Help identify old building
January 26, 2008 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Where in the world is this building? (150k jpeg)

...and what's that on the top?

We just have the negative, no other helpful info at all.

Or, are there sites that enjoy this type of challenge?
posted by Fins to Grab Bag (43 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How did you come to posess the negative?
posted by winston at 7:55 AM on January 26, 2008

I think it can safely be narrowed down to Europe, I'd be surprised if it turned out to be in America or elsewhere. The tower on top seems to have some instrumentation on it, rather than being decorative or serving as a lighthouse or other beacon. So, it could be a meteorological station, perhaps associated with a university science department or government office; or it could be radio gear. In any event the structure atop the tower is probably a retrofit on an older building. The window layout also suggests an academic building with classrooms.
posted by beagle at 8:16 AM on January 26, 2008

You can try posting it on Flickr in the ID Please group.
posted by cdmwebs at 8:27 AM on January 26, 2008

And, the style of the building is Neogothic, which flourished from the 1840s into the early years of the 20th century.
posted by beagle at 8:29 AM on January 26, 2008

I want to say Bletchley Park, which was the centre of British (Allied) code-breaking in WW2 but that doesn't look like any of the buildings I found in my cursory google image search.

I presume it is a similar facility (code-breaking, signal interception) in another part of Europe.
posted by KevCed at 8:36 AM on January 26, 2008

As Winston said, what information to have about the negative? Any idea of its date? Did it come as a set? Do you have any information about the film it was shot on?

I have an incline to where the building is -- I'm sure I've seen it before but that might just be deja-vu.
posted by popcassady at 9:43 AM on January 26, 2008

If I had to plump for somewhere I'd say Scotland. Victorian Gothic but with a distinct "baronial" flavour (crenellations) plus a certain presbyterian dourness plus a bit of funky "engineering" atop (I don't think it's merely the internal structure of a roof etc under repair, altho I suppose could be).
posted by londongeezer at 9:48 AM on January 26, 2008

This isn't it, but in a similar spirit, for example.
posted by londongeezer at 9:52 AM on January 26, 2008

It looks more like an academic building than a private house, and I don't think it looks like part of any of the Scottish universities. An Oxbridge college would be my first guess.
posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 10:36 AM on January 26, 2008

I'm pretty sure it isn't Scotland. It looks American to me, like a mock Gothic American college building. It reminds me of Princeton. The spacing of the windows on the left wing of the building are the giveaway, they suggest a dorm or a classroom. It certainly isn't a Scottish castle or stately home, castles dont have regimented wings like this building, this is probably a school of some sort. It doesn't look right as a whole and to the untrained eye is a mishmash of several relatively modern unoriginal ideas.
posted by fire&wings at 10:51 AM on January 26, 2008

fire&wings: I agree with the 'college building' thesis, but they have schools, colleges, universities (and hospitals, hostels, hotels) in Scotland too.
posted by londongeezer at 11:35 AM on January 26, 2008

To me, it doesn't look very Scottish Baronial at all. The gable ends are smooth not stepped, it doesn't have any round corner turrets and the windows aren't right for that style. I'm not saying it can't be Scottish, but I don't think there's any particular evidence for it. I wouldn't rule out the American east coast universities, either.
posted by Burger-Eating Invasion Monkey at 11:50 AM on January 26, 2008

It's not in the UK. Those are sash windows on the right hand block.
posted by genghis at 1:17 PM on January 26, 2008

...and very large ones at that.

Oh, look. There are more on the right hand side as well a couple of floors up. And the turret...

You know what? I think this place was burned out and reconstructed. The turret's not finished yet.
posted by genghis at 1:19 PM on January 26, 2008

They have sash windows in the UK too.

However the landscaping looks distinctly American to me. Also the lack of a basement.
posted by fshgrl at 1:30 PM on January 26, 2008

Maybe the thing on top is some sort of weather beacon. It's looks similar to the one in this picture.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 1:37 PM on January 26, 2008

Looks like there's an armillary sphere above the front door. I'd search for an older college with an astronomy department.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 2:51 PM on January 26, 2008

I would say American University. Probably in the midwest. I'd guess the trees are elms, and not large ones, so the picture may be from 1910-1930. I'd suggest checking the architectural history of the major state universities on the east coast and midwest. The building does not look like a New England college building to me.
posted by Xurando at 3:14 PM on January 26, 2008

I have seen monasteries with this basic building plan, both in the U.S. and in Europe.

It could just be landscaping of course but it seems notable that all the trees are deciduous. The small one in the very bottom-left corner looks like it has bark pale enough to be Paper Birch, which would place it in North America, but are there European trees that have bark that pale?
posted by XMLicious at 3:26 PM on January 26, 2008

Thanks for the comments everyone.

The negatives were between pages in a 1980's fiction book purchased at a Los Angeles library sale!

Here's a scan (165k) of another negative found with the first.

We don't know if they are related.
posted by Fins at 3:48 PM on January 26, 2008

The second one looks north African?

kuujjuarapik, I was going to say the same thing. Dirigible tower!

Cool pictures! I hope you find the answer to your mystery.
posted by gjc at 4:16 PM on January 26, 2008

Great airship picture from MaryDellamorte -- I happen to be reading Thomas Pynchon's "Against the Day", in which fictional airships play a role, and Fins's photo had already conjured up some kind of relationship to some of the other farflung action in that book, like maybe being a laboratory of Nicola Tesla, who invented a great many electrical devices including fluorescent bulbs, magnifying coils capable of transmitting electrical energy wirelessly through the air, and, and, allegedly, the Teslascope, which could receive signals from other planets -- via that rooftop structure, of course.
posted by beagle at 7:00 PM on January 26, 2008

Looks like an American university to me, specifically California, which has a lot of the "mission-style" architecture like in the second photo. I don't think it's Stanford (could be wrong, though, it's been awhile since I spent any time there)... Since you found it in LA, could it be UCLA?
posted by doubtful_guest at 8:45 PM on January 26, 2008

What was the name of the book you found the negatives in? Is there anything on the negatives that indicate if the two pictures were from the same roll of film?
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:21 PM on January 26, 2008

There is a flag pole in the second picture so maybe it's a university like doubtful_quest suggests.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 9:22 PM on January 26, 2008

Take a look at Stuart Hall and notice the similarities (gothic style tower with spiral staircase, windows with 3 panes, offset molding near the roof line).

If that's not it, it's fairly close..nearly identical architecture.

(thanks for this question btw, it's been fun practicing my google-fu)
posted by samsara at 9:31 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Opps, wrong link, here is Stuart Hall. University of Chicago.
posted by samsara at 9:33 PM on January 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Also, it was designed to resemble King's College, Cambridge according to this article on its architecture. Theordore Roosevelt helped lay the cornerstone in 1903.
posted by samsara at 9:52 PM on January 26, 2008

Stuart Hall is a kind of High Gothic Revival. The building in the picture, while still Gothic Revival, is much more mundane.

My knowledge of architectural history isn't expert level, but I would eat my hat if this were not an:
* American [among other things, that looks like an eagle gargoyle guarding the entrance)
* University [it is certainly an educational building, but a high school would have more entrances]
* Science Hall [based primarily on the observation tower]

It doesn't look very Californian to me, but there's not much landscape to judge by. (The other photo is almost certainly Los Angeles.) My guess is Midwest based on the elms.

It's a fairly substantial building for the era, and this is likely a university rather than a small college. If so, you'd expect it to be more familiar, so it may not be extant.
posted by dhartung at 10:04 PM on January 26, 2008

I'm thinking the two pictures are from the same area, and possibly college related. The second picture shows the building close to a mountain range and off in the distance you can see a building which looks similar to spanish style stucco architecture, which I believe is pretty popular in Southern California. I also notice in the second picture what seems to be some fir trees right behind the main building. Also on the flag pole (and maybe I'm looking to hard into this) it seems like there's an American flag on it. It looks like there are some stripes on it to me but it's hard to tell since it's kind of grainy.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 10:08 PM on January 26, 2008

Dhartung, I don't see what you mean about more mundane. Take a minute to look at the towers in both the scanned pic and the one I linked. Also in the book excerpt I linked you can see the metal tower that exists on the scanned pic (page XII) taken in 1905.

Here are the two pics side by side to make it easier. You have to "flip" the negative horizonally due to the mirror effect. I'm pretty sure its Stuart Hall or the building directly next to it.
posted by samsara at 11:41 PM on January 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

Also, on the 2nd pic (which I'm finding a million times more difficult..hah) you'll notice that there are three bell towers...two at the archways and one above the dome, which is very telling of mission style architecture (the holy trinity). It also seems to be taken from overtop a courtyard, possibly from another building across it. The courtyard walls seem to be accessible through arches as well.

My guess is along the same lines, southwestern mountains..hispanic/catholic influence. Hopefully its still standing!
posted by samsara at 11:49 PM on January 26, 2008

Oops actually I think the first pic is Rosenwald Hall, the one right next to Stuart. It was also temporarily the weather observation site for Chicago.
posted by samsara at 12:03 AM on January 27, 2008

Great job samsara!
posted by MaryDellamorte at 12:23 AM on January 27, 2008

Thanks! I see now what dhartung meant by more mundane...Stuart Hall is a much more elegant building; it resembles the architecture of King's College more accurately. I've given up on the 2nd pic for the night...good luck to those who are still searching!
posted by samsara at 1:16 AM on January 27, 2008

Nice job, Samsara!
Of my own original hunches above, wrong about Europe, right about academic and meteorology.
posted by beagle at 6:23 AM on January 27, 2008

Nothing short of brilliant samsara, thank you! fins (OP)

More info for anyone still interested:
The cut negative size is about 2-3/4 x 4-1/4 inches.
We're pretty sure they are from the same camera.
We think the book was a Michener novel, it's been awhile.
The used book was purchased in Los Angeles.
posted by Fins at 11:23 AM on January 27, 2008

As footnote, Rosenwald is presumably Julius Rosenwald, an owner and president of Sears & Roebuck, who was a major donor to a variety of educational institutions.
posted by beagle at 12:46 PM on January 27, 2008

Here's a picture of the armillary sphere in its present location. Scroll about halfway down the page.

nice job, samsara!
posted by kuujjuarapik at 1:32 PM on January 27, 2008

OK, now that I see it flipped I agree with samsara. Here it is in Live Search Maps. I really felt the b&w photo showed a brick building, but it's probably just the quality (perhaps of the scan?) -- that's the main reason I said mundane. But hey, I was right about my general criteria!

(I should have recognized it sooner. My parents are alums, and my grandfather was on the faculty. But then I've never spent significant amounts of time on the campus myself.)

Now, this does exclude the two photos being the same city, unless they've torn down the mountains near Chicago...

From The University of Chicago: An Architectural Tour:
Rosenwald Hall was built in 1915, and designed by Holabird & Roche, and originally housed the geology and geography departments of the University of Chicago. (It's now the admissions building.) The building has numerous elaborate carvings representing men and concepts of the physical sciences. It was praised for its "modern spirit" and highly functional layout. Besides the weather station, the building has a concrete column sunk six stories deep that served for seismic measurements.

Oddly, I have another route of connection to the building -- the geology professor at the time was Thomas Chamberlin, who has a science hall named for him at his alma mater, which I did attend, although I never once took a class in that building.
posted by dhartung at 4:34 AM on January 28, 2008

I've really had a tough time figuring out that second are some interesting features I've been going on:

- Snowy peaks (I think) on the mountains..meaning that it is possibly high elevation or further north (or further south of the equator).
- Pine Trees, backing up that its probably not near the equator.
- Rounded tops on the bell towers, most missions I've seen are pointed topped (scoured a lot of sites for California Missions but this one didn't pop up)
- Flagpole in the courtyard which is unusual for an active mission, and more common for a mission that is converted to a fort or administration building.
- Very ornate archways...I wonder what's on them?
- Similar spanish architecture in the background (arches with what appears to be clay roofing)
- The building in the foreground appears to be newer. If we're dating this photo on the time the 1st picture was best guess would be 1916-1925.

After tons and tons of GIS and fotosearch pages, I've started to think that this might not be located in California but possibly in a state east of it (or in the worst case no longer exists). Now here's the kicker...maybe south america is another good search candidate? It would have to be a climate where pine trees could survive (I'm not a botanist, so the type I'm not entirely sure of).

Compared to most real missions I've seen though, this one stands out as being more of a greek influence with a missionary theme (the dome does not have a cross on top but rather another dome like structure..there are bell towers but no crosses on top of them either..however a mission that does resemble this one is San-Juan). No luck so far of this being a possible building on a campus but I think that's really good search criteria as well. Stanford seemed to be very close!

I think with enough determination this last mystery will be solved (even if it means writing a few emails to mission historians..hah!)

Dhartung: Good point on the differences of appearance...maybe it could have been brick and later on renovated to be solid concrete...the time of that 1st photo should be from 1916-1925 (best guess) and its possible that the blotchyness could have been a previous ivy problem? Pretty cool additional info on the Rosenwald building!
posted by samsara at 6:06 AM on January 28, 2008

I don't think the material of the building has changed at all. Home heating in North America was primarily by coal furnaces until at least the 1950s. The difference in the new building is the removal of soot, probably from sandblasting during a renovation.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 6:25 AM on January 28, 2008

samsara/dhartung -- Rosenwald currently has ivy (photos on UChi site), and the original photo shows ivy, without leaves because it's winter (or late fall, early spring). I agree the building is unlikely to have been re-clad.
posted by beagle at 11:57 AM on January 28, 2008

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