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A History of CATS

By Romy Wyllie 

  • CATS was founded in 1985 as a Special Service of the Caltech Women’s Club. Following the success of tours given for the Southland Campus Women’s Club Conference at Caltech in 1985, the Women’s Club board felt that there was a need for a permanent docent group to give well-researched architectural tours as a service to the Institute. Missy Jennings, Paula Samazan, and Romy Wyllie were the founders. Other members of the original group were: Roxana Anson, Jane Caughey, Bunny Gould, Linda Kamb, Theo Page, and Micheline Vogt.
  • For the first two years each member did extensive research on the early campus architecture. Romy organized the material into a tour script. Meetings were held twice a month, minutes were recorded, research was written up and presented to the group. Additionally, the group made one or two excursions to places of architectural interest. By the end of the first year it was decided to give a community tour on the fourth Thursday of each month, and special group tours by request.
  • In 1988, Romy developed a 45-minute illustrated lecture outlining the history of the campus architecture and comparing some of the designs with their historical precedents from around the world. This lecture is now given each year for Alumni Reunion groups and is available for other groups who request it. Usually, a short walking tour follows the lecture. 
  • As part of the centennial celebrations in 1991, Jane Apostol, Bunny Gould, and Romy Wyllie wrote the text for a brochure entitled: Caltech: An Architectural Profile. The brochure was edited by Public Relations and published by the Institute. A second printing with additional information was produced in 1996. An illustrated booklet: The Caltech Campus 1910-2010, which follows the tour route with brief notes and illustrations of the buildings, replaced this brochure in 2010.
  • Before he stepped down as President in 1997, Dr. Thomas Everhart asked Romy to write a book on the history of Caltech’s architecture. Caltech’s Architectural Heritage: From Spanish Tile to Modern Stone was published by Balcony Press of Los Angeles in 2000.
  • In October 2014 a DVD, Caltech’s Architectural Heritage: An Illustrated Lecture by Romy Wyllie, was produced. This is a video of the lecture presented to the Caltech Alumni on Reunion weekend, May 17, 2013, in the Hameetman Auditorium. The booklet, book, and DVD are available at the Caltech Bookstore.
  • Since 2012 members of CATS have been writing articles for the Women’s Club Bulletin. The articles, which are organized and edited by Romy, are usually printed as a two-page spread with color illustrations. To date we have produced 30 articles. Recent ones can be found on the Women’s Club web site: under Publications.
  • Over 18,000 visitors have attended our tours and lectures during our thirtyone-year history.The total number of people attending our tours and lecture has varied from 300 to 750 per year.  Two spikes in this tally of 1,000 and 800 respectively occurred as a result of (a) the publication of Romy’s book, Caltech’s Architectural Heritage: From Spanish Tile to Modern Stone, which led to an article about the book in the Los Angeles Times in June 2000; and (b) an advertisement in Westways magazine in May 2013. On several occasions, Romy has presented her illustrated lecture to off-campus groups.

  •  The CATS group continues to hold monthly study sessions and business meetings on the first Tuesday of the month. A second meeting is often held for the purpose of touring a new or renovated facility on campus or to visit other places of architectural interest. Every December we celebrate the holidays with a special luncheon, and in June we bring the academic year to a close with a luncheon at the Athenaeum outdoor Pavilion. Tours are not given in July, August, and December.     
  • Active membership (those who give tours) ranges from 10 to 15 people. Those members who have retired are given Emeriti status and usually attend our special events.    
  • Members of CATS are congenial, dedicated to their docent commitments, and supportive of each other. Members agree that participation in CATS has helped them see architecture everywhere they go with new eyes.