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Arizona State Museum
The 1927 Arizona State Museum was originally designed as the University Library by Roy Place, then the principal designer in the architectural firm Lyman and Place. The building occupies the most dominant position on the University of Arizona’s west mall and exemplifies Place’s architectural vocabulary that unified the campus.
Place is arguably Tucson’s most significant architect. Prior to his partnership with San Diego-based architect John B. Lyman, Place worked in San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles, including a stint with the architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge at the time the firm was designing the Romanesque Revival campus of Stanford University. As the University of Arizona’s de facto campus architect from 1914 to 1940, Place’s forty campus buildings incorporated features of the Roman, Renaissance, and Romanesque revival styles and were executed in the highest quality craftsmanship. His signature stylistic elements—arched openings in the principal facade, the use of red brick, and the integration of terra-cotta detailing—are all present in the Library. The building’s principal facade expresses a symmetrical horizontality characteristic of the Renaissance Revival, composed of a ground-floor base, a piano nobile with large, two-story arched windows, and a red-tile hipped roof.
The facade composition and plan also reflect the library typology popularized by the iconic 1895 Boston Public Library designed by McKim, Mead and White, which Place would have known from his time in Boston. The University Library’s interior ground-floor entry lobby features marble walls and floor, along with a monumental bifurcated marble stairway that leads to a second-floor lobby and reading room. The vast two-story reading room occupies the entire southern front of the building; it has two-story arched windows along the south wall, decorated ceiling beams, a polished concrete floor, and mahogany bookshelves lining the room. Like most of Place’s university buildings, the Library is constructed of steel frame sheathed in double- and triple-wythe brick. It is the craftsmanship of Place’s brick detailing and use of ornamentation (such as the glazed terra-cotta frieze of opened books on the south facade) that distinguishes his architectural mastery.
In 1977, after a new library facility was constructed elsewhere, the building became home to the Arizona State Museum. The original, multistory library stacks on the north side of the building, which grew through subsequent additions to the library, now houses collections and offices for the museum. While the ground-floor rooms were converted into exhibit spaces, the original second-floor reading room was maintained as a library and reading room for the museum’s collections. It remains one of Tucson’s most elegant interior spaces.
Ball, Phyllis. A Photographic History of the University of Arizona, 1885-1985. Tucson: University of Arizona Foundation, 1987.
Giebner, Robert, et al. Look around Arizona! Architectural Guide to the University of Arizona Campus Historic District. Tucson: College of Architecture, University of Arizona, 1987.
Nequette, Anne M., and R. Brooks Jeffery. A Guide to Tucson Architecture. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2002.
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