Fair warning: this is going to be a long, meandering story without a satisfactory conclusion. Read on if you dare.
I mentioned recently that I discovered the scrapbook and papers of William McVey (’24), who did some of the artwork on campus. It’s really quite a collection–I’d probably rank it in my top five in terms of just flat out interesting material. I’ll probably use quite a bit of it here, but I’d like to start with this one image. It is, obviously, President Lovett and President Houston standing by a window:
It’s a great picture and an unusual one. There are only a couple of others with them together, so this was a really good find. That isn’t, though, what arrested me about it. Look out the window — you have to zoom in, but if you do I’m certain that you’ll be stopped in your tracks by what you see there. Oh what the heck–here, I’ll just show you:
I don’t know very much, but one thing I’m sure about is that isn’t the metalwork that belongs there. Here’s a picture take at commencement in 1924 where you can see the beautiful scrollwork that does belong there fairly clearly. (It also just dawned on me that I’ve written about this ironwork before, a couple of years ago, inspired by a photograph from 1918.)
I spent a significant amount of time this morning looking at this building from the outside, trying to figure out exactly which window this was. You can’t really tell, so this afternoon I visited several offices to test out the angles from their windows. (I was received with grace and slight bemusement everywhere and I’m very grateful to all who let me in for a look.) Here it is from the outside, the third tall window from the left if you’re standing in the quad–the president’s office for may decades:
Frustratingly, I couldn’t reproduce the angle of the original shot from the inside because there’s a table there, but if you’re in there you can tell that this is definitely the right place.
The reason you can tell it’s the right place is because of the gloriousness of the old Physics Building. One thing that makes this building so fascinating is that it is both symmetrical and wildly unsymmetrical at the same time. In particular I love the arches of the arcade–here you can clearly see that the one on the right is just slightly smaller than the one on the left:
If you go back and look at the piece of the picture of Lovett and Houston that I blew up for you, you can just make out that those are the same two arches. I guess you’ll just have to trust me that you can see it if you lean over the table.
So, where are we? The beautiful scrollwork is on that window in 1918 and 1924. It is, in fact, there in every picture of Lovett Hall I looked at this afternoon. It’s there now. Why isn’t it there in the picture of Lovett and Houston in the late ’40s or early 1950s?
I don’t know. Maybe they took it off for repairs or something and then put it back?
Update: After stewing about this for the last few hours, I think I have it figured out. I believe that the door had a screen on it–this being before or just after air conditioning was installed–and that’s what we’re seeing. I think the original balcony scrollwork is actually there in the photo, but very hard to spot because the screen is in front of it. Now I can sleep!