Our college is named after Captain James Addison Baker, grandfather of former U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III, and the hero who saved Rice University before it even existed. It happened on September 23, 1900, when William Marsh Rice, the reclusive millionaire who had left his fortune for the endowment of a center for higher education in Houston, was chloroformed by his butler, Charles F. Jones, in his Madison Avenue apartment.
The mastermind behind Rice's suspicious death was Albert T. Patrick, a New York attorney, who had forged a will naming himself as the principal beneficiary of the estate. After preparing the fake will, Patrick plotted with Jones to murder Rice when it became obvious that the old man was not going to die of natural causes anytime soon. After weeks of lacing Rice's food with mercury, and then a further failed attempt at poisoning him (Rice complained that the "medicine" was too bitter and spit it out), Jones finally committed the murder with a chloroform-soaked sponge.
Had Patrick's plan succeeded, there would have been no Rice Institute for the Advancement of Letters, Science, and Art. However, Captain Baker, who acted as Rice's attorney in Houston, began an intensive investigation upon hearing about the suspicious nature of Rice's death. Through his efforts, the forged will was revealed. Jones eventually confessed to the killing, and the endowment for the Rice Institute reached the right hands.
Captain Baker went on to oversee the creation of what is now Rice University and served as the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees until his death in 1941. For his invaluable role in the founding of the university, the best college on campus was named after him. If he were here today, we think Captain James A. Baker would be as proud of this college as we are. So act superior -- somebody has to be the best.
Baker was established as one of the five original residential colleges at Rice in the fall of 1957. It was named in honor of Captain James Addison Baker (1857-1941) who served as the Rice Institute's first Chairman of the Board of Trustees from June 24, 1891, until his death.
Following the opening of the institute in 1912, the first buildings which comprise the present Baker College were designed and constructed by Cram, Goodhue, & Ferguson of Boston, Massachusetts. At a cost of $137,544.52, the present Commons of Baker was the first unit to be completed (in 1912), and it served as the central dining hall for the entire campus for 43 years. The next building completed was "East Hall," which is now known to members as the "Old Wing" of Baker. These buildings remained unchanged until the installation of the college system when the addition of the "New Wing" and Baker House completed the present Baker College.
This "institution within an institution" has, through more than forty years, taken on its own unique character which has been built primarily by the hundreds of students who have lived and worked in the college. However, the surroundings and environment which made up the shell for this personal interaction have contributed to the building of the "personality" and "uniqueness" of Baker.
These surroundings fall naturally into the three divisions above. By far the most valuable as well as most impressive asset to the college is the Commons or Great Hall. With its high vaulted ceiling, engraved oak beams, and Elizabethan design, the Great Hall provides a commons and dining area that is the envy of the university. Originally sporting plaster walls, it now boasts dark wood paneling, courtesy of a series of student "food riots" during the early years of the institute that ruined the successive layers of white plaster.
Adjoining the Great Hall at the west or "Baker House" end is a section which comprises the Baker Library and a five-story residence tower. The tower contains spacious pre-WWI rooms which in the early years were occupied by faculty members and graduate students. Early Rice alumni still describe it as "the Faculty Tower," while we of modern days term it simply as "Ninth Entrance."
The small, quiet and elegant Baker Library was initially stocked by an original grant and is added to with student and faculty no-longer-needed books. The library serves as a novelty gathering place, the meeting place for the college government (Cabinet), and, more usually, as a peaceful place to study at any hour of the day or night. Above the now non-working fireplace, a portly Captain Baker looks down on any gatherings from a large oil portrait.
At the "Old Wing" or east end of the Commons, separated by a wood panel partition, is an area known as the "Outer Commons." It serves as a lobby for the dining hall, a lounge and study area, and contains the college's main bulletin boards and a grand piano.
The living plan of the entire college is based on a series of "entrances" -- the ninth, mentioned above; three in the Old Wing, and five in the New. The Old Wing is a long, three-story structure with a five-story tower at its east end. Built in stucco and brick with the expansiveness and availability of many pre-WWI days, the Old Wing offers a blend of Spanish and Italian architectural style to its observer, and spacious, varied-sized rooms to its occupants. These rooms, with additions of carpeting and air conditioning, stand much as they did when the first class of Rice students occupied them in 1912-- with high ceilings and long, large, and decorative old-style Venetian windows. The three entrances here open onto the cloisters that extend along the south side of the wing and along one side of the Baker quadrangle. It is around the capitals of the ten columns in these cloisters that is carved a passage from the Book of Proverbs and the Book of Wisdom.
Designed by Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson to increase the number of rooms available for students, the New Wing was opened in 1957 with the advent of the college system. Five entrances are situated in this two-story brick L-shaped structure. The architecture of this section is decidedly contemporary compared to that of Old Wing, although the two wings stand fairly well together. The rooms in New Wing are also more modern, and are grouped into uniform eight-person suites (two three-room areas joined by a bathroom). New Wing also houses recreational and residential facilities, including a TV/game room (with pool, table tennis, and foozball), computer lab, and laundry room.
Finally, adjacent to the west end of the college stands Baker House, the home of the College Master and his family. Often a valuable and welcome haven from the rigors of college life, hospitality there is extended to all.
In this complex of buildings the on and off campus members as well as the Baker Associates work, live, and participate in a true community. This community can provide you an important segment of your education, as well as your development as a person, here at Rice. Welcome to Baker College.
It was in 1958 that the Baker crest was selected by a vote of the college. The main design is derived from the family crest of Captain Baker's mother, and the owls indicate the connection with Rice. Its colors are red and silver, and it is inscribed with a phrase from Epictetus found on the cornerstone of the college; translated it means "Difficulties are things that show what men are." (high resolution pdf)