Dating a couple of early aerial shots

Here are some aerial shots of the Rice campus that I ran across recently. These were both taken during roughly the same era, but it’s hard to say precisely when. Notice that the buildings on campus are the same in both–there were no new buildings completed between 1927 and the end of World War II. This makes dating pictures kind of tricky and sometimes even impossible.

This first one was taken from a more easterly direction and gives a strong sense of just how much room the Institute had to grow. (Note the awesome convenient parking in what is today Founder’s Court and the area in front of the Mech Lab where Duncan Hall sits now. And think for a minute about how much of this open space is now taken up with parking lots.) The tree line off towards the west follows Harris Gully as it cuts across the campus, then meets the curve of Sunset. There are a couple of things to look at when trying to figure out a date. The Chemistry Building, completed in 1925, is there, as is Cohen House, which opened in November, 1927. But if you zoom in on the picture the statue of William Marsh Rice is also clearly visible. This was dedicated in 1930 and it’s the most recent thing I can identify in this photo.

This second picture was taken from the south. When you zoom in Willie is there, so it couldn’t have been taken earlier than 1930. The buildings in the foreground aren’t really any help in dating this: the one on the left is Hermann Hospital, which opened its doors in 1925, and the one on the right is Autry House, which was completed in 1921.

If you click on the picture to get a closer look, though, it’s immediately apparent that there are a lot more trees and that the ones that have always been there are a lot bigger than in the first photo. There are also a lot more buildings in the neighborhood north of campus. I also see something that bears further investigation: a new road has appeared west of the dormitories (I think that road is called alumni drive, but I’m not sure. No one really knows the names of the roads on campus except the people who work in FE&P.) Unfortunately, I have no idea when that road was built and it isn’t at all obvious where to find that information. The most likely scenario is that one day I will be looking for something else and stumble across this information. And of course, if anyone already knows this, please let me know too!

One thing that happens when you inhabit the same archive for a long time is that everything eventually starts to remind you of something else. For example, I have another story about that road and its name. If I can find the outraged memo, I’ll post it.

Bottom line: If I had to guess, I would place the first photo closer to 1930 and the second closer to 1940.

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6 Responses to Dating a couple of early aerial shots

  1. James Medford says:

    In the first photo, Harris Gully meets the curve of Rice Blvd., not Sunset. The house at the corner of Rice and Ashby (1760 Rice) is visible in this photo (look above and to the left of Mech Lab). According to the Harris County Appraisal District, this house was built in 1931, and the next oldest house on the block was built in 1937, so I’m guessing this was taken between ’31 and ’37.

  2. Hugh Rice Kelly says:

    In addition to the placement of the William Marsh Rice statue in 1930, a picture that includes the Campanile also provides a 1930 marker. In that year, according to Issue No. 3 (2009) of the Rice Magazine, the top of the Campanile was struck by lightning, damaging the hipped roof that formerly wrapped around the structure just below the top of the stack. The repairs did not reinstate the hipped roof, instead substituting the present design. The redesign crowns the main shaft of the tower with a sleekly canted Art Deco cream-colored stone band. In addition to being better looking than the original design, the redesign marks a photograph as being being before or after 1930.

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