More than Doors

Doors (large)From Jamail Plaza, with Baker Institute in the background, the formal entrance to McNair Hall is impressive. A massive doorway celebrates not only the nature of studies happening inside the building — highlighted by robust bronze sculptures of the iconic bear and bull — but also the nature of the man for whom the business school at Rice University was named. Except during Hurricane Ike, the bronze doors always stand open to welcome students, alumni, prospective students and any visitors to the Jones School. They are a constant reminder to anyone who passes through them of who Jesse Jones was and how he influenced a city and a nation with his leadership and compassion.

Jones’ legacy of service endures today through his lifelong contributions toward the common good. As early Houston’s foremost builder, as chairman of the National Bank of Commerce, and as publisher of the Houston Chronicle, he inspired the city to grow beyond its small town borders. He was the Houston Harbor Board’s first chairman and led the effort to complete the Houston Ship Channel. As chairman of the federal government’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation, he stimulated economic recovery during the Great Depression and, later, as Secretary of Commerce, helped prepare the nation and its allies for global defense during World War II.

Jesse and his wife Mary Gibbs Jones established the Houston Endowment in 1937 to formalize and perpetuate their philanthropy. The couple had donated more than $1 million during the early years of their marriage, and through the endowment it was their intention to help create and develop institutions and organizations that would nurture Houston’s people and encourage the city’s growth.

To the careful observer or anyone on a formal university tour, the doors illustrate the many accomplishments of Jesse Jones and tell a great man’s story. Commissioned by McNair Hall architect Robert A.M. Stern, the doors, the tympanum above the doors, the columns and wings, as well as the bull and bear on pedestals flanking the doorway, were all designed and created in bronze by Kent Bloomer Studio in New Haven, Connecticut.

Each door measures 3’1” wide, 8’8” high and alternates foliated panels with shallow relief plaques. There are 10 themes depicted between the two doors — railroads (RFC), government (Secretary of Commerce), agriculture (RFC), World War II mobilization (RFC), Houston Ship Channel and shipping, Houston Chronicle, electrification of rural areas (RFC), Federal Housing Authority, lumber and banking.

The tympanum is a stylized version of the Houston skyline, with the Gulf Building, built by Jesse H. Jones, centrally featured. The bull and bear embody the American capital markets. The bronze columns and wings recall details from Rice’s beloved Lovett Hall, designed by Ralph Adams Cram, and make reference to the university’s symbolic owl. To stop for a moment on the threshold of McNair Hall and study the doors is an opportunity to take in another story that makes up the vibrant history of Rice University. Recounted in bronze, Jesse Jones’ vision for business and public service continues to serve as a great model to all who enter the school that bears his name.