September 15, 2003

Renovation mixes best of old and new

Eric Rangus

Upon opening the front door of Candler Library, visitors are greeted with a blast of cold air flavored with the aroma of fresh paint—a telltale calling card of newness.

The newly renovated Candler Library allows the Emory community to experience innovation by looking back. A campus landmark, the Candler Library reading room, has returned with all of its past glory intact. New office and classroom spaces for two schools and nearly a half-dozen programs mix in perfectly.

Wrapped around it is an attractive package that dates nearly to the birth of Emory’s Atlanta home. The inside, however, is still a bit rough. The bare walls yearn for decoration, and their emptiness only intensifies the echoes heard when walking across the building’s marble and wood floors.

But it is the little details that add charm. The old library’s marble floors have been recycled as bathroom countertops or tabletops in the reading room. And the old-time color schemes have come back as well.

There is no question that the memory of what Candler Library was will easily translate into new memories about what it soon will be.

Candler Library was built in 1926 and was intended to be both figuratively and geographically the center of academic life on Emory’s Atlanta campus, which at that time was just 15 years old. For 30 years the center of this center of academic life was the Candler Library’s reading room, a glorious showpiece with chandeliers hanging majestically from the ceiling two stories up, arched windows letting light shine in and rows upon rows of tables lined up and ready to host students looking to study or—on ocassion—socialize in hushed tones.

In the late 1950s the reading room disappeared. As part of a 1956–57 renovation, the room was cut in half, top to bottom, to make room for a science library. The plan, put together by then-Director of Libraries Guy Lyle, was necessary, but less-than-universally loved. The atmosphere on campus was something Lyle referenced years later in his book, Beyond My Expectation: A Personal Chronicle.

“No sooner had this proposal reached the architect who originally designed the building, and the critics on the campus who were all against the change, than they swarmed over to the president’s office to suggest that this meddler was about to ruin the aesthetics of the Asa Griggs Candler Library and ought to quit,” he wrote.

Well, the meddler didn’t quit (Lyle was libraries director and professor of librarianship for nearly 20 years, 1954–72), President Goodrich White signed off on the plan, and the renovated library, with the no-longer 32-foot-high reading room, was reopened in fall 1957.

Over the ensuing four decades, every building ringing the Quadrangle was renovated, save Candler Library. Come 2001, the time had come. Compared to other Emory buildings, the library was showing its age. It was dark, the classrooms were dated and its lower floors were arguably the mustiest places on campus.

The $17 million renovation, which took the better part of two years, was serious. The building was gutted. All that really remained was Candler’s four outer walls. A 10,000-square-foot extension was tacked on to the side facing Emory Hospital. State-of-the-art classrooms and office space were integrated into the building. The front staircase was restored to its original look, and perhaps most importantly, the reading room, complete with its stock of 4,000 current periodicals, has returned.

Another significant re-emergence is the 26 pieces of the plaster frieze “The Triumph of Alexander,” which once ringed the circulation desk and now does so again. The pieces were rescued from some very undignified crates in the library’s attic some four years ago. They spent some time on display in the Woodruff Library, but once Candler’s restoration was complete, the stong feeling was that they should return to their original home.

The large oak circulation desk, with Alexander’s troops gazing down upon it, serves as a dramatic entryway to the reborn reading room.

“The reading room is gorgeous,” said Terry Bozeman, project manager for the renovation. “It’s hard to believe that someone in the ’50s decided to divide that room up horizontally.”

The room has been rechristened the Matheson Reading Room, to honor the late William Matheson (’47G). His wife Marjorie contributed $1.5 million to the library’s renovation, and that gift was just the latest example of the Mathesons’ remarkable philanthropy. The Mathesons already fund two student awards, including the $20,000 Lucius McMullan Award. McMullan was Matheson’s uncle.

Its appearance is strikingly similar to its previous incarnation. And its retro look was fully intended. While computer terminals are ubiquitous in Woodruff Library and the Cox Hall Computing Lab across the street is 21st century to the core, just four computers and one printer are located subtly in reading room carrels.

“We intended to make it slightly less hi-tech,” said Charles Forrest, director of the Office of Library Facilities Planning. “We’ve got computers all over Woodruff Library and Cox Hall, and many people were asking us to give them back a traditional reading room. They wanted a grand, contemplative space where they could just spread things out and think.”

Ringing the room, high among the chandeliers on the fourth floor, are the administrative offices for Emory College. Every few feet is a window—just as it was pre-1957 renovation—where passersby can look down on the students studying below. And those students can scout around, too.

“If you’re standing here long enough,” said Amy Verner, executive assistant to college Senior Associate Dean Rosemary Magee, peeking out the window, “Students will look up.”

Sightlines throughout the library are pretty good no matter whose office one is in. Magee, for instance, can look out her window and see into the office of college Dean Bobby Paul on the reading room’s far side (their offices are mirror images of one another’s).

All things considered, the employees of the college office have made out pretty well. For instance, Susan Lee, manager of faculty appointments, whose old White Hall office was literally a renovated closet, now has a spacious work area with not one, but two windows looking out.

Laura Papotto, the college’s business manager, has more space than she knows what to do with. “We need to do something to fill this up,” she said indicating the two lonely chairs that are the only pieces of furniture in the rather large communal space outside her office.

Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves also are located in every office and along most of the hallways; many shelves are empty, but the unpacking has only just begun.

The College Office isn’t the only organization that has moved into better digs in Candler Library. African American studies, classics, Jewish studies, women’s studies and the Center for Teaching and Curriculum all have moved their offices to Candler.

The library’s other resident is the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, which moved over from its former home in the Administration Building. Its office suite is in the interior of the second floor, so it doesn’t have the many windows of its Emory College companions two stories above, but no one in the graduate school is complaining—certainly not the new interim Dean Bryan Noe.

“In terms of workflow, this is much better than before,” said Noe, who was named to his post in June. Throughout the renovation, the graduate school was in discussions with the library’s architect, and they worked together to come up with the most workable design for the graduate school’s needs.

Perhaps the best new perk is the graduate school’s new conference room, located across the hall from the main office suite. The grad school didn’t have its own conference room in the Administration Building and had to borrow from the building’s other residents. If more than four people needed to meet, sometimes they would have to walk across the street to the B. Jones Building and meet.

Now, the grad school has a fully loaded conference room, complete with smart technology. “Having a room with smart technology gives us the opportunity to think about new ways of doing things, much more so than before,” said Assistant Dean Hilary Ford.

Like the rest of Candler Library, the graduate school office is still a work in progress. Boxes are stacked in most corners, a door frame is missing here, a paint touchup is necessary there, but all in all, not a discouraging word can be heard.

“It’s great to be in such a beautifully renovated historic building,” Ford said. “This is a great location and space for the grad school.”