Trophy Case, Part II

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.

Click on this if you'd like to read it.

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:

Those boxes give me the willies.

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!


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10 Responses to Trophy Case, Part II

  1. Grungy says:

    That flood was actually on 15 June 1976.
    When the floodwaters blew out what was then the wall behind the pizza ovens in Willy’s Pub, the trophy case was propelled across the room, but not smashed. The water was a about 3′ 10″ in the Bandhall, so I’ll assume it was roughly the same depth next door in the Pub. While the trophy case does occupy a niche in my memory along the west wall of the original pub, anything that might have been in it before the flood does not. Anyone else reading this recall what might have been displayed in it prior to the Great Flood?

  2. Grungy says:

    And those boxes that give you the “Willy’s” are labelled 1/6/86.
    I can’t think of an event that would have put them in that corner of the Grand Hall at that time. Some kind of general clean-up? A lot of stuff reappeared (and then disappeared) after the Pub fire in April of ’95. Almost everything that was in the Alumni Office on the second floor was outside, behind the Grand Hall, for a few days. I asked them if they meant to have their complete collection of Campaniles outside in the rain and they then moved them, along with other archival items.

    • James Medford says:

      The Cesar Pelli addition to the RMC (when it became the Ley Student Center) was completed in 1986, so the placement of the boxes might have been connected to the work going on. Also, the Pub was closed during the ’85-’86 academic year for some renovation work.

  3. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT says:

    Among the sports mentioned in the ‘letter’ displayed is mentioned “rowing”.
    Does that refer to “rowing” being a major sport at Princeton, or does that imply that at some time Rice Institute had a “rowing” sport?

  4. Grungy says:

    A copy of that letter ought to be a part of the display in the trophy case, so people can have an idea of what they are looking at.
    An online inflation calculator figures that $2500 in 1915 would be $55,921.29 today.

  5. David M. Bynog says:

    Fascinating stuff; I’ve wondered about this case for years as I walked by (and I frequently stopped to look at the contents). Great shout out to Lee and Mary for the new exhibit.

  6. James W. Hajovsky says:

    I love your articles you write about Rice History. Having a big interest in Rice and its history, do you have any files on the Rice football and baseball teams from the early 50’s to perhaps 80’s. And if you can I look at some of the articles or whatever is available. I thought Jess Neely was one of the greatest coaches ever and I’d like to see a little bit about his coaching not only the football teams but also the baseball team in the late 40’s.

  7. joecwhite says:

    At one point, there was on display a paper megaphone from the bookstore from the era of the opening of the RMC. Some friends of mine found it at a garage sale in Beaumont in the late 80s and gave it to me, and I in turn gave it to somebody who put it in the case.

  8. Hunted this down because I found the Thresher article about the donation of the trophy case.

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