Saturday, March 21, 2009


I took a picture of the haze.

Thursday it was thicker than I've seen it in years - not just in Pasadena but in Glendale and Hollywood, too. It was bayad. Fun for photo experiments, though. I expect the Hound of the Baskervilles to appear on that path at any moment.

Friday, March 20, 2009

New Purpose

Today we depart Caltech's Henry M. Robinson Laboratory of Astrophysics, just as the astrophysicists themselves are in the process of doing. A new group of scientists will soon be moving in.

Pictured here is another of the building's fanciful light fixtures. This one, in the vestibule, is made to represent an armillary sphere. It follows the fashion of the library's fixtures, with signs of the Zodiac whirling around an inner sun.

Upon renovation, the building will become the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science. Their website says the Center was founded "to address the complex issue of global climate change from a wide range of disciplines." To do so, they will draw upon the Caltech faculty.

Yesterday's great minds housed themselves in the Robinson Lab while applying their excellent brains to the science of astrophysics. I think it's appropriate to repurpose this building (it will of course be LEED certified) for use by Caltech's current and future great minds while applying their excellent brains to the environmental problems we face. Who better to tackle this monumental, planet-wide dilemma than Caltech, where science reigns over ideology?

It is befitting that the "sun" inside this armillary sphere is a CFL bulb.

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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Robinson Laboratory of Astrophysics

We're looking down the hallway (facing south, I believe) inside Caltech's Henry M. Robinson Laboratory of Astrophysics. As I mentioned yesterday, its denizens are packing for their move to the new Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics.

The Robinson Laboratory was built in 1930 thanks to an endowment provided by Henry Robinson, an early trustee of Throop Polytechnic, the institution that became Caltech. This building was part of a trio that included a Machine Shop and an Optical Shop. At the time, this was all about building the world's largest telescope at Mt. Palomar, the mirror for which was ground and polished at the Optical Shop. The Machine Shop was torn down in 1969 but the Optical Shop remains, now used for offices of the physics faculty.

I fell in love with the Robinson Astrophysics Lab. It has several charming appointments, including the interior and exterior custom light fixtures. My photo below isn't the greatest--well, neither of these are, frankly, but this was not a tripod tour--but you can pick out the little Saturn shapes on the fixture. I'd love to have it in my house.

Unlike its companion the Machine Shop, this building is not going to be torn down. In fact Barbara, who led me on my Caltech tour, was enthusiastic about plans to repurpose it as the Ronald and Maxine Linde Center for Global Environmental Science. More on that tomorrow when we visit the library at the end of the hall.

For historical information about the buildings I'm indebted to Romy Wyllie's gorgeous book, Caltech's Architectural Heritage, and to Barbara for loaning it to me.

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.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Zen Monday: #40

Zen Monday is the day you experience the photo and give us your thoughts rather than me telling you what the photo's about.
There's no right or wrong.
If the photo evokes something in you, that's all it is.

As I post each new Zen photo, I'll add a label to last week's to identify it if necessary (and if I know what it is).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Art Night, Art Future

We Pasadenish are a gentle people. We're polite, well-mannered and friendly. We smile and say thank you. We're willing to give way.

Except, apparently, when it comes to public art. We loves us some art and we're passionate enough to fight about it.

You may recall our January discussion regarding the installation of art on the plaza in front of the Pasadena Civic Center. Here at Pasadena Daily Photo comments remained relatively civilized compared to how things heated up in brick-and-mortar real live town.

I've since sworn off local politics on the blog. By its very nature, a daily blog gives me insufficient time to research complicated issues. However, if you want to get involved in Pasadena's art future, specifically at the Civic Center a.k.a. Convention Center, you may want to free up the evening of March 18th to attend a public meeting and voice your opinions.

You might be just the one who can help turn war-like Pasadenamaniacs back into the gentle, peace-loving Pasadenamanians we were all meant to be.

(The photo was taken at the outstanding Pasadena Museum of California Art on Art Night, 3/13/09. Extra Art Night shots on Overdog.)