AKA: University of Washington, Seattle (UW), Suzzallo, Henry, Library, Seattle, WA; University of Washington, Suzzallo Library, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - public buildings - schools - university buildings

Designers: Bebb and Gould, Architects (firm); Bindon, Wright and Partners, Architects (firm); Cardwell/Thomas and Associates, Architects (firm); Croonquist, Alfred H., Architect (firm); Mahlum Architects, Incorporated (firm); Charles Herbert Bebb ; Leonard William Somerville Bindon (architect); Richard Cardwell (architect); Allan Clark (artist); Alfred H. Croonquist (architect); Carl Freylinghausen Gould Sr. (architect); John E. Mahlum (architect); David Swenson (architect); John Val Thomas (architect); Henrik Valle (building contractor); John LeBaron Wright (architect)

Dates: constructed 1923-1927

5 stories

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4000 15th Avenue NE
University of Washington (UW) Campus, Seattle, WA 98195

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Building History

The renowned Seattle architectural firm of Bebb and Gould designed the Gothic Revival University of Washington Library #3 in 1923-1924, with construction beginning in late 04/1923. The firm devised an unusual plan, with three diagonally placed wings surrounding a central book tower over 300 feet in height. Additional stacks were placed in a square building on the triangle's east end. Carl F. Gould, Sr., (1873-1939) was the firm's Principal Designer on the project. The full library, as devised by Gould, was never completed.

Bids for the library were received on 07/09/1923 and contracts let the following day. For excavation and footings, the Western Construction Company of Seattle won a contract for $3,260; the structural steel contract went to Poole and McGonigle of Portland, OR, for $60,490; terra cotta work by Washington Brick and Lime of Spokane, WA, was to cost $59,095. At this time, no contractor for cut stone work was named because only one firm sent in a bid.

Occupants of the library's first floor were able to move in by 10/01/1926 and the building opened fully in 1927. With its extraordinary reading room and other spaces, Gould's Suzzallo Library won a Seattle Honor Award, Washington State Chapter, American Institute of Architects, for "Libraries, Museums, etc." in 1928.

Despite its professional and popular acclaim, the architects were roundly criticized for the "lavish" cost of the elaborate Gothic building. Problems grew as a result of a personal clash between University of Washington President Henry Suzzallo (1875-1933) and Washington Governor Roland Hill Hartley (1864-1952), first elected in 1924.

Hartley, the small of stature son of a Baptist minister, lived in MN early in his life, and became a bookkeeper for the Clough Brothers Lumber Company in Minneapolis, MN; ambitious, Hartley managed to marry Nina Clough (1869-1953), the daughter of Minnesota Governor David Marston Clough (1846-1924). Aligned with powerful lumber and railroad interests, most notably James J. Hill (1838-1916) of the Great Northern Railway, Clough sent Hartley to resettle in Everett, WA, a new mill town north of Seattle, WA. Hartley fancied himself a potent speaker and entered politics with a strongly conservative view of minimal government and anti-unionism.

President Suzzallo, during the late 1910s, had served on numerous government boards, chairing the State Board of Defense, advising the War Labor Board, and acting as a member of the Labor Industries Board (LIB). At this time, lumber interests bitterly fought union efforts to mandate an 8-hour workday for logging camps and lumber mills, a measure that Suzzallo supported and helped to pass through the LIB and was made state law. As a result, Suzzallo made an enemy of Hartley.

Once installed in the governor's office, Hartley set about poring over the budget of the University of Washington, and plotting ways in which to remove Suzzallo. The large-scale building campaign undertaken by Suzzallo in the 1910s-early 1920s came under scrutiny, with the Governor complaining that the library, particularly, was too costly and that architects Bebb and Gould had overcharged the State. Hartley commissioned George V. Whittle, a certified public accountant,, to study the UW's building expenditures. Hartley's "Whittle Report," implicated Bebb and Gould in gouging the State of WA, although this finding was refuted by Harlan Thomas and H.A. Moldenhour, who studied the report for the American Institute of Architects. (See "U. Architects' Fee Approved by Inquiry," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 11/29/1926, part II, p. 1.)

When two Regents of the University retired in 03/1925, Hartley seized the opportunity to appoint two of his own men. He also forced out three other unsympathetic regents on trumped-up charges. With the UW Board of Regents in his pocket, Hartley forced the resignation of Suzzallo, a potential political rival, from the University Presidency effective 10/04/1926. A popular leader, Suzzallo's termination incensed many in the State, stimulating an unsuccessful gubernatorial recall effort backed by alumni and union leaders. Hartley stopped any of the proposed future building phases for the library during his two terms in office.

In addition, this scandal resulted in Carl Gould Sr.'s resignation as Chair of the Department of Architecture on 10/28/1926.

Due to the crushing effects of the Depression, Washington voters removed Hartley and his pro-business allies in 1932. Only then could the next planned-for expansion of Suzzallo Library commence. Fittingly, the library was named for the ousted President Suzzallo in 1933, the year after Governor Hartley was voted out of office.

Building Notes

In some ways, the west facade of Suzzallo Library resembled the south elevation of La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris (1248). Bays, separated by comparable pier buttresses, had similar proportions. Each also had finials topping each buttress and corner tourelles.

Carl Gould's unusual triangular shaped plan for the library responded to two main diagonal axes that intersected in front of the building, one fixed southwest on Mount Rainier leading to the Science Quadrangle and one heading northeast to the Liberal Arts Quadrangle. Its location and scale emphasized it as the metaphorical heart of the university campus. (The triangular form even suggested a somewhat abstracted heart shape.) Of this original equilateral triangle plan, only two segments were built, the western reading room (1927) and a southern staff work space (finished in 1935). The other leg of the triangle was to accommodate a periodicals reading room, but this was not completed.

While the building lacked overt Christian symbols or sculptural figures, its decorative program underscored that this was to be a "cathedral of learning." When polled in 1923, the University of Washington faculty picked 18 great intellectuals--Moses, Louis Pasteur, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Benjamin Franklin, Justinian, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Goethe, Herodotus, Adam Smith, Homer, Gutenberg, Beethoven, Darwin, and Grotius--whose busts would appear in terra cotta on the library's exterior. Twenty-seven-year-old Tacoma artist Allan Clark (1896-1950) won this coveted sculptural commission. Clark also crafted the cast stone personifications of “Mastery,” “Inspiration,” and “Thought" positioned above the three portals of the west entrance. Also displayed on the exterior were the crests of 14 peer universities: Toronto, Louvain, Virginia, California, Yale, Heidelberg, Bologna, Oxford, Paris, Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Upsala, and Salamanca. The ambitious young university was announcing its arrival into elite company. Other academic libraries of the period, such as the William Raney Harper Library at the University of Chicago (1912) and the Doheny Library at the University of Southern California (1932) also depicted crests of peer institutions.

Suzzallo Library had a long reading room placed on the second floor above the main entry. This plan typology followed the precedent set by McKim, Mead and White's Boston Public Library (1895), and was echoed at universities built across the country. John Galen Howard's Doe Library at the University of California, Berkeley, (1911) was a prominent example on the West Coast.


A south addition, following the original plans, was made by architects Bebb and Gould in 1933-1935; this new section had frescoes painted by Paul M. Gustin (1886-1974) and John T. Jacobsen (1903-1998). Seattle architectural firm of Bindon and Wright added an addition in 1947, and another addition was completed in 1963. (Seattle architect Alfred H. Croonquist [1924-2003] supervised alteration work on Suzzallo Library at the University of Washington (UW), beginning in 1960. Croonquist's addition was completed by 1963.)

Some renovation on Suzzallo Library was accomplished c. 1999 and 2000. An internal UW Library memo of 01/10/2001 indicated that a second phase of renovation work had been planned between 02 and 08/2001, before the 6.8-magnitude Nisqually Earthqake of 02/21/2001 struck. This memo stated about Suzzallo's renovation of 2001: "As part of the effort to cut the costs for the Suzzallo Renovation Project, the Project schedule has been compressed into a shorter timeline. In practice terms, this means that the structural bracing and other work in the 1963 wing is now scheduled to begin sooner--over a year before the work in the 1925 and 1935 wings and the octagon and shear wall areas is completed. Instead of being able to surge staff and collections back into these spaces, the Libraries has had to find other ways to clear the construction areas in the 1963 wing. Therefore, 70 library staff members must move out to Sand Point, and a large portion of the Dewey 800s and 900s must also be moved out to Sand Point." (See Paula Walker, University of Washington Libraries memo, "Suzzallo Renovation," dated 01/10/2001. Typescript held in the Built Environments Library.) Sand Point was the former naval base located nearby to the UW, in which large spaces had been obtained by it for storage of library materials.

Suzzallo Library sustained significant damage in the Nisqually Quake, requiring renovation and retrofitting. Mahlum Architects supervised this renovation, along with Cardwell/Thomas Architects, who served as Preservation Architects. "According to the UW Libraries web site on the renovation: "Not only is Suzzallo Library a high seismic risk, but the infrastructure in the 60-70 year-old building is obsolete and inefficient. The Library's mechanical, electrical, and life safety systems fail to meet current standards, are costly to maintain, contribute to user and staff discomfort, and are unable to support wiring needs for current information technology. The Suzzallo Library's fire alarm system is antiquated and the Library does not have a fire sprinkler system. In addition, the Suzzallo Library meets neither the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), nor those of the Washington State Building code regarding emergency notification, exiting, elevator, or toilet room access. The Library's protective skin (masonry, glass, and roofing) is aging and needs attention. The outer surfaces have been damaged by water penetration, air pollution and mildew, and require repairing, seismic upgrading, cleaning and coating with a breathable sealer. The project described here is the First Phase of the total work needed to fully renovate the Suzzallo building. While this project addresses the seismic and infrastructure deficiencies in the 1925 and 1935 sections and provides seismic bracing for the octagon and the 1963 addition, it does not take care of the mechanical, electrical, and communications upgrades needed for the 1963 addition. These and other improvements scheduled for the 1963 addition are part of a future project." (See "Suzzallo Library Renovation Project,"Accessed 03/04/2011.)

In 2009, repairs to the curtain wall of the 1963 addition occurred.

Construction of the Open Scholarship Commons on the first floor of Suzzallo Library occurred between 06/12/2023 and 08/25/2023. Centennial Construction Company served as the general contractor.

PCAD id: 5137