Monday, June 07, 2010

Happy Birthday, Old Library!

Today, June 7, is the 70th anniversary of the dedication of the Library/Auditorium Building in which Historical Collections & Archives makes its home. We love this old girl, so let's take a moment to look back at that day in 1940 (when, hopefully, they had a dryer June than we're having in 2010).

Seventeen dignitaries were seated on the rostrum for the dedicatory program, which kicked off at 1:30 p.m. on Friday June 7, 1940. Dean Richard B. Dillehunt was joined by Librarian Bertha Hallam; major donor Dr. John E. Weeks, M.D., and his wife, Jennie; architect Ellis Lawrence; and notables from the state system of higher education and the community. A whopping 2300 invitations had been sent out, and so a full page of instructions on "Ushering" (or what we would call "crowd control") had been crafted by business manager Ralf Couch. (These instructions called for locking several exit doors to prevent the haphazard flow of attendees out of the auditorium at the end of the program; remember that this was two years before the disastrous Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston).

The event opened with speeches by Dean Dillehunt, OSSHE President W.L. Marks, Chancellor F.M. Hunter, University of Oregon President D.M. Erb, WPA Engineer W.A. Pierson, and Dr. Weeks. Although the auditorium had been designed with lovely acoustics, the planners had determined that "There is to be no music on the program." The attendees were then directed to exit the auditorium and assemble in the foyer. Further remarks were made by F.A. Kiehle, M.D., after which the plaque and bench dedicated to Dr. Weeks were unveiled by the "Mount twins" (Frank Mount, M.D., being the son-in-law of Dr. Weeks).

Finally, the audience was invited outside to witness the laying of the cornerstone. This activity, too, was planned in detail, and the proper authorities consulted: Facilities chief Wren Gaines had "indicated that he believes no damage will be done to the lawn for the short period it will be trampled upon incidental to laying the cornerstone." Miss Hallam had gathered materials for a box to be laid into the cornerstone, including newspaper clippings, a copy of a UO alumni publication with a history of the library and biographical sketch of W.F. Allen, a medical school catalog, an annual report, a copy of the pamphlet "Prolonging life and promoting health in Oregon," and two photos. (Most of which are probably pretty faded after moldering away for 70 years. Or maybe that's just the way I feel today, since everything seems suffused with dampness right now.)

And after all that excitement, medical school commencement exercises were held at 8:00 p.m. the same day! Way to repurpose the flowers, Mr. Couch.

The building, the cornerstone, and the weeks bench and plaque are still open to the public, should you wish to come on by today to give your wishes to the grand lady. A collection of ephemera from the event was cataloged and added to the PNW Archives Collection some time in the distant past; there are also primary source materials available in the Subject Files and in the News Articles Scrapbook Collection (Accession 2005-013) where researchers can find more information.

Happy Birthday, Old Library! You don't look a day over 68. Here's to another 70 years of sheltering scholarship and scholars.

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