A small note: Before I get to the history of the trophy case, let me assure everyone that all the stuff that was in the case is now safe in the arms of the Woodson Research Center. With one large, very heavy exception that I’ll get to later.
So, the trophy case has had a bit of a checkered past. It was a gift to the Rice Institute in 1916 by William Marsh Rice, Jr. (usually called “Will Rice”), the nephew of the founder and a long-time Rice board member. Inspired by Rice’s thrashing of the Texas A&M football team in 1915, he decided that a case for the display of the Institute’s athletic trophies was going to be required. In what might have been a tiny bit of overkill, he had it designed and built by the Boston architectural firm Cram and Ferguson, the designers of Rice’s first buildings. It cost $2,500, an extremely significant amount of money in 1915.
It arrived on campus in late 1916 and was placed in the faculty chambers in the Administration Building. (I’ve never noticed it in any photos of the room, but then I’ve never been looking for it. I’ll pay attention going forward.) Here’s the letter of appreciation from the Rice trustees to Will Rice. It’s interesting for several reasons, but what’s caught my eye is the reference to eight figurines that stood on the corners of the case. They’re definitely not there anymore, which is a pity. I’d love to see a little statue of Will Rice in his golfing outfit.
At some point (it has to be after 1958), they moved the case into the basement of the RMC. It stayed there until 1962, when it was brought up and put in the entry of Fondren Library to house—wait for it—a historical display on the occasion of Rice’s semi-centennial. (Because Lee Pecht and Mary Bixby had not yet been invented, that display was put together by Pender Turnbull of the library staff and art professor James Chillman.) And after all the excitement was over, it went back to the basement of the RMC. (It’s possible that there was a brief stop in the Baker Commons. Does that ring a bell with anyone?)
The trophy case survived a flood of the RMC basement in 1970, although not without some water damage. It’s also lost a lot of its gold leaf and other decoration, and is generally kind of worse for the wear. It still has a weird dignity, though, as if its shabby state is somehow beneath its notice.
Today I found a memo written in May, 1986 by then-VP of Administration Bill Akers granting space in the RMC foyer for the case. It wasn’t easy to move it up, and several alumni began looking into having it restored, but it seems that nothing came of that. Here are a couple pictures of the preparations for the move from the basement:
I have two other small notes. First, we really need some new trophy cases. When they renovated the gym, they took the old ones out and didn’t replace them. Second, I found a 1995 Rice News article about the case (written by former Woodson Research Center All-Star, Philip Montgomery), which contained a description of its contents as of that date. These contents were nearly identical to what we took out of the case this summer, including the battered trombone!