Wiess Hall was dedicated late on a Sunday afternoon in the spring of 1950. From what I can tell it was the usual thing–a small crowd gathered near the new building, donors were thanked and President Houston made a few remarks about the future and the role of this new residence hall in the anticipated growth of the university. Then Edgar Odell Lovett spoke. His words were classic Lovett—accurate, carefully modulated and yet barely hinting at something very deep just out of sight. I can’t help but wonder what he must have felt, putting the name of his friend and former student, dead far too young, on this odd-looking new building.
Whatever he was thinking, his brief talk gives a clear picture of Harry Wiess, so I’m putting the whole thing up here. Wiess was in my estimation one of the three or four most important trustees in the history of Rice. He was able, intelligent and extremely ambitious for the university. His early death deprived Rice of one of its most vigorous leaders at a critical moment.
Here’s a lovely portrait of Harry Wiess, taken by the photographer Vera Prasilova Scott, wife of Rice Physics professor Arthur Scott:
Wonderful! Thanks for posting Lovett’s remarks.
It was a real shame to name such a mediocre building for Wiess.
At least the building is gone but his name lives on in Wiess College.
Indeed! And it is also too bad that the external stylistic blandness may have discredited the fundamental layout, which from a social and functional perspective was absolutely outstanding. If the building could have somehow combined the same basic layout with a more attractive and fitting style, it would have been one of the best-designed college residences in the world.
It would be wonderful to dig up more works from Vera Prasilova Scott. The portrait of Mr. Wiess is beautiful.
Tommy-There are wonderful photos by Vera Prasilova Scott online in the Rice Digital Scholarship Archive (http://scholarship.rice.edu/handle/1911/63638),
in a podcast at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-DsF2hYx4oY&feature=youtu.be, in her collection in the Woodson Research Center (MS 497), and on display at the Bank of America lobby in downtown Houston. Her work is really amazing.
For those of us who lived in and loved Wiess College, we referred to its physical form as “having a certain brutalistic charm” in a tongue in cheek reference to the architectural style made popular in the 1970s. Actually, although hardly attractive by any objective measure, the building worked really well as the interaction between the rooms, balconies and the patios made for an incredibly interactive indoor/outdoor space.
I knew a guy from Wiess in the 80s who jumped over a stairwell railing in a fit of excitement. He expected the landing to be about three feet below, not nine feet below. He was on crutches for a long time.