Detail of Reading Room. Photo copyright Loyd C. Heath.

Jewel Renewal. Story by Tom Griffin. Photo copyright Stewart Hopkins.

The idea for a massive central library goes back to the 1915 campus plan, drawn up by Gould and his partner, Charles Bebb. Modifying earlier plans, they envisioned a central plaza that would link a liberal arts quadrangle to the east with a science quadrangle to the south. At one end of that plaza they marked the spot for the central library.

Suzzallo under construction. Photo courtesy MSCUA.
Suzzallo under construction.

Johnston calls it the "knuckle" of the campus. "Its placement links together the arts and humanities with the sciences," he says. "It symbolizes that this is a university dedicated to knowledge and learning."

When the regents approved the original plan, they also approved the UW's official architectural style: Collegiate Gothic. President Henry Suzzallo arrived soon afterward and embraced the plan. The UW's setting "disturbed me greatly when I first came," he later wrote. "The campus was naturally beautiful, but the buildings were ugly."

Beauty was an important part of Suzzallo's vision for the UW, a place where students are made "moral" and "intellectual." "Intellectuality and morality are doubled in their efficiency when the grace and appreciation of beauty are added," he declared.

He and Gould toured libraries at Stanford and Cal-Berkeley to prepare for the UW library. Gould later visited public libraries in San Francisco, Detroit, New York and Boston. He was particularly inspired by the design of the Boston Public Library, Booth says, which also has an upper level with high windows that send daylight into a grand reading room. Another influence was the Liverpool Cathedral, then under construction in England, a neo-Gothic edifice with a commanding tower.

In Gould's final concept, the library was supposed to be built in stages: three wings that formed a triangle. A fourth wing to hold the library's stacks jutted out of the triangle at one of its points. The tower rose from the center of the triangle.

But the rest of Gould's concept was lost in the 1963 addition by the architectural firm of Bindon and Wright. "The addition will have a modern architectural treatment to harmonize with the present Gothic structure," the Washington Alumnus reported in 1961. But the result-a boxy office building made of glass and concrete—was anything but harmonious. Both Booth and Johnston say it is a mistake-and almost everyone else on campus agrees.

 'Mastery' statue above the main entrance. Photo by William Thompson
"Mastery" statue above the main entrance.

"By that time, the size of the library collection had outgrown Gould's original plan," says UW Project Manager Olivia Yang. The push was to build a big box with windows that couldn't open. "I think it was the first air-conditioned building to be built on upper campus," she reports.

Some of that addition was covered up by the Allen Library when it was built in 1990. Officials considered covering up the rest of the 1963 wing during the current renovation, but the cost was a budget-buster. For now, librarians and the rest of the campus community are resigned to live with it.

Even though Gould's concept was never fully realized, his work has touched the lives of thousands of students, faculty and visitors, just as he and Suzzallo had intended. That impact is now preserved for future generations. The amount of time, money and care that has gone into its restoration should be a source of pride for today's librarians, administrators, lawmakers and state citizens, adds Johnston. "They came to the rescue," he says.

"You could never build another Suzzallo," adds structural engineer Taylor. "It is just so unique. You could never replace it for $47 million."

The 1927 wing has survived three earthquakes, Vietnam War riots, presidential sackings and even the blight of the 1963 addition—and it still works its magic. As W. E. Henry, the UW's head librarian, said of the reading room when it opened its doors for the first time: "Any generation of students who shall be fortunate enough to read through four years in that room will carry with them from the University something vastly more significant and enriching than any facts they have ever been able to put upon examination papers." —Tom Griffin is the editor of Columns.

The public is invited to two special events to commemorate the reopening of Suzzallo Library. A ribbon cutting ceremony featuring the Husky Marching Band will be held at 11:30 a.m. Monday, Sept. 30, the first day of classes, on the steps of Suzzallo. Beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 14, there will be a special dedication ceremony with music and guest speakers held in the Suzzallo Reading Room. For more details, visit the UW Libraries Web site.

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