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About Suzzallo and Allen Libraries

Suzzallo Library

The University of Washington was founded in 1861, less than ten years after the creation of the Washington Territory and before the settler population had exceeded 350. The University moved to its current campus location in 1895.  After 1909 the library was located in a building constructed for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition and soon outgrew the space.

In 1915, when Henry Suzzallo was appointed President of the University, a new library building became one of his top priorities. When planning began in 1922, Suzzallo envisioned a library that was to be "the soul of the university."

An example of the Collegiate Gothic style, the library was designed by Carl F. Gould, Sr. and Charles H. Bebb, Seattle architects of national stature who has also created the 1915 campus plan. Ground was broken for the new library in 1923.

Soon after, President Suzzallo found himself involved in political rivalries and controversies that resulted in his dismissal from the University. The library, the crown jewel of his administration, was named for him following his death in 1933.

First building of the University of Washington library, ca. 1926.
Suzzallo Library, named for Henry Suzzallo, the fifteenth president of the University, opened in 1926.



Suzzallo Library Facade Figure


The exterior of Suzzallo Library is composed of sandstone, precast stone, terra-cotta and brick, with a slate roof.  The windows are of leaded and stained glass.

Eighteen terra-cotta figures in niches atop buttresses were selected by the UW faculty in 1923 to symbolize contributions to learning and culture. Allan Clark, a young sculptor from Tacoma, was commissioned to create the figures, which include, from left to right, Moses, Louis Pasteur, Dante, Shakespeare, Plato, Benjamin Franklin, Justinian, Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Goethe, Herodotus, Adam Smith, Homer, Gutenberg, Beethoven, Darwin and Grotius.

Just above the main doors stand figures of cast stone depicting "Mastery," "Inspiration" and "Thought," also sculpted by Clark.

A series of shields depicts coats of arms from universities around the world, including Toronto, Louvain, Virginia, California, Yale, Heidelberg, Bologna, Oxford, Paris, Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Uppsala and Salamanca.


Grand Staircase

The Grand Staircase leads from the first to the third floors (The 1963 addition to Suzzallo added a floor between the first and second floors of the original building).  Note the travertine treads worn by decades of students climbing the stairs.

Suzzallo Grand Staircase


Grand Stair Hall

At the top of the Grand Staircase is the Grand Stair Hall. In 1926, this area was a rotunda surrounded by stained glass windows.

The southeast wing was constructed in 1935. The original design called for an octagonal carillon tower over 300 feet high. Although it was never built, the shape is reflected in motif of the limestone floor.

The vaulted ceiling reveals a "batwing" – a system of steel reinforcing beams resembling the wing structure of a bat – one of the more visible features of a seismic renovation that Suzzallo underwent between 2000 and 2002, at a cost of $47 million.


Bhutan Book

Suzzallo Bhutan Book

The Grand Stair Hall also houses one of the world's biggest books, a series of photographs of Bhutan by Michael Hawley.  Protected by light-safe glass, the book’s pages are turned about once a month by Library staff.


Reading Room

View of the Reading Room in Suzzallo Library looking toward the south alcove.  Photo by Curtis Cronn.

The Suzzallo Reading Room measures 65 feet high, 52 feet wide, and 250 feet long.

The Suzzallo Reading Room features a vaulted ceiling with vibrantly colored and gilded details. A 1927 article in The Pacific Builder and Engineer stated that "This room has been pronounced by experts to be the most beautiful on the continent and is ranked among the most beautiful in the world."

Oak bookcases along the walls are topped with hand-carved friezes representing native plants of Washington State, including salal, Douglas fir, scrub oak, grape, dogwood, mountain ash, rhododendron, pear, trillium, salmon berry, wild rose, apple, marigold, cantaloupe, tulip and cherry.

Leaded-glass windows incorporate medallions representing 28 Renaissance watermarks from a book purchased by the University Library in 1923, Les Filigranes: Dictionnaire Historique des Marques du Papier, a four-volume set by C.M. Briquet.





At each end of the reading room, hangs a hand-painted world globe, each of which bear names of explorers.  In the south apse, Leif Ericson, Marco Polo, Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Magellan, Henry Hudson, Vasco da Gama and Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.  In the north apse,  Ponce de Léon, Hernando Cortez, Capt. John Smith, Sir Walter Raleigh, Fray Junípero Serra, Vasco Núñez de Balboa, Francisco Pizarro, John Cabot, Jacques Cartier and Fernando de Soto.

Suzzallo Reading Room Globes


Suzzallo 1961-63 Addition

As you exit the Reading Room through the Grand Stair Hall, a transition in the floor from sandstone to linoleum marks the 1963-1961 addition of 125,000 square feet. Architects Bindon and Wright departed radically from Bebb and Gould’s original plans for the library with modern architecture designed to harmonize with the gothic elements in the original building, as well as with those in surrounding campus buildings.


Suzzallo 1961-63 Addition


Allen Library

The Allen Library was completed in 1990, proving shelving for over a million volumes as well as ultraviolet filtering for lights and windows.

In 1988, the Washington State Legislature approved funding for the construction of the Allen library, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes Associates of New York.  The brick and terra-cotta facade by Daniel Casey ties the building to existing campus architectural styles.

The library was named for Kenneth S. Allen, Associate Director of Libraries from 1960 to 1982, in recognition of his years of service to the Libraries, and in appreciation of a generous gift from his son, Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft.


Art Installation

Raven Brings Light...Art Installation

In 1994, artists Carl T. Chew, Mare Blocker, J. T. Stewart, and Ron Hilbert installed their collaborative artwork, Raven Brings Light to This House of Stories in the Allen Library as part of the Washington State Art in Public Places Program.

In Pacific Northwest Native American lore, the raven is the being who went east to bring the light to the West.  40 ravens and crows are suspended from the ceiling and carry symbols from cultures around the world. The title is displayed above the windows in the Lushootseed and English languages.  Additional artworks in the immediate area include poems, a hand-made book, and a study table.


Tomistoma Machikanense

Tomistoma Machikanense - Crocodile fossil in Allen Library

In the south wing of the Allen Library is a cast of a 28 foot fossil crocodile, Tomistoma machikanense, from the late Pleistocene, thanks to a special arrangement with the Burke Museum at the University of Washington.