“A very profitable term of work is being predicted,” 1923 plus Christmas Break Roundup

Spring semester starts today and I’m officially back at it. I’m not feeling quite as optimistic about my prospects as this Chronicle article from 1923 would suggest but neither have I “busted out” after the first term.

I did, predictably, come back to wander around campus over break. Because I don’t know what else to do. I saw the usual maintenance and construction workers, grad students, and families riding bikes but it did indeed feel tranquil. Here’s an image of a similar day over Christmas break in 1976. Not much is different except the size of the trees:

Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

I did see an unexpected sight in front of Lovett Hall. It was cold and raining hard at this point and yet several groups gathered there for the campus tour. I would admit any of these prospective students based purely on their tenacity:

 I also spent some time over break sorting through photos I took during the centennial celebration in 2012. Much to my delight Jim Kinsey popped up again, almost 60 years after the last time we saw him here. What I remember about this moment is how happy he was that as a retiree he didn’t have to sit in the sun in academic robes during this event. It was hot!


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Glorious Photographs From The HMRC

Several weeks ago I began work on a major collaborative project with the Houston Metropolitan Research Center in the Julia Ideson Building downtown. (The HMRC is the archival branch of the Houston Public Library and its website is here. Take look if you’re not familiar with it or even if you are. If you have any interest in the history of Houston, this is the place for you.) It is truly a privilege to work with this magnificent collection and it’s also delightful to work alongside such a devoted and friendly staff. I will be occupied with this project for quite some time (and I’ll have more to say about it later) but I will remain faithfully at my post in Fondren on the usual irregular basis.

What I’m working on isn’t focused specifically on Rice but I’ve already come across more images of campus than I can easily handle. Many of these images are exactly the views that are most interesting to me at this point–pictures of something else that incidentally capture the edges of the university. What I’m going to show you today came out of an envelope in the Houston Post Photographic collection. This collection was painstakingly inventoried over a number of years by a volunteer who name I don’t know but this particular envelope was labeled only with the date (1957) and “unidentified intersection, football stadium.” I, of course, couldn’t stop myself from looking at this.

The first picture looks almost familiar:

It was the second one that let me place it. That’s Emanu El peeking out at lower right, so this is the wonky intersection of Rice Boulevard and Sunset and Mandell:

Which means that’s Rice at the bottom of this one:

But what ho! This next one is absolutely delicious–it’s the back side of everything! Swooning, I am.

Zoom in on them. There’s more here than I can discuss right now but feel free to have at it if you’d like. But why were they even taken? I’m not sure but I suspect it was the groundbreaking for the First Christian Church that now sits on that site.

Well, there is one thing I can’t resist mentioning. See the path that cuts straight across the middle of the church property? We’ve talked about that before!

Well, also at the front of my mind recently has been the radio antenna by Abercrombie. Interestingly, it’s not here even though the first pictures I’ve seen from on top of it also were taken in 1957.

Ok, that’s it. For now.

I have to go up to College Station tomorrow so I’ll be back here Monday.

Bonus: That intersection has been weird from the beginning. Here’s a map of all the real estate swaps that had to take place way back in 1923 to get it in place. Note the “Chas Weber” parcel at top left. We’ve talked about him before too.

Extra Bonus: You didn’t think I forgot about the football stadium, did you?

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Ralph O’Connor, 1926-2018

Ralph Sturges O’Connor was born in Pasadena, California in 1926 and died in Houston this last Saturday. He’s standing at the far left in this picture, taken in the summer of 1968. It was the last Rice board meeting attended by Ralph’s father-in-law, George Brown, who is seated in the middle. Ralph was the baby in this room–he’d been on the board about a year at this point and he would serve more than another twenty–and for many years he was my living contact with this earlier world.

A Hopkins alum, Ralph threw himself into his role at Rice with the enthusiasm and complete commitment that characterized everything he did. Someone will make a list of all the money he gave and all the projects he supported, but that isn’t at all what I will remember about him–although I will always recall with a smile the time I raised a significant amount of money from him for a scholarship totally by accident. He was simply not capable of seeing a need and doing nothing about it. He didn’t have to be asked, he just got after it. And he dragged you into it too, but it was great because you got to come along for the ride. He was funny and gentle, full of life and fun, and very, very frank. He seemed to actually enjoy students in a sort of bemused way that I found  just charming and every single time I saw him I was glad of it.

Ralph did a lot of good things for Rice and for many other institutions in and far beyond Houston, for his alma mater Johns Hopkins, and probably only heaven knows where else. I don’t have any doubt, though, about which was the most important thing he did for us at Rice. Ralph chaired the presidential search that brought George Rupp here in 1985–the first such search after the disastrous Masterson episode of 1969–and he ran that process in such an open, respectful, and consultative fashion that it was lauded by the Carnegie Foundation as a model of its kind and not incidentally went far towards healing the bad feelings that lingered after the Masterson affair. This search also gave rise to a classic Ralph O’Connor story, a story so good that for many years I incorrectly assumed it had to be apocryphal. The committee had settled on Rupp as the clear choice but the recruitment got stuck. When Ralph discovered that George’s reluctance was partly because his daughter didn’t want to move, he asked whether she’d feel differently if she got a horse in Houston. It turned out that she would and so she did and we had our president.

Ralph S. O’Connor. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine on him.

Bonus: The picture above was taken at the Martel College groundbreaking in 2000. One of Ralph’s comments at this event gives me the giggles whenever I think of it: “Rest assured, we will be able to compete in drinking beer and riding bikes and whatever else.” That’s also classic.

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“the first Christmas of peace in four years,” December 1945

The cover of the December 1945 issue of the Owl was Santa weirdness:

Owl Christmas 1945

But inside was a sober wish for perpetual peace in the wake of the war just concluded:

Owl Christmas 1945 1


Merry Christmas to you all and let’s hope for better times to come.

Bonus: Fondren is closed until after the New Year. I’ll be back myself on January 4th, although you never know if I might have something sooner.



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“A Doll and a Game,” Christmas 1922

I’ve written in the past about The Owl magazine, a student run humor magazine that published during the late 1930s and 1940s. The original version of that magazine, though, first appeared during in the very early 1920s, probably with considerable help from the popular young art professor John Clark Tidden. Tidden drew several covers, including this charming Christmas number from 1922:


Bonus: “I want the entire pool scrubbed, sterilized, and disinfected!”

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Hanging Loose with Obsolete Technology, Christmas 1968

I got a real boot out of this Christmas ad from the campus store. I recognize all that stuff:

Christmas 1968 316

Bonus: Speaking of shopping, I had to go to the Galleria to pick something up this afternoon. I don’t recommend this by the way, but I did enjoy my annual viewing of Texans sprawled all over the ice rink. It never fails to bring a smile to my face.


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Christmas Comes Early!

I usually post in the evening but this is so exciting I just can’t wait that long. I got an email last night from Bill Kendall ’55 ’56, who has turned out to be my Santa Claus this year. He said this: My dad, William B. Kendall Jr., was a member of the Rice Institute class of 1927. (His two brothers also attended Rice.) He was an avid movie maker, and on a visit to the campus in 1929 he shot a short (~1 min) 16mm movie of the campus. I have recently found that movie and have had it digitized and converted into an mp4 file.

I actually had a physical reaction to this–my heart began beating fast and I got so warm I had to ask Mr.RiceHistoryCorner to turn down the heat. It’s a haunting little film and by far the earliest we have of campus. I’m as grateful to Mr. Kendall (both of them, actually) as it is possible to be.


Bonus: The story of the morning is fog. (Many thanks to a loyal reader who covers a lot of ground.)



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