I can’t pick my absolute favorite thing about the picture of Main Street across from Rice in 1921–there is just too much awesomeness. One of my favorites, though, is the bird’s eye view of The Owl, to the left of Autry House near the street.
I don’t know a whole lot about it, but I do know that there was a little refreshment stand in that place from the very early days of the Institute. There are a lot of references to it scattered around in various scrapbooks, letters and reminiscences. Here’s a picture from a scrapbook that belonged to one of the guys in the first class. You can see that in this very early iteration The Owl was much smaller and sort of ramshackle and that a Coke cost 5 cents. (I know this was The Owl because the person who kept the scrapbook labeled his photos. Let this be a lesson to us all.)
I don’t know who built this first Owl, but I do know that in 1919 it passed into the hands of George Martin, who expanded and improved it. (Note how much bigger and nicer it is in the 1921 photo.) A few years ago, former Rice basketball coach Don Knodel very graciously sent several things over to the Woodson for safekeeping. One of the more interesting was a beautiful scrapbook kept by Martin, best known to most people as the original owner of Ye Old College Inn and a fervent supporter of Rice athletics. In that scrapbook I found this picture:
This photo is dated 1919, and Martin notes that this was his first restaurant and that it was built on the site that later was home to Palmer Memorial Church. It’s clearly the same place, in the early stages of being fancied up, not yet as big or as nice as it is in the 1921 picture. (And how creepy is that Honey Boy sign?) So how long did it stay there? Martin opened Ye Old College Inn in 1920, but I don’t know when The Owl disappeared. Rice’s architecture professor William Ward Watkin designed Palmer Church in 1927 and I think it was built soon after that, so it must have shut down sometime between 1921 and roughly 1928. I’ll check and see if I can find anything in the Thresher or Campanile, and I’ll also look in Watkins’ papers. You never know.
This is the newly installed sign for Ye Old College Inn in 1920. Check out the fresh cement.