Wiess Hall Construction, 1949

Wiess construction 1I had reason today to look at some of the images from the 1949 construction of Wiess Hall, “old Wiess” as I’ve always known it. It was called “North Hall” while it was being designed, in accordance with the tradition of giving the dorms directional names, but then renamed in honor of Rice trustee Harry C. Wiess after his death. (I’ll have more about him tomorrow when I talk about the dedication ceremony.)

Wiess construction 2

Newspaper articles about the new dorm all stressed that it was  designed to fit in with the campus’s Mediterranean architecture but to my admittedly untrained eyes it looks more like a total rejection of the ideas that had motivated the earlier buildings. It looks to me, honestly, like a motel.Wiess construction 3

The other thing that the newspapers talk about is the bulding’s air flow—open corridors, access to balconies and cross ventilation for almost all the rooms. Again, while I appreciate how important air flow was in pre-airconditioned Houston, this sounds like trouble, especially the balconies. In any event, the construction pictures are deeply interesting. They show a part of campus that had been infrequently photographed and they can be a little disorienting. Many of them were taken on oddly overcast days so they are even more striking and well worth zooming in on.

Wiess construction 4

Update: One of my more alert readers saw last Friday’s Folly and knew exactly what was going on. Here‘s the Rice News story from 2004, with one of the most charming headlines I’ve ever encountered in that publication: “Bizarre Attractive Force Found in Mayonnaise.” Tell me about it.


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16 Responses to Wiess Hall Construction, 1949

  1. Leoguy says:

    Don’t get me started on old Wiess. For 4 years I had to look at it from the windows in my room in Hanszen. It was an eyesore then and always. You’re correct, the style didn’t have anything to do with the original Rice architecture. It was motel design at the institutional level. Good riddance! Now, if they could just level Lovett and Sid Rich Colleges and replace them with better designs…
    On another matter, in the third photograph what is going on beyond the bleachers in the background? Isn’t that where the baseball field was located? Is this a game in progress? Regardless, it’s got to be more interesting than old Wiess College!

    • Melissa Kean says:

      I think it is in fact a baseball game. Look just to the right of the dump truck and you can see at least one guy in uniform.

      • Leoguy says:

        Yes, I see the player. Missed him the first time I enlarged the photo.

      • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

        The extra high fence is a backfence of the tennis courts. It essentially was parellel to the lower 4 foot high fence of the baseball field. The standing crowd is probablly standing along the low fence. The Rice players’ bench would be just inside the low fence.

        Notice the tennis players: They are down to the right. They are on the part of the tennis courts less likely to have foul balls hit over the first baseline land on their heads Foul balls hit directly behind the batters and over the batting backstop landed on the concrete walkway, on the balcony, and on the roof of that wing of North Hall. And those suckers really bounced high when they landed on the concrete.

        There seem to be shrubs and/or trees out in right field of the baseball field. They were NOT there in 1952. There is some structure in right field; maybe that was the goalpost on the practice football field that was there, at least in 1952+ . There is someone out there, maybe the right fielder. From 1952 onward, that area was open clearing all the way to the gymnasium.

        Regarding, “Again, while I appreciate how important air flow was in pre-airconditioned Houston … ” :
        In Old Hanszen (West Hall to me), my room had 2 windows, the door, the hallway and a similar setup across the hall. It was seldom that cross ventilation was achieved by those 2 rooms. There was NO A/C, no ceiling fans, and no other fans. Thank goodness we were NOT there in Summer. When some students stayed in dorms over the summer, I remember it as being in North Hall.
        And though North Hall may seem non-aesthetic (?sp) now, many people who had the chance moved into that dorm.

  2. marmer01 says:

    Interesting. Staub and Rather built a lot of beautiful houses in River Oaks and Broadacres. Their institutional work, such as Fondren Library and old Wiess, is much less engaging. Especially old Wiess.

  3. almadenmike says:

    Since the photo was marked as having been taken on April 1, 1949, I looked up the Thresher account of the baseball game seen in the background. It must have been a good one, since it looked like the crowd was SRO.

    “Rice rooters were treated to a dazzling display of pitching skill” began the article in Saturday, April 2nd’s issue (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth230802/m1/4/zoom/ ) .But it was A&M’s Pat Hubert who was doing the dealing, defeating the Owls 7-0 in a two-hit shutout. Rice greats Vernon Glass and Charles W. Bishop got Rice’s only hits, both singles.

    (BTW, Hubert was a veterinarian in Kingsville for more than 50 years. (http://www.thebatt.com/2.8488/from-baseball-to-medicine-hubert-51-lived-a-full-life-1.1192335))

    According to the first Thesher in the fall, students were moved into North Hall before it was completely finished. (http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth230815/m1/1/zoom/)

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

      Thanks for the baseball link. I remember the name of Vernon Glass.

      BTW, there is an intereting filler after the bb write up:
      “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.–Thomas Jefferson.”

  4. James Medford says:

    At Hanszen in the early 80s, we referred to the Wiess architecture as “Early Motel 6”. One year in the late 80s, Hanszen arranged to have a plane fly over a Rice football game towing a banner that said, “Motel Wiess: Hourly Rates Available”.

    • George Webb says:

      And that same year, Wiess adopted “Motel Wiess” as the theme for Night of Decadence. “Sanitized for your protection!”

  5. George Webb says:

    The balconies were not troubling at all — they were a great ingredient of life at Wiess, and one that the students insisted be preserved when the college’s new building was built. With all the rooms opening directly to the outside and visible to the rest of the college, life at Wiess was essentially lived outdoors and in public, which was remarkably conducive to community and team spirit. That spirit was in stark contrast to the cocooning and hall/floor divisions that can occur in other environments. It is too bad that the other residential buildings have not replicated this design principle.

    • Barney L. McCoy says:

      As co-commander(with Jerry Hafter) of the Hanszen Artillery, I loved the motel look, large windows, open hallway concept. It made it much easier to put a water balloon directly into a Weiss Weanie’s room during the occasional water balloon fight.
      Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67

      • Richard Miller (Hanszen '75 & '76) says:

        Except when the room was not occupied by a weanie but a jock. During my freshman year, the bottom SW corner room was occupied by Staley Vincent, one of the few stars of a mediocre football team (fthe Peterson era). We were warned that under no circumstances was his room to be hit because of a likely ‘up close and personal’ response by Mr. Vincent.

        • Barney L. McCoy says:

          During one Spring Sunday afternoon fight, we woke up Virgil Phelps from his afternoon nap by lobbing a waterballoon through his window with the Hanszen catapult. He was a lineman on the football team and large by 60s Rice football standards.He was not a happy camper and threatened to rub my nose in the mudfield created between Hanszen and Wiess. One of the benefits of being a track jock is that you can usually outrun a football lineman. Luckily, Virgil had a great sense of humor and soon joined in the festivities and forgot his pledge of revenge. I’m glad Vincent came along later, because he was fast. Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67

  6. Don’t disparage cross-ventilation. Check out Christopher Alexander and “light on two sides”. http://www.patternlanguage.com/apl/aplsample/apl159/apl159.htmz

  7. Jeff Ross says:

    It is easy to see from these photos why Wiess needed to be replaced. The interior wall and ground level floors were supported by the uncompacted fill that is shown being placed within the beam structure that supported the exterior walls. No wonder the interior walls and floors moved independently and led to the need to demolish the building. I agree with George Webb-the rooms opening to the balconies helped to create the Wiess culture and was important to replicate in the new building. By the way Rodrigo Barnes also lived in the SW corner and a balloon tossing weanie didn’t want to mess with him either.

    • Richard Miller (Hanszen '75 & '76) says:

      I also noticed that the footings had large voids and some of the rebar was exposed.

      Actually, it was Mr. Barnes I was thinking of, not Mr Vincent who occupied that room

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