Dating a picture of the back of the Physics Building

Some of you may not be as crazy as I am about the old Physics Building, but please humor me here. As my heroes in FE&P work to get the renovations right, I’m still looking around for photos that can help shed some light on things. Today I came across three pictures of the back of the building–as far as I can tell these are the only ones we have with any age to them. They are all taken from slightly different angles, which makes it kind of tricky. The only thing I really have to go on is the state of the landscaping. The first one (above) is dated 1916, which would have been just after it was completed. That seems right to me given how barren it looks. The only plants you can really see are those two sad little shrubs on either side of the back entrance.

The second one is undated, but it’s clearly more recent than the first based on the larger shrubbery. I think the two little shrubs in the first picture are the big round bushes here and there have been two more planted on either side of the walk to the doorway:

The last one has been dated firmly and with exemplary precision by someone in the Architecture Department as having been taken on April 26, 1930. Those big shrubs framing the door are the two small ones in the photo just above.

So the second picture was taken sometime between 1916 and 1930. This is not a particularly satisfying answer. There is, though, one more clue. If you enlarge and zoom in on that second photo, you can see the tiny live oak saplings that must have been recently planted when the picture was taken. If I can figure out when that happened, I’ll have it narrowed down to a more enjoyable range.

And here are those saplings today:


Bonus photos: I was recently part of a debate about whether it was possible for a person in the Physics Lecture Hall to look down into the department office below. I contended that it was not, but after checking it turns out that I was partially wrong. (!) It’s sort of possible, but it’s not easy. Except for the one at the very top, the windows are significantly above eye level for human beings.You can’t climb up on a chair, because the chairs are attached to each other. Further, the blinds can’t be raised, but they can be opened. This is what you can see with the naked eye if you get up on your tiptoes and separate the blinds. This, I would contend, does not constitute “seeing in.”

However, if you have a zoom lens, you can clearly see everything on the window shelf inside, so I have to concede something here. Still, if you were thinking of looking in there, you can just forget about it because that office is getting new blinds.


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12 Responses to Dating a picture of the back of the Physics Building

  1. gus schill says:

    What fascinates me about the Physics Building is the small alcove that faces the quadrangle. There is an old Camellia bush in front of the alcove that blooms each spring. A beautiful nook.

  2. James W. Hajovsky says:

    Thank you for all the work, articles and pictures you have come up with in sharing the history of Rice. I have always loved the Rice campus because of the buildings and history of the school itself. I am in a wheel chair and would like to know if they give tours of the campus and some of the buildings. I would love to do this and have thought of doing it on my own but never have because I don’t know my way around. I do know where Reckling Park, Tudor Field House and Rice Stadium is, I’m always there when we play at home.

    Thank you very much and keep up the good work.
    James W. Hajovsky

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Well, you know, I don’t know why we couldn’t do that. I’ll look into it.

      In the meantime, if you’d like to come visit the Woodson archives when you’re on campus please let me know.

  3. Bill says:

    Love seeing these old pictures of the campus. One small quibble, I think the two big bushes in the second picture must have been the newly planted ones, from their position; but it is pretty hard to tell. Not that it makes a difference in the dates. Somehow from the current size of the trees I neve pictured them being planted as tiny saplings. Keep up the good work.

  4. Iska Wire says:

    Hi Melissa,
    Houston Public has a few pictures digitized on their site by Shlueter on Rice Campus. They are 1927. Here is one But this one is great for the awesome hats – Maybe he took them around the same time? Too bad he didn’t date yours like he did these. Enjoy!

    • Melissa Kean says:

      These are great–and we don’t have copies of them (that I know about, anyway).

      Every year at graduation time, there was a garden party–that’s what these show.

  5. Wendy Kilpatrick Laubach ('78) says:

    You’re not the only one who loves the old Physics Building. I have been passionately fond of that building since the first day I saw it. It makes me happy just remembering it. That’s my idea of a building.

    When we built our house here in Rockport about six years ago, we used about eight tall oak-paneled interior doors we picked up from a salvage yard on Westheimer. The doors no longer had their hardware, which would have been a distinctive clue, but they looked very much like the doors I remember from the Rice buildings on the quad. The salvage yard thought they might have come from there.

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT says:

      Well, Wendy, old girl, where the hoot are the pictures of those doors for us to peruse?
      Unless you prefer us to drop in for drinks and supper.

      • Wendy Kilpatrick Laubach ('78) says:

        You’d be welcome any time! My husband has just taken a shot just for you, but I’ll be darned if I have the foggiest idea how to attach it to this reply. I’ll work on it.
        OK, I give up, but I posted it on my Facebook site, which is easy to find. I knew I’d find some use for that thing.

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