The Gates Laboratory of Chemistry, constructed in 1917 in part to persuade chemist Arthur A. Noyes to join the faculty, is Caltech’s oldest building and the first to cross the hundred-year threshold. Today, the building is the home of the Institute’s administrative offices and is called the Parsons-Gates Hall of Administration.
As President James A.B. Scherer focused on administration and fundraising in the early years of what was then Throop College of Technology, astronomer George Ellery Hale, a member of the school’s board of trustees since 1907, set about building its educational program. Among his chief ambitions was to recruit chemist Arthur A. Noyes, a close friend and former qualitative analysis professor. An affiliation with Noyes, Hale believed, would give Throop a national profile and would lay the foundation for a strong chemistry program.
Noyes, however, was not easily persuaded. He had a deep-rooted loyalty to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he had earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees, had been teaching and researching since 1890, and had served as acting president from 1907 to 1909. Only after Hale promised a new chemistry building did Noyes agree to come to Pasadena, but on a part-time basis.
Around 1900, after amassing fortunes in the Arkansas lumber industry, brothers Charles Warner Gates and Peter Goddard Gates retired to South Pasadena, where they became prominent local philanthropists.
In 1914, Charles Gates, by then a trustee of Throop College of Technology, pledged $25,000 as seed money for the chemistry building promised to Noyes. He soon recruited his brother to contribute as well.
Trustee Arthur Fleming pledged an additional $20,000 for equipment and salaries, but only on the condition that Noyes agree to resettle permanently in Pasadena.
President James A.B. Scherer wired Noyes, urging him to accept the offer, calling it “Throop’s superlative opportunity.”
Noyes agreed to divide his time between Throop and MIT for two years as an experiment, which satisfied the funding requirements of trustee Arthur Fleming. By the end of summer 1915, funding for the new laboratory building was in place.
Los Angeles architect Elmer Grey was selected to design the building in consultation with Bertram Goodhue, who had been hired to develop a campus plan for Throop. The laboratory’s facade reflects the Spanish Colonial Revival style for which Goodhue was known.