Iconic McFarlin Library a University of Tulsa Treasure
We Tulsans are very proud of our city, its quality of life and its higher education institutions. One of the best of these is the University of Tulsa. I have a number of special ties with TU which have influenced my writing of this column.
My grandfather, C.C. Cole was a member of TU’s board of Trustees during the 1920s. For over 30 years, he proudly had 50 yard-line season tickets to the Golden Hurricane football games. One of my aunts and my mother were both graduates of the university. Finally, my wife was the first woman to receive an MBA from this institution.
In 1969, in the early weeks of my courtship (an old fashioned but appropriate term) with my wife, we had study dates at the University of Tulsa library. She was preparing and studying to make her oral thesis presentation for her MBA degree. I was studying to take the state exam to become a licensed architect. It was the first time I had ever been in that very special library. I remember a lot of oak floors, tables, and cabinetry.
McFarlin Library is an iconic TU landmark which sits at the apex of the university’s central U and faces west towards downtown Tulsa. The original building was a $4 million (in today’s dollars) gift of Robert and Ida McFarlin from income received from the Glenpool oil strike of 1905. Although the McFarlin’s funded several other TU buildings, namely Tyrrell Hall and Phillips Hall, the library, built in 1929 and opened in 1930, was the first permanent building on the campus.
McFarlin Library gives the appearance of a medieval fortress which is surely the intent of its architect, Henry C. Hibbs, who was known for his English Gothic styled buildings on many college campuses. The west front is symmetrical with two story plus wings either side of the central seven-story tower. The lower walls are almost two feet thick. Each of the wings are articulated with two rows of four tall leaded glass divided light windows. The tower has an electric elevator (innovative for 1929) and a spiral chute for book delivery.
The exterior building materials became a theme for other campus buildings over the years as the university grew. Tennessee crab orchard sandstone with touches of blue limestone enclosed the structure. Window frames and door surrounds are Indiana Bedford limestone. Roofing was Vermont Slate. Exterior and interior doors and interior trim were red oak.
By the 1970s, the library had outgrown its space. A large addition was needed. The land available for the addition was directly west of the main front which was special to generations of alumni and long-time staff. The solution, built in 1977 was a 65,000-square-foot, three-story addition below ground with a sunken plaza providing natural light for the new space. Large enough to accommodate 850,000 books, the new addition with its large garden lightwell was made further inconspicuous with raised planters at its perimeter.