Skip to Main Content
University of Oregon
UO Libraries

Historic Knight Library: Art & Architecture

Guide to the art and architecture of the 1937 historic Knight Library, University of Oregon, Eugene.



The following essay, "The University of Oregon Library Building," was written by Matthew Hale Douglass in 1937. Douglass was head librarian of the UO Libraries from 1908 to 1942.


Original Structure(1937). Architect: Lawrence, Holford, and Allyn.

By the mid-1920s, the "Old Libe"( now Fenton Hall), designed by Yousta Hensill, had inadequate space to hold library materials even with the 1916 addition designed by William C. Knight.  Library collections were stored in several campus locations.  As a consequence of the Depression, Librarian Matthew Hale Douglass with the strong support of Senator Fred Steiwer was able to obtain funding for a new library as a Public Works Administration project. The cost of the library, approximately $460,000, was paid through gifts and loans and support from alumni and friends -- no state funds were expended for construction.

Construction began on September 17, 1935.  WPA funding for art was confirmed in October 1935 and the process of identification of artists and artisans to work on the interior began. The new building opened on May 3, 1937, although some parts of the interior were not complete, such as some of the stairwell murals (installed in October 1937) and the Browsing Room furnishings (complete largely by December 1938).  The Library was built at the end of a south axis where architect Ellis Lawrence originally envisioned a Memorial Auditorium. While there have been significant additions, the exterior integrity of the 1937 structure remains intact as does much of the interior architectural elements.  In the Ellis Lawrence Building Survey, architectural scholar Michael Shellenbarger called the Library "a monument to the depression era PWA and WPA programs which financed it, " and "one of Oregon's best examples of the integrated art and architecture that characterized that last great surge of public building before WWII and the postwar period when such buildings were no longer in favor."

Addition (1950). Architect: Lawrence, Tucker and Wallman.  H. Abbott Lawrence, a principal in the design firm, was the son of Ellis F. Lawrence, and a designer in Lawrence's firm Lawrence, Holford, and Allyn that designed the 1937 library.  His initials are on many of the final delineations of the historic library building.

Addition (1966). Architect: Clare K. Hamlin and B. King Martin. This addition added 100,000 sq.ft. to the 1937 building.

Addition and Renovation (1988-1994). Architect: TBG Architects and Planners (Eugene); Shepley Bulfinch Richardson Abbott (Boston), design consultants.

The third addition to the 1937 facility added 132,000 square feet. Additions were completed by 1993 and substantial renovations were finished by the summer, 1994. The $27,000,000 award-winning project was enriched by extensive Percent for Art acquisitions. As a priority for the Campaign for Oregon fundraising initiative, a third of the building's cost came through private and corporate gifts. In 1988, the building was named in honor of the family of Philip Knight, President and CEO of Nike, Inc., and benefactor.

Chat Email Phone Text



Douglass, Matthew Hale. The University of Oregon Library Building. 1937.

Evans, Lew. "Art Work in New Library Product of Delicate Work by Grads and Professors." Oregon Daily Emerald, May 19, 1937.  

The article identifies the Arnold B. Hall memorial gates and companion plaques by O. B. Dawson; the frieze of heads by Edna Dunberg and Louise Utter Pritchard; the balcony sculptures by Pritchard; and the wood carvings by Arthur Clough and the Gypsy Craftsmen in the Upper Division Reading Room. The article notes that in the stairwells are four open blank frames. The two hand-lettered murals by N. B. Zane are described and it is noted that the Runquist Brothers are working on the larger spaces.

Emerson, Kim, "University of Oregon Library and Memorial Quadrangle," National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, August 15, 1989.

"The Library," Ellis Lawrence Building Survey. v.2 (Eugene). Compiled by the Historic Preservation Program, School of Architecture and Allied Arts, University of Oregon ; project directors, Michael Shellenbarger, Kimberly Lakin. [Salem, Or.] : State Historic Preservation Office, [1989].


For information about UO's built environment including buildings and outdoor sculpture created during the Depression Era, consult The Architecture of the University of Oregon: A History, Bibliography, and Research Guide.