Faifax 1664, 1929

Something interesting happened soon after the offices of the Rice Institute moved to the Esperson Building (seen recently here). We got our first dial telephone!

I love the huffy tone of this letter but I do wonder why we needed an unlisted phone number.

Bonus: Inauguration prep! Since Covid we’ve gone several years without commencement prep so the cleanup is really needed.

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Rice University Volleyball, 1974

I attended my first college volleyball match last Sunday afternoon and was deeply impressed by the speed, power, and general athleticism of these young women. It was a great match, back and forth, between two very high level teams and really exciting to watch.

By coincidence just a couple of weeks ago I was asked to figure out the exact date of the genesis of Rice’s intercollegiate volleyball program. I found the answer in this three-fold brochure, preserved by sheer chance in a folder that’s part of the massive Athletics Collection. (Really, I can’t stress enough how unlikely it is that this still exists. There is nothing else at all about volleyball in the records from this time period.)

Inside is an interesting snapshot of a moment of cultural change at Rice. And to my specific task, the Capsule Outlook suggests that the beginning of intercollegiate volleyball competition at Rice dates to 1973, making next year the 50th anniversary:


Bonus: PE instructor Hally Beth Poindexter with the 1950 intramural volleyball champions.

Women’s intramural volleyball champions, Rice University



Extra Bonus: I can never be sad about a Rice win, but I also can’t help loving my Creighton Bluejays.  There was amazing Creighton fan support too, a bit surprising so far from home, but explained partly by the fact that one of our players has roots in Texas City.

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Cannady Hall Groundbreaking, 2022

Yesterday’s groundbreaking ceremony was a lot of fun. It was a nice afternoon, warm but not scorching. The speakers, including Will Cannady himself, were gracious and brief and the crowd was happy. I saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in quite a while.

They also handed out a brochure about the new building that I thought was pretty interesting. The images give a decent idea of how the building will sit and I think it looks pretty nice. The only thing I’m not sure about is whether it will totally block out the light into the library:



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First Black Student Athletes at Rice

Next week Rice will be celebrating the contributions of the pioneering African American athletes who courageously entered the newly desegregated campus and the playing fields of the Southwest Conference. Information on the dinner and event is here: https://riceowls.com/news/2022/9/7/general-rice-to-celebratre-six-trailblazing-student-athletes.aspx

Come if you can.

Bonus: We had no photos of Leroy Marion until I found this image on eBay. It was taken in December, 1971 during a game against the Citadel.

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Tommy’s Last Day, 2022

This was probably inevitable:

My colleague and comrade in arms Tommy Lavergne did some amazing work over more than three decades as Rice Campus Photographer. A decent chunk of it (but far from all) is collected in 48 boxes in the Woodson. There’s other stuff of his scattered around the archives as well and who knows how much work in digital form. Take a look and check out the crazy variety of things he (and his colleague Jeff Fitlow) took pictures of over the years: https://txarchives.org/ricewrc/finding_aids/00542.xml

This collection arrived all at once, by the way, and in what is no doubt a shock to all of you, piled in boxes with no apparent organizing principle. I learned a tremendous amount in the process of figuring it all out and I use the collection at least once a week. It’s incredibly valuable as a portrait of the institution and its inhabitants as they evolved over the years. I’m deeply grateful for his work.

I’m also deeply grateful I got to hang around with him. He knows how to tell a story and  he was frequently in rooms where something very interesting was happening but no one was paying attention to him. You learn a lot that way. Also important–if he ever took a bad picture of me, he never let anyone see it.

Godspeed, my friend. Don’t be a stranger!

Bonus: He brought over one more small box before he left.

Here’s part of what was inside: pictures of Rice’s Louisiana timber land, the announcement of the formation of the Baker Institute, Nobel prize images, Malcolm Gillis in his office, campus architecture, centennial projects, and indeterminate negatives. I’m looking forward to this.

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The Niels Esperson Building, 1926

The Woodson recently acquired a scrapbook containing twenty-nine professional photographs of the Esperson Building in downtown Houston, newly completed in 1926:

At thirty-two stories it was then the tallest building in town and extremely ornate. Here are a couple of the images:

I’m guessing that’s a bust of Mr. Esperson in the entry:

And this chic woman could possibly be Mrs. Esperson:

Even the vault is impressive:

But the reason I’m interested in this scrapbook is a little less exciting. As soon as the building opened  the Rice Institute moved their offices here from the Scanlan Building:

I suspect that this more mundane image of one of the office corridors up on a higher floor is what it would have looked like as you walked down the hallway and approached our rooms:

Bonus: Speaking of offices, as soon as I saw this I regretted that I hadn’t thought of it myself.


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This Began As A Friday Follies Post Then Changed In The Middle, 1959

The picture I was going to use was one from the batch that loyal reader Karl Benson ’63 gave to the Woodson last December. But as I looked closer at some of the other images I was startled to find the answer to a tiny question that has nagged me for quite a while and that felt especially acute after the last post about commencement—when precisely did the parking lot in front of Lovett become a lawn?

If you go back and look that last post you can see that the area seems to be a well established lawn by the time of Pitzer’s inauguration in 1962 and it was still a parking lot in the spring of 1959. That’s not a huge gap, I guess, but I’ve always hoped to get closer than that.

So this is the image I found today, precisely dated, showing a newly planted lawn and reconfigured parking just before Thanksgiving, 1959. If you zoom in you can see guys still working near the building:

I am happy.


Bonus: This is what I started with. The combination of the caption and the look on her face made me smile.

Extra Bonus: O-Week shenanigans, sent in by a loyal reader. I’m not sure how they got it up there.


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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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