William L. Clements Library

Clements Library

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.

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 in northern Italy when Columbus left Genoa to plan his epoch-making voyage. As a result, the building was Italian Renaissance in general style, executed in Indiana limestone. In front a planted terrace led to three rounded archways that opened on a loggia with vaulted ceilings in blue and gold mosaic.

Clements Library

Bronze grilled doors gave entrance to the Library’s main room, which measured 35 by 90 feet. This room was 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 projected at either end to enclose the loggia. The floor was covered with broadloom carpeting and furnished with upholstered chairs, sofas, and tables of eighteenth-century design. Four exhibition cases were placed in the center of the room, which was lighted by three large and two small chandeliers.

Beyond the main room were two offices, a reading room, and the rare books room. The rare books room was built like a bank vault for greater protection against fire and theft. The tall oak doors were metal lined, and steel shutters could be pulled down over the windows. This room, also carpeted, was furnished with period chairs and tables and contained an unused fireplace with black marble hearth. The rear half of the building had a second story of three rooms — two for manuscripts and one for bibliography — and a balcony of five alcoves overlooking the main room.

Rare Books Room

The name William L. Clements Library was engraved along the top of the façade of the building. On either wing, made by the projecting alcoves, were 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.”

The basement, or lower library, contained 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.

Sketch of Clements Library by Wilfred Shaw