Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Under the Engelmann Oak

I want to thank my friend Barbara who works at Caltech. She doesn't want me to use her last name, but I'd still like to embarrass her a little. She offered a tour of the Caltech campus for the sake of Pasadena Daily Photo, and I took her up on it one day last week. It turned out to be more than just a campus tour. It was an afternoon full of fascinating history and stories. Barbara's a fountain of information about the California Institute of Technology, and she has continued to answer my questions in emails throughout the week.

This item, though, is a bit of a mystery even to Barbara. Perhaps it's a birdbath, though there was no water in it the day we visited. Barbara said no one was quite sure where it came from (Europe?) - or when (we can narrow it down to the first half of the 20th century, surely pre-WWII). Maybe you know and can shed some light.

Update, 3/19/09: please see the comments for further discussion of the birdbath and its origins.

The birdbath stands beneath a rare Engelmann Oak in the courtyard of Caltech's Henry M. Robinson Laboratory of Astrophysics. The building's occupants are in the process of packing up and moving across California Blvd. to the Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

If I had to make that move my heart would break, and not because the Cahill is controversial. The Robinson Laboratory of Astrophysics is a special place. I'll attempt to demonstrate why in this week's posts.

26 comments:

Leslie in Altadena said...

Petrea,

You'll find bits and pieces of the original Caltech administration building, called Throop Hall, around campus that was demolished in the 1970's after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. It was a beautiful building that used to sit where the Throop Memorial ponds are, just east of Millikan library. This is just one of those lovely pieces from that building. I'd be happy to show you others around campus!

Here's a photo of the Throop Hall after it was built, 1916:
http://tinyurl.com/dxjnh2

And here's a photo of it in 1967, in front of Millikan pond:
http://tinyurl.com/cfnhpe

It was a magnificent building and many say it was not a hazard and should not have been torn down.

Petrea said...

So it's part of what was Throop Hall? Aha! I have a couple of pictures of pieces of Throop that Barbara pointed out to me during our travels. I'll have to post those next week. They don't match the artistry of this piece, but they're interesting.

altadenahiker said...

wonderful shot, Petrea.

Pay no attention to my WV, which is icko.

Margaret said...

I wonder if the relief of the man is supposed to be someone in particular? It's a gorgeous piece of statuary.

Laurie said...

Special, indeed! This is gorgeous.

Benjamin Madison said...

Throop Hall? Sylmar Earthquake? This all sounds like some place in Weirdistan. The statue? It surely is Ozymandias' wife, Harrietandias....

Leslie in Altadena said...

Just ran into Barbara- I was incorrect about the origin of the birdbath!

From Caltech Archives:

"The marble bird bath was the gift of Harvey Mudd to the Geology Division in 1939."

And from a Caltech Public Relations walking tour brochure:

"The sculpture in the courtyard has been nick-
named the Quad Angel. Trustee Harvey Mudd presented this marble birdbath to the Institute in 1939, when the geology lab commemorating his father, Seeley W. Mudd, was dedicated. That building, familiarly known as North Mudd, stands to the right of the sculpture."

Wow- I am so glad Barbara corrected me! And now I know it's called the Quad Angel.

Petrea said...

Thank you!

Okay, Leslie, does this mean it's not next to the Astrophysics building? do I need to correct that part?

Petrea said...

Davidmandias and Rickymandias are on the other side, Benjamin. Someday I'll tell you about my association with the Nelsons...

Daisy said...

When I enlarge your amazing photo, I can see that the handsome young man has downy soft hair on his face. I must stroke it next time I go past. It's outside both Robinson and the Mudd building, which is on the west side of that courtyard. I think I once read it was sculpted in England, and the work does remind me of Eric Gill and others of that era. I dream of finding a piece like this for $100 at the Rose Bowl flea market, but I don't think that's where Harvey Mudd got it from.

Trish said...

I have a vague inkling that the Quad Angel is correct.

Mudd has his name on lots of buildings around Pasadena or donations made by his family.

And yes, Throop Hall was correct. The school was originally a votech school named Throop University, then Throop Polytechnic and Throop College of Technology, by one Amos G Throop.

pasadenapio said...

Even Caltech has Mystery History!

Members of the Caltech Women's Club offer public architectural tours of the campus the something or other Thursday of nearly every month. Architectural tours are a special service of the Caltech Women's Club. Reservations: (626) 395-6327.

You were very fortunate to get a private tour!

Love the Englemann Oak. Many baby Englemanns were planted on Holly Street near City Hall recently. It will be nice to see them grow over time.

Christie said...

Very beautiful--just had a thought of what it would look like covered in snow!

Love the perspective you chose, Petrea!

Leslie in Altadena said...

Spoke with Romy Wylie, author of the beautiful book, "Caltech's Architectural Heritage: From Spanish Tile to Modern Stone," in person today. She says the birdbath was indeed purchased in London by Trustee Harvey Mudd. She had never heard it referred as the Quad Angel....

Yes, Petrea, it resides in the courtyard just north of Robinson and east of Mudd. I never knew this was really a bird bath!

Shell Sherree said...

Beautiful, Petrea! {I tend to think of marble as highly polished rather than a bit rough like this, which almost has a sandstone look about it.} And I find the names thoroughly delightful. Harvey Mudd. Seeley W Mudd. Throop Hall. Delightful!

altadenahiker said...

Of course you can take photos like these -- you come from great stock. When your time permits, I want more stories please -- Gosh.

Petrea said...

Ha! Daisy, you never know. Sometimes people don't know what treasures they have. One can hope, anyway.

Thanks, Trish. Oh yeah, they got the Throop thang dayown.

Thanks for the number, Ann! I wonder if they'll give me a tour of the steam tunnels. I just got a glimpse of the new Engelmann Oaks on Art Night. They look like they're doing well. Photo Op!

Thank you, Christie. Poor you! You have snow on the brain.

Leslie, I've been nosing through Ms. Wyllie's book today. Barbara was kind enough to loan me her copy. It is fascinating. Barbara will be lucky to get it back.

It does have a sandstone look to it, Shell. It's a very pretty, soft yellow.

Hiker, any time. :)

Petrea said...

Does anyone know if they sell Roma Wyllie's book at the Caltech bookstore? 'Cause the book store is closing and they're having a sale. That would be amazing. It's a gorgeous book.

Daisy said...

I spotted Leslie checking it out in the bookstore. Get your copies now!

Petrea said...

Here ya go. More than $10 cheaper than at Amazon.

Tash said...

Gorgeous photo once again! Now that's an interesting angle on the subject. & thank you for shedding the light on the subject too. I think I went on campus once when I was 14 - don't remember much for sure. Time to go visit again.

Leslie in Altadena said...

Romy told me today that they will continue selling her book in the Caltech Bookstore after it reopens w/ Caltech-only merchandise which means it is not on sale. It is such a lovely book! So is her book about Betram Goodhue.

Petrea said...

It's a lovely place, Tash. Next Pasadena visit maybe.

Leslie, tell Ms. Wyllie a new copy goes for no less than $59 on Amazon, and as much as $174. Used is a bit more reasonable!

Romy said...

Re the Marble Bird-Bath:
An excerpt from Robert Millikan's address to the Associates at the dedication dinner for the completion of the Geology buildings in 1939 states, "the oak tree court...with exquisite marble bird-bath purchased in London and recently presented by Mr. Harvey Mudd, is I think, as beautiful a spot as the campus boasts." Perhaps we need to ask a geologist to verify whether it is marble or concrete, if this can be done without taking a sample!
Romy Wyllie, Author of "Caltech's Architectural Heritage: From Spanish Tile to Modern Stone."

Romy said...

To confirm: Architectural Tours of the campus are given by members of CATS (Caltech Architectural Tour Service), a special service of the Caltech Women's Club on the 4th Thursday of each month at 11 a.m. Meeting place: The Athenaeum 551 S. Hill Avenue. Call Public Relations (626) 395-6327 for reservations. There is no charge. Tours last one and a half hours to two hours depending how much you want to see. It's a great way to discover all kinds of hidden treasures on the campus.

Petrea said...

Thank you, Romy. I'm enjoying your book immensely, and glad to welcome you here.

Pasadena Daily Photo happens to have a resident geologist. I'll have her examine the birdbath ASAP.