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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reverence Library

Yesterday I promised you a look inside the library at Caltech's Henry M. Robinson Laboratory of Astrophysics. Because the building's being readied for renovation, not much remains in the way of books. Yet, when I visited, other things were still there, like this bust of George Ellery Hale. Besides founding the Mount Wilson Observatory and many other things, Hale was instrumental in creating the California Institute of Technology out of Throop Polytechnic Institute.

I don't know if the bust will stay but the light fixtures will. This one's decorated with Roman symbols.

I revere libraries. A truly ancient one can bring me to tears. This one is merely old, and it's about to undergo big changes. Once again, I refer to Romy Wyllie's book, Caltech's Architectural Heritage. Part of the construction of the Robinson Laboratory building includes what Wyllie refers to as a "rectangular well." The well used to contain a 75 foot spectrograph, according to Wyllie. I've also heard it referred to as a solar telescope. (I sense updates and corrections coming in comments today.)

The well shaft is currently closed but the renovation will open it, meaning sunlight will be admitted into the basements and to this lovely little library.
Take a look at the Caltech Nobel Site. A load of physicists populates the list of Caltech Nobel Laureates (and I must beg a tour of the chemistry building one of these days). Now think of the brilliant scholars of yesterday and today who have sat at this table and pored over these books. Some of them have literally changed how we see the world. Some of them have stayed at Caltech to teach the next generation of mind-bogglers.

The scholars of tomorrow will sit in a modern building across the street. That building looks ugly to some people, though not to all. In the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter. I'm certain that 75 years from now some googly-eyed fan will ogle those glass and chrome rooms with reverence.

24 comments:

J+P said...

Wow! Shades of Bradbury!

"Nothing much else happened, all the rest of that night."

cieldequimper said...

Fantastic photos, I would spend HOURS in there... when there are books!

Vanda said...

Very old school library feel. I like.

Shell Sherree said...

What a beautiful ambience... and yes, again the light fitting. {I usually only wolf whistle chandeliers but I might make an exception for this.}

Katie said...

Gorgeous library! Running into George might be a bit startling though if you weren't looking out for him. I love all the wonderful details around this library, like the globe and beautiful wooden tables. Thank you for this fabulous series. Now I wish I were more technically inclined so that I could study at Caltech.

altadenahiker said...

I read every single word. Twice. Go on, quiz me.

Cafe Pasadena said...

P, de sci-knowledge you know!
Who knew??

Margaret said...

Is there anything sadder than empty bookshelves?

Susan C said...

And another great light fixture. Looks like astrological signs (Libra, Scorpio)

Leslie in Altadena said...

I've been told that the bust of George Ellery Hale will move to the Cahill Reading Room. There is another bust of Hale on campus; it's located outside near Parson Gates with a weathered patina.

Not only a notable scientist and one of the founders of Caltech, Hale was influential in the development of Pasadena's city planning. Note: If you need a building permit in Pasadena, you go to the George Ellery Hale Permit Center.

Petrea said...

J+P: Me and Ray. Speaking of googly-eyed fans.

CQ: Likewise, in the libraries of France, though I could spend hours with one book...

Merci, Vanda.

Shell Sherree, it hangs from the ceiling. Perhaps that's enough.

Me too, Katie, at least for the time when I walk the hallowed grounds. The best and brightest gather there to share ideas, sometimes in a very unstructured way. It's not like the University of Illinois, let me just put it that way.

I trust you, Hiker.

Cafe, I know so little. But I honor those who know so much.

Margaret, there were still books on many of the shelves, and on some shelves were old -- well, photos, basically. Stacks and stacks of them. Pictures of outer space, no longer needed because digital files are more useful.

Susan I thought Zodiac too, but Wyllie called them Roman so I stuck with her. I like them, but I prefer yesterday's Saturn lamp.

Leslie, I'm glad to know the bust has a new home. If you click on the George Ellery Hale link in the post it takes you to the Mount Wilson observatory page about him, where you'll find many other links about him and his work, including links to a wonderful slide show of his private observatory, which still exists in Pasadena on private property near Caltech.

pasadenapio said...

Reverence is right!

Leslie in Altadena said...

As a freshman at Caltech, I was riding my bike on Holladay Street in San Marino and saw Hale's observatory at the end of the drive. I knocked on the front door and was greeted by a very nice lady. I told her I was an astronomy student at Caltech and could she tell me about the dome. She led me to the beautiful structure (wh/ btw looks like Robinson Library inside), and let me crawl all around the dome and pit and even open the dome. There was a guy there refurbishing the spectrograph. He let me clean some parts. It was fabulous!

I believe the structure is an historical landmark.

Christie said...

Wow, a place where people's brains could fall out of their ears and they would never miss them--they're that smart! I am intelligent, but not nearly in the genius class. I must admit that the thought of school at my age makes me tired, but I really enjoyed college when I was there. :)

Daisy said...

Hale is one of my heroes, and not just because he was a very handsome Renaissance man. There was a wonderful documentary about him on PBS called "The Journey to Palomar," which you can buy from the PBS shop. It's got historical footage of Caltech, Mount Wilson, Hale's house on Holladay and, of course, Palomar. We're so lucky to have such interesting history right here in Pasadena.

PJ said...

Somehow, seeing these images makes me feel smarter, like I'm being let in on a wonderful secret. The photo of the bust is simply divine!

Petrea said...

Susan C. you're right, I misread Wyllie and she was saying they were Roman Zodiacal signs.

Ha! PIO.

Leslie! I'm a tad jealous. But you deserved the treat. Yes, I came across notation that the private observatory is on the National Register.

I've never heard it put that way, Christie, but these folks do seem to ooze intelligence out their ears.

Yeah, he was quite a guy wasn't he, Daisy? Part of his brilliance was his ability to get so much done.

Thanks, PJ. I didn't feel smarter when I visited Caltech, but I didn't feel talked down to, either. People seem so glad to be there, at least whenever I happen by. There's a positive attitude about the place.

Ms M said...

So fascinating! I revere libraries, too, especially old ones which have nurtured great minds.

Miss Havisham's Tea Party said...

Ogling googly-eyed mind boggled

the place is spooky

I should have read The Rule book long ago, instead I broke them all.

Dina said...

Reverence library! That says it all!
I've read these library posts of yours many times; they are full of treasures.

Scott Kardel said...

Thanks for posting your photos. I was in Robinson on Wednesday and it was sad seeing it as an empty shell. The bust of Hale was tagged with a sticker on his forehead to ensure that he would be moved properly to his new home at the Cahill Astrophysics Center.

Working at Palomar, it is hard not to feel Hale's presence at times in Robinson and here on the mountain.

Petrea said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one. Mr. Hale was so important to astronomy, astrophysics, Pasadena...

Spooky in a good way, Miss H. I found it hard to leave.

Hi Scott, don't you have the nicest office of anyone I know! Thanks for visiting. I hope they've got some Goo-gone for that sticker.

USelaine said...

I love how you framed this image up, P. The haunting emptiness of the shelves, and the echo of humanity in the figure, scream out how precious our books are in the face of time marching on. Never forget Alexandria.

Tessa said...

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