We were in Arizona and California in mid-February for our annual western swing to meet alumni and other friends as part of two University of Nebraska Foundation donor celebrations—in Scottsdale and Palm Springs. These are enjoyable events, especially as we meet with individuals and couples at scheduled breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. The weather was much cooler and wetter than usual. We observed a lot of snow in the mountains that are just a short distance from Palm Springs, the most I’ve ever seen there at that time of year. In the Phoenix area, the cold temperatures tamped down the crowds at spring training workouts. We were there too early in the month to see any Cactus League games.
The drive from Ontario, California (we flew there from Phoenix) to Palm Springs is more interesting every year. The uncharacteristic rain brought a lot of color to a normally bland and brown landscape. The green and yellow grasses and shrubs seemed to be everywhere, and the spring flowers were off to a great start. The wind farms west of Palm Springs continue to spread through the Coachella Valley. The most recent additions are the largest turbines in the valley, and top out at 160 feet. At the same time, more older models have been de-commissioned, and their non-rotating carcasses can be seen in the hills and floor of the valley. There has been a significant uptick in solar-generated energy production as were. Arrays of solar panels are now found on more residential and commercial buildings than ever before. Larger arrays are cropping up in the valley, often adjacent to the wind farms.
This years’ ‘special element’ to the trip involved lunch in Pasadena with a donor and his wife. We had not met them before. They are a wonderful couple, and have been married for 65 years! They live near the Caltech campus and invited us to join them at the Athenaeum, a private club located at the southern edge of the campus. The word Athenaeum comes from the ancient Greek name Athena, the goddess of wisdom. The Athenaeum in Athens was a temple where poets, philosophers, and orators gathered to read and discuss their work. The conversations at the Athenaeum and Caltech, I suspect, focus mostly on science, but I’m sure that philosophy and politics find their way into the exchanges.
The Caltech Athenaeum was made possible by a 1929 gift of $500,000 in form of stocks. Well, you might ask, did these stocks have any value after the crash? Answer: the organizers and donors were lucky, the stocks were sold prior to October so that they netted the entire $500,000. The club opened in 1930. The first formal dinner at the club was held on February 4, 1931. Three Nobel Prize winners attended the dinner; Albert Einstein, Robert A. Millikan, and A.A. Michelson. For a moment imagine what it would have been like to have attended that dinner and engaged in conversation. Poor Michelson died later that year.
The Caltech Athenaeum is amazing for two reasons. First, it functions as a restaurant and gathering place for many of the brightest minds in the world. Small and larger groups can be found discussing the most important ideas of the day. Our alum recalled having lunch at the club one day and seeing Stephen Hawking at one of the tables. The second reason is related to the fact that the club functions as a small (very small) hotel. Those rooms are located on the second floor of the structure.
Perhaps some of you know that Albert Einstein was a visiting scientist at Caltech in 1931, 1932, and 1933, before he emigrated to the U.S. Where did he live? You guessed it, in a room on the second floor of the Athenaeum, but only in 1932 and 1933. Today select individuals can book the Einstein Suite in the Athenaeum. The suite is decorated so that it appears much like it did to Einstein, of course with modern amenities, e.g. HDTV, added. Click on the link to check out the suite.
In 1931, he lived in a bungalow south of the campus. We drove over to the bungalow at 707 South Oakland Avenue, and were surprised that there are no markings or signage to identify the significance of the house.
Flying back from LAX to Omaha most often involves one stop. This time it was back through our old favorite, Las Vegas. This is one of the very few places on Earth when you can play a Wheel of Fortune slot while eating a Nathan’s hot dog and drinking a beer.