The leadership of trustee chairmen Hanszen and later Brown and newly chosen president Houston was essential for the season of growth Rice now entered. The most visible evidence of the changes Rice underwent was the surge of construction that transformed the campus. The last academic building to have been constructed—the chemistry laboratories—was erected in 1925. Students in 1946 could still stand under the Sallyport and look westward over the open campus and watch the sun set on the horizon. John Graves remembered walking on “the grassy prairie wilderness, with its domed thickets of wild rose, that stretched across the western campus,” beyond the measured hedges of the central academic quadrangle.
Then, in 1949, with the completion of the much-needed Fondren Library that closed the western end of the still incomplete academic quadrangle, the campus seemed bounded and limited even as the number of buildings was increasing. Adjacent to Fondren was Anderson Hall (1949), with classrooms and faculty offices. A year earlier the engineering laboratory made possible by the Abercrombie family had opened. Additional residential quarters for male students were completed in 1949; Wiess Hall later became Wiess College. A president’s house was also built in 1949; a new gymnasium was begun (Autry Court was finished in 1951), and a magnificent football stadium seating 72,000 was built in a frenzied eight months of round-the-clock construction so it could open in time for the fall schedule in 1950.
The huge paved stadium parking lot ended forever the wild-rose wilderness on the western edge of the campus—although it did provide a training ground for two generations of aspiring young Houston automobile drivers. Perhaps more than any other campus development, that expanse of asphalt for stadium parking signaled the end of the small-time Rice of the pre–World War II days. Big-time academic plans created a new Rice for the postwar atomic age, punctuated in 1952 by the tall, windowless tower that housed the nuclear research laboratories.
Changes less visible than buildings were also transforming the character of Rice. Efforts were made to attract more and better qualified student applicants and to evaluate them more carefully. The undergraduate curriculum was fundamentally revised in 1947. The new requirements for graduation mandated that students be more broadly educated than before. For the first time students chose a major. The main courses of study were divided into “academic” (humanities, social science, architecture) and science-engineering curricula, with all students (“academs” and “SEs”) taking a wide distribution of courses across the disciplines during their first two years, saving specialization for the final two or three years. Engineering and architectural students spent an additional fifth year after earning their B.A. degrees taking more specialized courses, then receiving their B. S. degrees in a specific engineering discipline or architecture.
The graduate program underwent even more changes. Despite the desire from the beginning to develop a graduate program of distinction, the doctorate was offered in limited fields. The average number of graduate students enrolled from 1929 to 1943 had been fifty-eight. As late as 1947 the Ph.D. was granted in only four departments: biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. With the exception of one Ph.D. in history in 1933, all doctorates granted before 1955 were in the sciences. As the faculty expanded under President Houston’s leadership in the late 1940s and 1950s, the scope of the graduate program grew accordingly. By 1950 the multiplying endowment (now more than $30 million) had allowed almost a doubling of the faculty, to 114 members. Many of those who were to build Rice’s emerging national reputation arrived in the immediate postwar years. The number of graduate students increased to over 300 by the end of the 1950s and made up about 20 percent of the total enrollment—the percentage Lovett had suggested in 1912. Still the scale of graduate research at Rice was minuscule compared to the mega-universities that began to emerge in the 1950s.
A growing faculty and graduate enrollment once again created a demand for more office and laboratory space, which was met by another significant spurt of construction. In 1958 the M. D. Anderson Biological Laboratories and the Keith-Wiess Geological Laboratories were opened. Their prizewinning, strikingly modern architecture reflected in color, material, and attention to detail the style set forth by Cram in 1910. The need for an auditorium led in 1958 to the construction of Hamman Hall to be used for concerts, plays, speeches, and large lecture courses. The same academic year the Rice Memorial Center (called the RMC) was completed. It housed a snackbar called Sammy’s (named after the owl mascot), a chapel, bookstore, reading room, meeting rooms, and offices for a variety of student services and activities. The board of trustees, led after 1950 by George R. Brown, generously provided the substantial monies necessary for such extensive construction. Between 1953 and 1963 the endowment grew from $44 million to $102 million.