Friday Follies: A Bit Nipply

This is a Houston Chronicle photo from April, 1984. We’ve got others but what caught my attention about this one was the label on the back, which noted that it was about 30 degrees that evening. That’s real commitment.

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Baccalaureate, 1939 plus Wheatfield!

For a few moments I couldn’t read this properly:

Of course I knew who they were. Left to right that’s Physics professor H.A. Wilson, Trustee J.T. Scott, the baccalaureate speaker, Reverend (hmmm, can’t remember his name but I do recall that he was a Canadian. That’s probably all we need to know.), Dr. Lovett, the commencement speaker, George Vincent (Rockefeller Foundation), then Will Rice, Captain Baker, A.S. Cleveland, Robert Blaffer, and Benjamin Botts Rice, all members of the board

What I didn’t get right away was where they were. It’s obviously Rice but somewhere we don’t really see anymore. But one of the things I’ve learned in the archives is that the answer you’re looking for is sometimes right next to the thing that raised the question in the first place. That turned out to be just so. Here’s the next image:

They’re processing away from the Administration Building. Are they finished?

Nope. They robed in the Administration Building and now they’re headed over to the front side of the Chemistry Building, where commencement ceremonies were held for many years:

(That’s Tony’s rose garden in the background, by the way.)

This then puts the gentleman in the first picture in the infrequently photographed space between the cloister that runs along Chem Lecture Hall and the laboratory on the left on this drawing:

Bonus: If you’re coming to campus for Homecoming this is not to be missed. I’m not even kidding about that.

You can rsvp at this link.

They have special beer glasses too.


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Just A Little More About Fondren Furniture

So now that I’ve figured out the mystery of the Aalto tables I spent some time this afternoon going back and digging in as many old pictures of Fondren as I could find. The interior of this building really was quite handsome. And once you know what you’re looking for it’s easy to find it. Here’s a beauty, dated 1950:

What gave me a little laugh, though, was this. Up on the higher floors things weren’t quite so modern. They reused the old furniture from Lovett Hall! This picture is also dated 1950:

And here’s a picture of the Boy’s Study Lounge in 1912– you can see the same chairs:

They’re also in this image of the library space in the Administration Building circa 1930:

I walked the whole library this afternoon and while I saw a lot of furniture that spanned the ages, I did not see one of these. Pity.

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About Those Tables, Part 2

So I’ve thought about this puzzle for a very long time, easily more than a decade, without seeing anything that could help solve it. Then recently I ran across an article by Rice Librarian William Dix in the December, 1949 issue of  The Library Journal, which you may have missed. This detailed description of the new library and its setup should have solved the mystery but instead only deepened it. It’s all interesting but the most relevant part is on page 1868:

So the librarian asserts, publicly and in print, that the library tables are by Aalto. I’m going to skip a bunch of steps here because I got so wrapped around the axle I can’t describe it adequately. But the key thing turned out to be the fact that Dix says the tables were made in Sweden.

If you crawl underneath them (which I don’t recommend, so gross), both the ones in Fondren and the ones in Architecture, you’ll see the same thing:

So what the hell? Why are they so different? Stuck, I did the only thing I could think of: I asked  Stephen Fox ’73 ’75 and Drexel Turner ’69, who I assumed would certainly have been paying attention to the furniture in the library (I mean this as a high compliment, by the way.) And they indeed were. With their help the pieces now fall together.

Once upon a time all the tables looked the same, with the same lovely light birch. Here’s Radoslav Tsanoff sitting at one, helping dry out books that were damaged in the great library flood of 1966:

And also underneath, inventory tags prove their age:

But at some point someone decided to sell some of them off . . . and then they covered the rest of them in some formica-like laminate!

Ye gods. As my old friend Bill from the Electrician’s Shop always said “typical!”

Happily for my purposes here this stuff has had a tendency to chip off at the corners. You can see the original birch underneath the cladding:

So there you have it. It’s a sad story of Aalto tables refaced (or defaced). But there’s no denying that they got their money’s worth with this furniture–over 70 years old and still in service!

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About Those Tables, Part 1

These tables are the ones I mean:

The persistent story–I’ve heard it for many years–is that they are by the Finnish designer and architect Alvar Aalto. They’re all over the library. They come in several sizes and you don’t have to look hard to find them:

But . . . could they be knock-offs? I found this 1946 letter in the library papers and to my ear it has the ring of something we would do to save some money:

On the other hand it sounds like the table that they describe as “the table that we inspected in your office” really was an Aalto. I had seen some others over in the School of Architecture a while back and they look quite different from the ones in the library:

So are these real Aaltos and the ones in Fondren sturdier imitations? That was my first theory . . .

Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.

Bonus: There are some tiny ones too.

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Friday Follies: Happy Rice Day!

There have been lots of good days here in the last 106 years. This one was especially nice:

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Aerial with Antenna: March 1, 1959

So all my tech is up and running again but I’m completely swamped today and I’m giving a talk this evening so I have no time. I swear I will get to a discussion of the library tables next week! I know you’re all waiting for that.

In the meantime, here is an oddball picture from the Houston Chronicle, dated March 1, 1959. It isn’t especially sharp and the only way you can really see it is to click and zoom in. But I can’t recall ever seeing an image taken from this exact angle before and there’s a lot to be learned from close study, especially of the area around the dorms.

But one thing over in the Engineering Quad immediately jumped out at me. If you zoom in on Abercrombie you will see a tall antenna. I have been looking for that thing ever since I found these rascally EEs from the class of 1957 up on top of it, as discussed here:

Now I can rest easy.

Bonus: An alert colleague sends this from the RMC.


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