The Seismology Laboratory has been hard at work tracking the earth’s movements for decades, but it wasn’t always in the location now seen on news broadcasts anytime there is a significant earthquake. In order to place its seismometers on bedrock, its first home was located high above Pasadena on North San Rafael Avenue.
A story in the November 8, 1974, issue of The California Tech tells the tale of old and new as the Seismo Lab moved from a mansion in the hills to its current location on campus. The end of an era came when the California Institute of Technology’s renowned Seismological Laboratory moved this summer from its old-fashioned home in the San Rafael Hills into the new Seeley G. Mudd Building of Geophysics and Planetary Science on the campus.
The end of an era came when the California Institute of Technology’s renowned Seismological Laboratory moved this summer from its old-fashioned home in the San Rafael Hills into the new Seeley G. Mudd Building of Geophysics and Planetary Science on the campus.
Some 65 Seismo Lab people, including faculty, graduate students, and staff, and much scientific equipment made the three-mile move to the new building, which, in addition to housing seismology, provides teaching and research facilities for solid-state geophysics and planetary science.
“Our operation has grown so much after 17 years in the 40-room residence that we were terribly overcrowded,” commented Dr. Don L. Anderson, director of the Seismological Laboratory and professor of geophysics. “There was no question that moving was a necessity. It has always been a part of the Institute’s overall plan for us to be located on the campus, and it’s most helpful to be near the rest of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences.
“Still,” he acknowledged, “leaving the old building evokes feelings of regret. There are many fond memories of the old hilltop home with its solitude, its muraled ceilings, its landscaped grounds and tennis court and its residential atmosphere.”
The facility originally belonged to A. C. Thorsen, a founder of a drug store chain, and was purchased and remodeled for Caltech to supplement the nearby Kresge Seismological Laboratory. The residence was named the Reuben H. Donnelley Seismological Laboratory in honor of the father of one of the donors.
Both laboratories were located in the San Rafael Hills so that certain seismological instruments could be anchored in solid granite in order to record earthquakes accurately. The instruments at Kresge are still operating.
In the 17 years during which Donnelley housed seismologists, it has seen many great men and major advances in seismology. Among the distinguished scientists who have worked at Donnelley are Charles F. Richter, now professor emeritus and originator of the earthquake magnitude scale that bears his name; Beno Gutenberg, director of the lab from 1947 through 1956 and who discovered that the earth’s outer core was molten; Frank Press, also a director of the lab, a pioneer in earthquake prediction and now head of geology and planetary sciences at MIT; and Hugo Benioff, inventor of seismological instruments used throughout the world.
Facilities in the new building are named after two of these men who are no longer living—the Hugo Benioff Conference Room and the Beno Gutenberg Reading Room.