Inside the Walls of Baker Commons

I got back to campus today and I must admit that I really enjoyed being back. I had badly missed my colleagues–and my scanner. I figured that I would be tired and would just put up a post tonight about Rice Christmas cards, but something much more exciting came up. (Don’t worry, you’ll get to see the Christmas cards tomorrow.)

Over in the Baker Commons, Phase One of the renovations has begun. The panels have been taken down and sent off for refinishing. But what’s really interesting is what’s under the panels. It looks like a riot under there! During the planning phases they had peeked under one of the panels to get a sense of how the building had been constructed, but that couldn’t really prepare anyone for the wildness of the room.

I suspect the middle piece was once an outside column that was incorporated into the addition.

There are all kinds of materials–several kinds of brick, clay panels, wood, concrete–and the remains of at least two systems for attaching the beautiful wood panels to the walls. The older system is the one on the darker wall. Those circles are wooden dowels embedded in the wall that had grommets on the ends. The newer system is visible on the lighter wall on the left. The dark stripes are also wood, strips with nails meant to hold the panels. I think.

I’m not even going to try to get into the addition yet. My head is still spinning.

Bonus: It’s pretty obvious that over time there’s been quite a bit of patching done in this room. Here’s a note from a carpenter who took a crack at it in the summer of 1964:

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6 Responses to Inside the Walls of Baker Commons

  1. C Kelly says:

    I wonder if they’ll find any Jax, Grand Prize, or Pearl beer bottles behind the paneling. You never know.

  2. No note came through. I had always been told the paneling had been installed to cover food stains from a food fight. Is that urban legend then?

    • almadenmike says:

      Not an urban legend.

      The summer 2010 issue of the Rice Historical Society’s “The Cornerstone” (p. 7 – quotes the 1923 Campanile account of campus discord during WWI. The yearbook’s “Rice at War” retrospective reported (view the original on p. 131 here:

      “A topsy-turvy state of affairs. It even snowed that year. A change of spirit is reflected in the Threshers of the time. Articles formerly humorous took on a bitter tone. Cartoons became caricatures of conditions. The Thresher was suppressed, and all other outside activities were abandoned. The outcome was a considerable rumpus—not the ‘open and premeditated rebellion’ that one Houston paper saw, but still quite an outburst. A fire hose was turned in the Commandant’s room, breaking out his windows; red flags appeared in dormitory windows; there was a ‘food riot’ in which dishes and food sailed quite merrily for a time. In fact, the walls of the Mess Hall were so dented that it was easier to put in the oak panelling we now have than it was to repair them. The good old army beans, coffee, sow belly and hard tack didn’t go well. Hell was a ‘popping for fair.”

      There are also mentions of this on the Baker College website ( and in a Jan. 20, 2002, Thresher feature on Baker College (p. 10, ): “People say that the now beautifully wood-paneled walls were once plaster but ‘due to a few too many food fights in early days, that plaster was ruined and had to be covered,’
      said Baker Resident Associate Greg Marshall (Baker ’86).” (Note: Greg is now director of University Relations – )

  3. James Medford says:

    I’ve always wondered when the addition/extension was built. You can clearly see the gap between the Commons and East Hall (Baker’s Old Section) in early photos, but I’ve never been able to determine when the Commons was extended.

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