Here’s something worth some serious mulling over.
Caesar Lombardi was one of the original Rice trustees. He was Swiss born and arrived in the United States in 1860. Educated in New Orleans at Loyola College, he was the only one of those first trustees to have any formal higher education. In Houston he worked for the big cotton broker W.D. Cleveland and Co. but by 1906 he had become the president of A.H. Belo, publisher of the Dallas Morning News and the Galveston News. He was friendly with William Marsh Rice who in 1891 asked him to join the board of the new Rice Institute. Lombardi served on that board until his death in 1919. (This violated the charter, by the way. Lombardi lived in Dallas for most of this time and the charter required that all trustees live in Houston.)
What’s at issue in this letter is the proposed sale of the original Rice Institute property in downtown Houston:
In short, Captain Baker and the other trustees want to sell it to the city and Lombardi is stoutly opposed. What he describes as the proper goal of the Institute is dramatically different from how we think about Rice today:
I found this letter in a very unexpected place. It was buried among thousands of utterly mundane documents in the records of the early Rice Business Manager, A.B. Cohn. (I won’t speculate about why it was there instead of in the more obvious Early Rice Institute Papers where Captain Baker’s correspondence from those early days is generally found.) There is nothing in the letter that I didn’t already know but I only knew it from having spent a couple of decades working with those old materials–a comment here and there, a sentence or two in a legal document, assumptions buried in correspondence, and charter language that came directly from the Cooper Union all added up to basically the same thing that Lombardi says. What’s so shocking is his bluntness in contrast to the typical tiptoeing around the issue of Mr. Rice’s intentions. (This isn’t meaningless, either. There are some, shall we say, implications.)
In the end, of course, we sold the land and did none of the things Lombardi spelled out. I suppose the lesson is that if you give away your fortune to an institution and specify that you want it to be built after you die, there’s no telling what you’ll end up with. So be careful about that, ok?