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

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

Shaking Up Suzzallo

On Feb. 28, 2001 the Nisqually earthquake rattled western Washington. Brick buildings collapsed in Pioneer Square, roads buckled across the region and a column cracked in the state Capitol Building.

 The seismic upgrade preserved the gaceful beauty of Suzzallo's stairways. Photo by Mary Levin.
The seismic upgrade preserved the gaceful beauty of Suzzallo's stairways.

But Suzzallo Library stood tall. The state had funded a $47 million seismic upgrade in 1999 and work had started the summer before the quake. With 60 percent of the interior seismic work already completed on that date, there is some indication that the damage could have been worse. Jay Taylor, '80, the project's structural engineer, said there were diagonal cracks in the masonry walls of the Suzzallo Reading Room, but they stopped at the point where new bracing was already in place.

As it was, the damage was mostly cosmetic. Four of the terra cotta pinnacles that punctuate the roofline fell, smashing on the library's front steps and the roof of a construction trailer.

The University went back to the firm that originally cast the pinnacles in the 1920s—Gladding McBean in California. Taking molds from undamaged pinnacles, they made exact duplicates.

Meanwhile, construction workers continued to strengthen the filigree that decorates the exterior of the west wing. "There non-structural elements can be falling hazards and even kill somebody in a quake," says Taylor.

The balustrade that accents the roof now has fiberglass fabric hidden behind its terra cotta outline to hold it in place. The pinnacles and towers have steel pins anchoring them to the main structure.

But even with the new bracing, Suzzallo is vulnerable to a 9-point superquake that scientists predict could one day rock the Puget Sound area. "The building will be damaged in a quake like that," Taylor says. "What we try to do is prevent loss of life. We strengthen it so that it doesn't collapse and people can safely exit the building. People will have time to get out." —Tom Griffin

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