Yes, it’s come to this. A post about bricks. And the bad news is that it looks like it won’t be the last one.

As I was driving onto campus yesterday I pulled over and got out of the car so as to admire the impressive stack of bricks awaiting deployment on the new music building:

As I stood there I thought about how many pictures I’ve seen over the years of bricks, stacks of bricks, or people laying bricks on campus. It’s a lot. And I’ve taken quite a lot myself. There seems to be something compelling about the sight of bricks. I suspect all those even rows scratch some psychic itch for order.

Here’s one of my favorites, the masons working on Mech Lab in 1911:

And an early example of a deservedly rejected pattern–we did keep that thick mortar, though:

Inside the RMC chapel:


Probably the ultimate for me–Norman Hackerman with a pile of bricks, circa 1971:

And this is all that’s left of the old field house on Main Street, still visible through the grass:

There are more. Lots more. And some of them are even interesting. I’ll probably do one of the interesting ones tomorrow.

Bonus: Peering up at the pile of bricks out in the parking lot, I was happy to see this little fellow. They’re quite useful for keeping the rodent population down.

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Dead End, 1957

It may or may not surprise you to know that I routinely squirrel away things that I can use for the occasional quick and dirty post. I generally write here when I get home in the evening and there are times when I’ve had a rough day or just too much of a day and I can barely think straight much less write straight. Those are the times when I’ll pull out one of the photographs or documents that speak for themselves. Sometimes, though, these pictures refuse to cooperate and I wind up spending hours trying to figure out something I’d failed to notice the first time I looked at them.

Here’s an example, from the David Davidson ’58 slides. When I first saw them I thought I could just slap them up as a simple “compare and contrast” and be done with it. The first image is dated “summer 1957” and the second “March 1958”:

It wasn’t until I plugged them into a post that I stopped to think. And when that happened I realized how badly I had misunderstood this space. I’m pretty sure I’m not an idiot but I have to confess that I completely missed an entire road. Just failed to notice it. Let me start my explanation here, with an undated Joseph Davies photograph that I used over seven years ago. It’s the same spot from the opposite direction:

This is a wide gravel walkway today and I now see that the assumption I took away from this Davies photo was that it was originally a lawn. I now know that this was completely mistaken. It was originally a road, then a lawn, then gravel. This, of course, sent me back to the aerials to see what else I had missed. It looks like that road began at what was supposed to be Gate 4 and didn’t terminate until it reached the far side of the inner loop. You can see it here in 1947 running behind what would become the library parking lot:

A 1950 campus map confirms:

I have a deep suspicion that this must all be laughably obvious to you guys but I’d simply never thought about it until now. You might expect that after all this time I would have a better grasp of basic campus geography than this, but hey, sometimes stuff slips between the cracks.


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Segregation, Tuition, and Football, 1962

You know how I’m always so surprised by the things I find? Like “Oh my gosh, I never expected to see something like this!” or “what a startling discovery!” That didn’t happen today. What I found today I’ve always known had to exist somewhere, so I’ve been waiting patiently for nearly thirty years for it to turn up. And then there it was, tucked in William Houston’s Personal Papers. I recognized it instantly and perversely I felt almost disappointed. I’m going to miss looking for it.

This is a letter from President Houston to President Pitzer, a careful recounting of a 1962 meeting between Houston, Rice’s first dean of engineering LeVan Griffis, and two senior officials of the Ford Foundation, one of the most important funders of advanced education in the South. It captures in a nutshell the tangle of problems that faced Rice in its efforts to move into the top rank of American universities and makes quite clear the motivations for the changes that followed. I’ve sometimes heard people speculate that the beginning of tuition that coincided with desegregation was a cynical maneuver to keep black students out even after admission was technically open to them. I’m capable of just as much cynicism about university administrators as anyone–possibly more given my job–but I’ve never seen any evidence that that’s true. What I have seen plenty of evidence for is that they did both things for the same reason–they needed money to pay for the dramatic leap in quality that they were planning and they had to do both to get it.

The only thing that surprised me in this letter was the suspicion of the Ford Foundation guys about the high quality of our football program.

Bonus: We all survived my daughter’s wedding and I’ve never seen Cohen House look prettier. We had Rice Campus Photographer Jeff Fitlow taking pictures and he did a phenomenal job. This is out in the garden.



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“thank you for the pleasing inscription in the fly-leaf,” 1942

As I mentioned the other day I’ve recently spent some time looking for something in the library records.(Didn’t find it.) Anyway, I went all the way back to the old Rice Institute Library collection, which in reality is mostly a collection of Alice Dean‘s papers. She was a marvel, by the way, thoughtful, efficient, and usually all business. Once in a while, though, something else peeks out. For example, Miss Dean also handled personal book purchases for the staff, who didn’t otherwise have access to books in the way we take for granted today. This included buying on her own account. I was fascinated to see what she bought for herself–math books and more surprisingly, shelves and shelves worth of children’s literature.

She also occasionally wrote to someone in a voice that was not her official voice at all. This chatty letter to David Potter, written in the fall of 1942, was one of those unusual ones. I’ve written about Potter before, when I came across a picture of him in Maxwell O. Reade‘s scrapbook:

Potter spent four years as a faculty fellow at Rice, finishing up his Yale doctoral dissertation here before going on to an extremely distinguished career as an historian of the American South. That dissertation was published in 1942 as Lincoln and His Party in the Secession Crisis and it is the subject of the letter:

My first reaction (of course) was to go check whether the book was still on our shelves. I tracked down a copy off site in the Library Service Center and waited impatiently for it to arrive. When it did, victory was mine:

As long as I’d gone to the trouble to get it, I figured I should read it. It’s good.

Bonus: Getting ready for spring.

Note: My daughter is getting married Saturday (finally!) so I’m checking out for the rest of the week and next week too for that matter. See you back here on the 25th.

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“Graphic Works and Watercolors from Private Collections,” 1949

I was looking for something yesterday in the Fondren Library Papers, which inevitably hold something of interest even when I don’t find what I’m looking for. What turned up this time was astonishing–I still can hardly believe it. It’s the program for the first exhibition ever held in the library and it was an ambitious one. I believe it was in what was then called the Lecture Lounge, now the Kyle Morrow Room. This is so early in the history of the Contemporary Arts Association that it must have been among the first handful of exhibits they ever organized as well.

I’d love to know who wrote the introduction but the list of works and their owners is the real treat here:

It only cost $10 to join:

Bonus: I used the microfilm of the old card catalogue this afternoon. It felt very good.

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Friday Follies: Just out of Reach, 1991

Would you scratch this spot for me??

Bonus: Through another window.

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HMRC Thursday: Sunset Boulevard, 1958

If you pay attention while driving up Sunset from Main towards Rice Boulevard you’ll notice a spot where the street curves out on both sides to form a pretty good sized oval. I feel almost certain that someone here told me at some point that there used to be trees there, on little islands in the middle of the street. This sounded like a recipe for disaster and apparently it was. I recently found these images in the Houston Post Photo Collection at the HMRC, which I believe memorialize the moment in January of 1958 when people got tired of ramming into them. These aren’t really scans, by the way, but quick and dirty grabs of negatives by means of a device called an Elmo, which is my new best friend.

The Rice campus is on the right side of the street:




Reader Mark Kapalski sends an intriguing email this week:

I have a piece of early Rice history that has been in my possession since 1992. It is the original trolley for the overhead crane in the first power plant. This trolley was manufactured for Rice by the Whiting Crane Corporation in 1910 when the plant was first built. It originally moved back and forth on two box beams that are probably still there. After much research I finally located Whiting and obtained copies of the original fabrication drawings and a letter of authenticity.
I have written to let you know I will soon be putting up this piece of history for sale. I am wondering if any alumni or Rice organizations might be interested in purchasing it?

It struck me that some of you might just be crazy enough to want this. I hope so, at least. If interested, you can reach Mark at

From William Ward Watkin’s Papers, dated February 24, 1910:

Extra Bonus: Campus videographer Brandon Martin snuck up behind me while I was  taking yesterday’s bonus picture.

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