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Feldman, Jim (Writer) / The buildings of the University of Wisconsin

Historical Society,   pp. 82-84

Page 83

Fig. 2. March
1897, the His-
torical Society
Library under
construction. At
the completion
point of the first
contract, the first
floor is nearly
done. This photo
was probably
taken from the
w-                                                             roof of the Red
Gym. [SHSW
WHi(x3) 35007
:; :;   ilot 136]
sity campus which would house both the university library and the Historical Society collections and
library. Then in 1895 a measure was passed granting $180,000 for the project and specifying that the
university deed to the state eight lots of land on the lower campus to provide a site for the building.
Subsequent legislatures added to the appropriation (1897-$240,000; 1899-$200,000) leading to a
total of about $580,000 usable construction funds.3
The commission to oversee the erection of the building organized an architectural competition
which included most regionally and a few nationally significant firms.4 In November of 1895, the
submitted plans were examined and critiqued by the commission. They asked two of the architectural
firms, Ferry and Clas, and Van Brunt & Howe to redesign and resubmit plans. Most of the criticisms
involved the amount of light in the stacks and reading rooms, though Ferry and Clas's original domed
design is referred to as having "exceptionally massive features of doubtful value." Van Brunt &
Howe's design gets similar remarks: "It is a matter of regret that a plan ... should exhibit ... so little
judgement and good taste." In December 1895 the commission settled on the design of Ferry and
Clas, who had removed the dome, added skylights and reproportioned the reading room.
Construction began early in 1896. What with the vagaries of state funding, the difficulties in
procuring materials and the normal ups and downs of contractor operations it was not finished until
1900. The building was opened with an elaborate ceremony on October 19, 1900.5 The money
available to the commission did not cover the northwest stack wing, so only the stack on the south
end was built initially. As built with the single stack wing, the capacity of the new library was esti-
mated at 415,000 volumes. The two libraries agreed to share the stack space until the other stack
could be added.
In keeping with the intent to house two distinct libraries, separate except for reading rooms
and book handling facilities, the building was U-shaped in design with the bottom of the 'U' facing
east toward the lower campus and the city. The University library was in the north end, and the state
collection in the south end. The arms of the 'U' were the stack wings, only the southern of which was
built originally. The stacks are six (shorter) stories high. The main entrance is on the east side but
smaller entrances admit from State and Langdon Streets. Originally a fourth entrance existed on the
Park Street side for the convenience of users from "the hill". A beautiful two-story reading room on

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