William L. Clements Library Building
In May, 1921, Regent William L. Clements, of Bay City, entered into an agreement with his fellow Regents to give his collection of rare books to the University and to construct a building on the campus to house them. Land was provided on South University Avenue next to the President's House, and an old faculty house, one of the original buildings on the campus, was demolished to make way for the new structure.
The new building was planned by Albert Kahn, of Detroit, under the direction of Regent Clements. The latter specified a style of architecture in vogue Page 1610in northern Italy when Columbus left Genoa to plan his epoch-making voyage. As a result, the building is Italian Renaissance in general style, executed in Indiana limestone. In front a planted terrace leads to three rounded archways that open on a loggia with vaulted ceilings in blue and gold mosaic.
Bronze grilled doors give entrance to the Library's main room, which measures 35 by 90 feet. This room is lined with bookcases surmounted by fumed oak paneling two stories high. The curved ceiling was painted in vivid colors by Thomas di Lorenzo, of New York City. Two alcoves project at either end to enclose the loggia. The floor is covered with broadloom carpeting and furnished with upholstered chairs, sofas, and tables of eighteenth-century design. Four exhibition cases are placed in the center of the room, which is lighted by three large and two small chandeliers.
Beyond the main room are two offices, a reading room, and the rare book room. The last was built like a bank vault for greater protection against fire and theft. The tall oak doors are metal lined, and steel shutters may be pulled down over the windows. This room, also carpeted, is furnished with period chairs and tables and contains an unused fireplace with black marble hearth. This rear half of the building has a second story of three rooms — two for manuscripts and one for bibliography — and a balcony of five alcoves overlooking the main room.
The basement, or lower library, contains several rooms for maps, newspapers, reference works, lounge, rest rooms, and custodian's quarters. Fans in the attic blow washed warm air, properly humidified, throughout the building.
The building and its furnishings were estimated at the time of construction to cost about $200,000, but the final cost was considerably more. The cornerstone was laid on March 31, 1922, and construction was by the Owen, Ames and Kimball Company of Grand Rapids. In December, 1922, Mr. Clements entered into a definitive gift agreement with the Regents, setting forth what he conceived to be the duties of the University in maintaining the building, in providing a staff, and in enlarging the holdings of the William L. Clements Library of American History.
The new Library was dedicated on June 15, 1923, with exercises in Hill Auditorium. The addresses on that occasion and the address by William Warner Bishop at the laying of the cornerstone, were compiled and published by the University in book form: The Dedication of the William L. Clements Library of Americana at the University of Michigan.
The name William L. Clements Library is engraved along the top of the façade of the building. On either wing, made by the projecting alcoves, are short inscriptions, composed by Professor Ulrich B. Phillips, to fit the available spaces. One reads: "In darkness dwells the people which knows its annals not"; and the other: "Tradition fades but the written record remains ever fresh."