come.

Bonus: Now here’s a thing I’ve never seen before, the quad without cypresses. They were finally, mercifully, taken out, each one in its own particular state of  decay. They never really recovered from the freeze two winters ago and the planned renovation of the quad meant that there was no reason to replace them now (if ever).

Unexpectedly, I felt a little sad, partly because they’d been a reliable source of posts for such a long time. But honestly, 110 years of dying cypresses is enough. I’ll be interested to see what kind of scheme they’ll come up with for the remodel.

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“Pick Up After Each Other,” 1974

I just got back from a wonderful, long vacation up in Washington state, which is the explanation for my extended absence here. But I’m back now and I’ve collected a lot of neat stuff to write about, so here we go . . .

I’m starting with this because it actually made me laugh out loud. It’s got a bit of that Jack Nicholson in The Shining vibe.

Whatever else you might say about Norman Hackerman, who could be a bit on the grouchy side, there’s no denying that he was also capable taking real enjoyment in a sort of bemused way from campus life. This was taken in March, 1973 and on the back it says “President of Rice smiling after smashing cans”:

Bonus: Recycling Center, about a year later. I don’t know what this was shot through.

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Robert Floyd Curl, Jr., 1933-2022

When I think of Bob Curl I remember two things. The first is silly–it was pretty easy to make him laugh, which I found quite rewarding. The second, though, still moves me when  I think of it. He spoke to me once about his parents, and the tenderness and pride as he described his raising and the accomplishments of his father, a Methodist minister, explain much about Bob. He was rightfully proud of his own accomplishments also but he took it all completely in stride and with great good humor. Bob was a gentle and kind soul, as unselfconscious as anyone I’ve ever met, and remarkably free from rancor.  He graduated from Rice in 1954 and in some ways he was the quintessential Rice student of that era: a Texan, from a family of modest means, but with a level of intellectual talent that was far above the ordinary. Many times he expressed his gratitude for what Rice had made possible for him and this gratitude played out in a lifetime of service to his colleagues, his students, and the Rice community in general. I got to know him well while we were working on the presidential search committee that brought David Leebron to Rice, something that he believed to be one more aspect of such service. Throughout this endeavor he simply and unfailingly displayed his deep commitment not only to Rice but also to the values of the university as an institution: to free inquiry, the search for truth, and intellectual humility.

There are a lot of pictures of Bob in the Woodson, a large percentage of them showing him in formal wear as he accepted the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1996. They’re all wonderful and it’s somehow almost staggering to look at them, to think about the life he led and what he accomplished. But my favorite image of him, the one that captures the man I knew, is found only on a scratched up contact sheet, taken not too long after he returned to Rice as a faculty member. He’s in his lab, and he looks happy:

I am grateful for having had the chance to know him.

Bob Curl, rest in peace.



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They Never Did Find It

As far as I know this is the only mention of WMR being photographed. If you know where the picture is, for heaven’s sake speak up.

This leads me to wonder several things. First, I wonder why they were so keen to get ahold of this picture twenty-seven years after WMR died. Second, I wonder who got in trouble for losing the picture. And third, I wonder whether this is the image produced by the steel plate engraving:

I bought that almost twenty years ago at an antique store and it hadn’t occurred to me until just now that this might be it. It certainly looks to be an engraving.

Bonus: Zoom in on it. Some of it is pretty entertaining.



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Sandy Havens, 1934-2022

This is one of those that’s so hard I put off writing it as long as I could. I was deeply saddened to learn a couple weeks ago of the death of Neil “Sandy” Havens ’56. In an unsettling coincidence it happened that the day he passed away I was working on a post about this photo of Sandy and his beloved wife, Helen ’57:

I was so taken with the joy on their faces that I did some digging and discovered that it was from a story about Sandy becoming Master of Jones College in 1970. I laughed too, thinking it funny that they looked so happy about getting such a hard job, and thought that he’d be delighted to see this. So he won’t see it after all, but there’s a lot of comfort in knowing that he got to live it, one of so many joyful moments in his long tenure at Rice.

This 1989 Houston Post article does a wonderful job of capturing who he was and his unique service to the Rice community:

As head of the Players, Sandy directed multiple shows year in and year out, beginning in 1964 with A Man For All Seasons. His choices for productions were often challenging, sometimes even risky, with the Rice Players frequently presenting plays that had never before been done in Houston. He also inspired college productions and taught virtually all the drama classes at Rice for decades. Through it all he was kind and generous, committed to his students and his craft, with the humanity of one who spent his life surrounded by great and sometimes provocative literature. He was also flat out fun to be around, engaging, funny, always happy to hear about the new things that were going on at Rice. He took the time to help me whenever I asked and I will always remember with gratitude his willingness to tell me about the Rice he knew. Among many other things, everything I know about the basement of Fondren in the 1950s I learned from him!

Here’s Sandy, an undergraduate in the spring of 1955, on the steps of ChemLec as Henry V on the eve of battle:

Sandy Havens, rest in peace.

Bonus: Smiling again, surrounded by smiling students. I don’t have a date for this but I’m pretty sure that’s Rice’s Dean of Social Sciences Rachel Tolbert Kimbro at left so maybe she can tell us:





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Coach Hackerman, 1978

Anyone who’s been reading this stuff for a while knows how fond I am of Norman Hackerman, who I think was a good guy and an underrated president. But as much as I admire him I never expected to see this:

I was hoping against hope that he’d stepped in and taken over during a real game but alas, it was just the pre-season intrasquad game. The opposing coach was Frank Vandiver! Even better, the half time entertainment was the Derrick Dolls from the Houston Oilers. I’d have paid money to see that.

I have no idea who won but I bet the victory party was a blast. A lot of fun was had in the 1970s.

Bonus: I’ve learned over time that if you see something inexplicable on campus it’s probably either art or some sort of experiment. I’m betting this is art.

Extra Bonus:



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Friday Follies: I Was Not Expecting This

I’ve reached a point at Rice where it is not easy to surprise me but today I was surprised twice. This is the most recent one, from the Houston Post, December 29, 1964:

We have a pretty thorough list of famous visitors to campus in the Woodson but these two are not on it. (Curiously, another visiting royal also slipped past the list makers.) There’s not a whisper of this visit in the Thresher either, as the campus must have been deserted

Bonus: They’ve been working on freshening up the crosswalks for a couple of days now.

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Computation, circa late 1970s

There is very little in this picture that I understand. I’d recognize Priscilla Huston’s smile anywhere and I think I also understand the telephone next to her:

Otherwise I’m going to need someone to explain all this to me. Mainly I’m interested in where this is and also in that thing that looks like a school bell above the phone.

Bonus: One of the old squash courts is now a very nice volleyball lounge. Walking in there produced quite a strange sensation.

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“To live on in the hearts of those left behind,” 1953

When I was working the other day on the post about the crowd at a 1956 basketball game I got interested in one of the Rice players, Temple Tucker.  Tucker was a star for the Owls in the late ’50s and was inducted into the Rice Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999.

If you click on the image below you can read about him and his career:

Rice Institute basketball player Temple Tucker

What jumped out at me here was the Billy Wohn Award for the most valuable player that Tucker received after his senior year. This rang a tiny bell in the back of my mind. I couldn’t immediately place who Billy Wohn was but the date gave me a pretty good idea. The fastest way to check if my hunch was right was to head over to the RMC and look for the plaque. And there, sadly, I found him:

The Rice Institute was still a very small place in the summer of 1953 and it’s almost impossible to imagine the impact of such a tragedy on this little community. I went back to the alumni scrapbooks to see what might be there and came upon this newspaper article about the creation of the Wohn Award:

The donors who created the award were Wohn’s classmates, most, maybe all of them now gone themselves. Jay Weidler was a survivor of the crash that killed the other ten.

If you look closely at the plaque you’ll note that it was presented by class of 1955 forty-five years after the crash, in 2000. That’s a long time to be thinking about the loss of so many promising young men and a testament to the lingering sorrow that so many carried for all those years. At Rice’s 2001 Veteran’s Day service Rear Admiral Austin Scott, Jr. ’55 spoke movingly about these deaths and about our duty to remember our dead. Here’s a link to a post I wrote about this but I’ll reproduce his moving remarks again here:

Bonus: Here’s Billy Wohn, number 20, driving for a layup. December 30th, 1952.


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