I’d noticed these images before but as you can see they’re slides, which are a bit awkward to deal with, so I just left them and moved on with my tasks. Yesterday, though, I had enough time to go back and scan them (apologies for the sloppy scans, by the way–I was having trouble with Photoshop). As soon as I got a better look I was struck by how frightening fire really is. This first one is almost the scariest, with those flames shooting out into an otherwise normal scene:
Here’s the aftermath:
We can’t thank firemen enough.
Interesting. I had always heard the commons burned to the ground. Clearly, it didn’t. Not sure from these pics why they didn’t repair it. Probably for about the same money they could get something better.
While the dining area of the commons was gutted, the kitchen and serving line were very nearly undamaged. The firewall between the two areas of the building did its job. I believe that the original plan was to simply repair the building, but structural engineers determined that the fire had been so intense as to damage the steel frame and render the exterior walls and roof to be un-repairable.
Hanszen was without a commons for the 1975-76 school year. The students used the RMC for lunch and dinner but were dispersed among the other colleges for the first meal of the day. You can get to know someone pretty well from eating breakfast with them over a period of time. Several Wiessmen married Hanszen gals as a consequence of that fire. I did.
It was a big surprise returning to Hanszen College in August with nothing but a slab standing where the Commons once rested. But we were very resourceful and used the slab for such events as disco parties where we learned important skills such as disco line dancing.
That made me laugh, Steve. Thanks!
A nitpicking point—I believe that the first picture may be reversed. The building in the background looks like the old section of Hanszen, which would imply that the picture was taken from the general area of the 400 stairwell of the new section. However, if that is the case, the burning commons should have been to the left of the picture, not the right.
One last point (I promise!) — the old section was being renovated that summer, and most of the furniture from the old section was stored in the commons. Many people believed that the fire was so intense because of the abundance of fuel (mattresses, wooden dressers, etc.) in the building.
I love picking nits. I want you to do it too. Never hesitate. The goal is to get as much correct as possible.
Also, I think you’re right.
My initial reaction to the first slide was also that it must be reversed. But now I conclude that the picture was taken from a rear corner of the commons, and is not a mirror image. The pictured second floor window of the old tower was the access from my freshman year room to the roof of the commons, and was used for many intellectual pursuits by Steve Altobelli, DJ Thompson, and Dave Ott. There are unsubstantiated rumors that it may have been utilized to launch attacks on the new section. And how was anyone supposed to know that placing a cinder block on top of a vent pipe would cause the urinals in the men’s room of the commons to overflow?
Upon further review…..I agree with Henry. This is looking east from the rear (northwest) corner of the commons. And many things occurred in the various levels of the old section tower during the 1970s—things best left unmentioned now. (although the statute of limitations has undoubtedly expired)
No worries. The Rice History Corner issues pardons liberally.
The doors to what would today be called the servery survived the fire (the pleather was blistered half way up) and my father had them in his office as art for the longest time. They’re somewhere in the Rice archives now, apparently.