[Second Update: Believe it or not, this mystery got picked up by the Houston Chronicle.]
So my commenters and I have pretty well concluded that this couldn’t have been taken from the top of the Administration Building circa 1915:
Not only is the layout of streets unfamiliar but as you can see in this aerial of the area that in 1917 there wasn’t anything near the campus at all:
It’s hard to see what direction you could point a camera from Rice to get that view of an urban scene at that date.
It’s theoretically possible that it was taken later but that doesn’t solve the problem of not recognizing the street grid and furthermore I think it really looks 1915ish.
That leaves the question of how to account for the mistake and here I have a theory. I had noticed long ago that before he gave his scrapbook to the archives Elmer Shutts went through it and added new labels to old photographs. Here’s a clear example:
You can easily see that the label at the top is newer than the one on the bottom, which looks to have been contemporaneous with the picture. If you go back and look at the label on the image of the city it’s pretty clear that it was added later too. This makes me suspect that the older Shutts just didn’t look all that closely or didn’t remember accurately where he’d taken that photo.
I’m satisfied with that although I’d still like to know what that picture is showing us.