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Feldman, Jim / The buildings of the University of Wisconsin
(1997)

Historical Society,   pp. 82-84


Page 84

the second floor has enormous windows out onto the east facade. The level of trim and appointments
in the building are a constant reminder that the state did not pinch pennies on its monument.
The remarkable circumstance of two distinct state entities cooperating to the degree that they
could build and share this magnificent structure will be appreciated by anyone who works in the
highly competitive atmospheres of the state government, the university or large business. The people
most responsible for this amazing feat seem to be university president Charles K. Adams, historical
society director Reuben Gold Thwaites, and a succession of visionary governors and legislators.
The joint libraries began to have space problems very early, the second stack wing being
required in 1914 when the building was less than two decades old. This raised the theoretical capacity
of the library to 675,000 volumes and it proved adequate until the 1940s, when the situation became
critical. At that time during the post WW II student boom books and newspapers were stacked on
window sills and piled on the floor. Storage was so tight that thousands of items were labelled inac-
cessible in the card catalog. The ventilation system had not worked for years because of the books
piled in the ventilation stacks! 6 Quonset huts were set up on the library mall after the WW II, for
study space and storage.
Then in 1949 at the height of the space crunch the state legislature approved funding for a
new university library, and three years later the university moved out of the Historical library building.
The historic society breathed a huge sigh of relief and began to repair the damage done by a half
century of heavy dual use. This first major renovation cost $471,739 (nearly as much as the original
construction). Some floors were divided into two levels, large spaces were subdivided for more office
space. Worn stonework and trim were replaced, using casts from the original parts. The second floor
reading room was reconditioned, including the installation of fluorescent lighting and covering of the
skylights. It was at this time that the original windows on the first floor were filled in. At this time the
legend "State Historical Society" was engraved in stone over the East facade, removing all doubt
about whether it was the university library or not.7 All this work took about a year and a half, during
which time the building remained open.8
It is a measure of how crowded the building must have been in the 1940s, that even with the
university library gone, the building was cramped for space. The Historical Society is a collection and
collections grow. The museum on the fourth floor was a particular problem. Its removal to a separate
building on the square at Carroll and State Streets, solved the problem. In 1965 a large T-shaped
addition was built which filled in the space between the stack wings and extended the west side
toward Park Street. This addition used limestone from the same Bedford Indiana quarry as the origi-
nal structure and added 103,000 square feet of space, and produced the current configuration of the
building. A second major interior renovation took place at this time also.
1) This bookcase still stands in the second floor hall of the library building.
2) These began as early as 1882, when a bill proposing a $100,000 building on the capitol square was introduced by
Assemblyman Ostrander.
3) Wisconsin State Historical Library Building Memorial Volume 1901 p. 103.
4) These included Ferry and Clas (Milwaukee), Van Brunt & Howe (Kansas City), Charles Frost (Chicago), Peabody
and Steams (Boston), H. C. Koch (Milwaukee) and others.
5) Lord, Clifford, Clio's Servant, p. 124-125.
6) Wisconsin Alumni Magazine, December 1957, p. 18
7) Many students called it the university library, leading to a fable that the building had accidently been built back-
wards, with its back to the university. See Daily Cardinal December 7, 1951.
8) Wisconsin Alumni Magazine, December 1957, p. 18-20.


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