I’ve been in several meetings recently having to do with the plans to renovate this historic areas of Baker. The historical questions that have arisen in these discussions are quite interesting and have forced me to think harder about where there might be evidence about how Baker Commons was configured and how it’s been used over the years. We have, of course, a photo file labeled “Baker Commons” and it contains several useful images. But those images mostly show an empty room and aren’t much help in trying to figure out how the space worked in real life.
As I pondered this problem, I remembered that for many years this room was regarded as a jewel, one of the showplaces of the institution, and was often used for formal or otherwise important events. That sent me to the files on homecoming: for decades Baker Commons was the venue for the President’s Brunch on Saturday morning. Sure enough, I found these. (Mark this day down–sometimes I actually find things intentionally.)
It’s quite a handsome room. These two pictures are taken from opposite ends of the room, but it’s easy to tell that little changed from 1951 to 1956. The floor seems to be the same–some kind of hard, fairly shiny surface, maybe something like linoleum. Both pictures show shades on the windows instead of the current (ugly) curtains. And the walls in both are a color that is substantially darker than the reddish color of the walls today.
But one fairly major thing did change. Look again at the first photo. It’s the view looking towards the balcony from just behind the head table. Notice that you can just get a glimpse of the table itself and that the table is higher than the rest of the room. The riser that was originally there was still there in 1951. (Two quick notes: First, remember that beanie sitting there that says “R 63” on it. I’ll get back to that some other time. And second, see the big guy in the dark suit sitting sideways in his chair in the first row at the right? This is him.)
But here’s the head table in 1956. The riser’s gone. And this time the guy is seated at the head table, just to the right of the fellow who’s looking in our general direction while deep in conversation.
By 1958, all hell had broken loose. The curtains have appeared (although, mercifully, they aren’t red), along with some unfortunate new furniture. In the final blow, they have for some unfathomable reason decided to defy tradition and set up the head of the room at the side of the room. I don’t even know what to say.
Bonus: I noticed what appears to be a dead phone hanging on the wall outside the Baker library today. I don’t think you can see it in this lousy cell phone picture, but the number on the label is (713) 527-8101 (ext. 3540). I wonder when this last worked.
Probably January 31, 2000, at 5PM.
I knew you’d know this.
How do you know this?
If the phone had ever been connected to the Nortel switch in late December 1999, the telephone number should have been updated to (713) 348-3540 when it was tested. The pre-2000 telephone number suggests that it may have been missed. So, it would have died when the ROLM switch was shutdown which was, if memory serves, on January 31, 2000. I could be off about the date, but the ROLM ran for a few weeks after the official cutover to the Nortel on January 3, 2000.
I’d be willing to bet that it lived longer. We had quite a few analog phones over here at APB which were connected to the Nortel switch but did not have their little number placard updated.
“In the final blow, they have for some unfathomable reason decided to defy tradition and set up the head of the room at the side of the room.”
There’s a perfectly valid reason for this. As in many cases, blind tradition can — and should! — get trumped by simple practicality.
If the “head” of the room is at one end of Baker Commons, it’s hard as all get-out to make voice and presence felt at the far other end of the room. It’s the same reason why Baker Shakespeare tends to put the stage in the middle of the room, with audience seated to either side. Then you get the same number of audience, but the furthest seats are only half as far away.
Having heard a little now about the looming Baker Commons renovations, I have to say I’m a bit worried that student life is about to lose out to slavish historical devotion.
You’d be wrong about that. The reason for the meetings in the Baker Library has been to work out the right balance with the students.
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