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Climb Up Inside UofR’s Rush Rhees Library

March 19th, 2013

University of Rochester's Rush Rhees Library, originally completed in 1930 and named for Rush Rhees, the university's first president (1900-1935). What do you say we climb up inside this? [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
She’s a thing of beauty, don’t you think? Hundreds of thousands of square feet packed with mind-strengthening knowledge, all wrapped in 16 stories of brick and limestone, and capped off with 6,668 pounds of bronze bells. It’s the largest musical instrument in the city of Rochester, and also one of the top 50 research libraries in North America.

Proudly watching over the Eastman Quad external link, Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester seems to call out, “Come to me. Come to me and get your education on.” Personally, I’ve always wondered what the views are like from the top of that bell tower. What do you say we all climb up inside there and race to the top? Let’s go…

The frieze along the library's roof line contains inscriptions of names of famous thinkers like Plato, René Descartes, and Immanuel Kant. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
While we make our way up the quad toward the building, here’s some background info. The library was named after Rush Rhees, university president from 1900 to 1935, during which time the school evolved from a small college to a multifaceted research university. From the library’s web site:

The original 1930 Library building faces the Eastman Quadrangle and is built in the Greek Revival style. This part contains the University’s historic rooms, as well as the “old stacks” and the tower. When constructed, the architects assumed that the building would at some point require an addition. The substantial addition of 1969 was “wrapped around” the back and part of the sides of the original building.

The original library was designed in the 1920′s by Gordon & Kaelber Architects. The frieze along the roof line contains inscriptions of names of famous thinkers such as Plato, René Descartes, Immanuel Kant and others.

 [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
It’s hard to miss the giant stone owls perched around the tower and above the cornice. Owl symbols are a tradition for many libraries because of their longstanding association with wisdom. Sources on myth and magic explain that birds which could “see” in the dark were thought to have mysterious powers, later identified with prophecy, “nocturnal sciences,” and, in a broader sense, wisdom. The owls are also a recurring design motif found in other architectural details, like the handles of the main lobby doors. Incidentally, the lobby was named after Roger B. Friedlander who contributed to the library’s renovation in 2000 (the 150th anniversary of the University).

We won't be entering through the main lobby today. Here at RochesterSubway.com, we like to use the back door and burrow our way in, through long dark tunnels. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
But we won’t be entering through the main lobby today. Here at RochesterSubway.com, we like to use the back door and burrow our way in, through long dark tunnels.

Next we'll zig-zag our way through the dark basement stacks. We're almost directly beneath the tower now. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Next we’ll zig-zag our way through the dark basement stacks. We’re almost directly beneath the tower now, and I admit, I’m feeling rather uneasy down here.

Every October, Rush Rhees Library holds a Halloween Scare Fair where the library is transformed into a bit of a fright-fest. Students can take the infamous “stack stalk” – a scavenger hunt through the library’s massive collection that could earn you candy, or a spooky tour of the building’s tower.

Rush Rhees Library tower is 186 feet high (or about 16 stories). Luckily for us, there's an elevator. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Rush Rhees Library tower is 186 feet high (or about 16 stories). Luckily for us, there’s an elevator. Yes, the elevator doors are painted the official UofR Blue (that’s Pantone 541, or #00467f for you web designers). Ok, take a deep breath and step inside…

Is it just me, or is this the happiest elevator you've ever seen? [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
When the door and gate close behind you, you may feel a bit of claustrophobia come over you. But it’s okay. This is also one of the happiest elevators you’ll ever see. Is it just me, or is it smiling at me?

After a 10-or-so-story elevator ride we're dropped into a steel cage enclosed stair case located inside the giant rotunda. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
After maybe a 10-or-so-story elevator ride we’re dropped into a steel cage enclosed stair case located inside the giant rotunda. We’ll be steppin’ it the rest of the way up.

The inside of the rotunda, though quite large, is completely devoid of any design embellishments. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
It’s a bit surprising to find the inside of the rotunda, though quite large, is completely devoid of any unnecessary design embellishments. It sort of reminds me of the inside of a missile silo. Although it’s still an impressive space – especially looking down into the middle of it. Here is where you can clearly see the building’s steel frame.

See that wooden box hanging in the air? Inside there is where you can play the bells. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
See that wooden box hanging in the air up there? Inside that box is where one can actually play the bells. We’ll explain that a bit later.

Across a narrow catwalk, and into what looks like a toilet paper tube with a spiral staircase inside. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Now we make our way from the top of the staircase, across a narrow catwalk, and into what looks like a toilet paper tube with a spiral staircase inside. On either side of the catwalk is about a 4-story drop into the rotunda. I decide to take my chances with the toilet paper roll staircase.

If you thought the elevator ride was bad, this will make you freak. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
If you thought the elevator ride was bad, this will make you freak.

That was quite possibly the smallest hole I've ever climbed out of. Ever. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
That was quite possibly the smallest hole I’ve ever climbed out of. Ever.

Oh good, a long narrow dungeon. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Oh good, a long narrow dungeon. I was hoping.

In case you were wondering how serious UofR is about their sustainability policy; energy efficient lightbulbs even up here. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
In case you were wondering how serious UofR is about their sustainability policy; there appears to be no terrifying dungeon too out of reach for an energy efficient lightbulb.

The final leg of this stairway-to-heaven journey is finally upon us. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
And here we are. The final leg of this stairway-to-heaven journey is finally upon us. I think I hear angels singing. Is that you up there grandma?!

We've reached the top! The view of the perfectly symmetrical Eastman Quad—with the Interfaith Chapel at the far end and the frozen Genesee River behind it—is immediately striking. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
After a short ladder climb up through another narrow shaft, we’ve punched through to the heavens above. The view of the perfectly symmetrical Eastman Quad—with the Interfaith Chapel at the far end and the frozen Genesee River behind it—is immediately striking. Breathtaking!

And there are those owls perched on the roof, looking over the Robert B. Goergen Athletic Center to the north. Fauver Stadium is on the right. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
And there are those owls perched on the roof, looking over the Robert B. Goergen Athletic Center to the north. Fauver Stadium is on the right.

Panorama view of Rochester skyline from top of University of Rochester Rush Rhees Library. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
Here’s a panoramic view looking down the Genesee towards downtown Rochester.

[ You can click on any of these images for a larger view. Clicking on this panorama will open the photo in your browser window. You may have to click on it again to zoom in all the way. ]

The Hopeman Carillon, which replaced the original bell chime from 1930, is the largest musical instrument in the city and one of the largest in the country. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
A carillon external link is a musical instrument that is typically housed in a bell tower – like this one. The massive instrument can literally be played like an organ, by striking keys called batons, and by stepping down on pedals.

This one, called the Hopeman Carillon, replaced the original bell chime in 1973 and is the largest musical instrument in the city. It’s one of only seven carillons in New York State, and with 50 bells it’s also one of the largest in the country. The bells were imported from Holland, cast of bronze, and weigh a combined 6,668 pounds. By comparison the world’s largest carillon in Bloomfield, Michigan has 77 bells.

The original Hopeman Memorial Chime of 17 bells was given to the University in 1930 by the daughter and two sons of Arendt Willem Hopeman in memory of their father. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The original Hopeman Memorial Chime of 17 bells was given to the University in 1930 by the daughter and two sons of Arendt Willem Hopeman in memory of their father. Mr. Hopeman’s firm of A.W. Hopeman and Sons had been general contractors for the new River Campus.

The bells actually chimed while we were up here and it was absolutely deafening. At 50 bells, this is considered a very large carillon. By comparison the world's largest in Bloomfield, Michigan has 77 bells. [PHOTO: RochesterSubway.com]
The bells chime every quarter hour, and let me tell you, they are absolutely deafening from this vantage point. If you’re ever up here while they’re going off you’ll be too busy covering your ears to actually hear them properly.

Weekly recitals are given by students and guests, and an annual recital series is held during the summer. But you can listen to Jeff Le (class of 2007) playing the Harry Potter theme right here…

Ah, that was fun!

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 at 7:41 am and is filed under Rochester Destinations, Rochester History, Rochester Images. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

10 Responses to “Climb Up Inside UofR’s Rush Rhees Library”

  1. matt r says:

    I had the privilege to go up there with our 3 children on Halloween in 2001. I have a great picture of us with the 19th Ward in the background. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for another grand adventure! These forays into curious corners I’ve considered in passing but not pursued make me ever more alert to my surroundings – and to the people who dream and build these small worlds.

  3. Carolyn says:

    FABULOUS VIRTUAL TOUR! Thank you. I loved hearing the UR carillon when I lived in Rochester.

    And I like the tutorial video on this site. I will show it to my grandchildren.

    Maybe you could show us the inside of the tower at Cutler Union at the Memorial Art Gallery. Alas, no carillon, but possibly a great view of the new sculpture garden with a few pigeons.

  4. Zack says:

    Damn. Thought you were telling us about a future tour! =P

  5. Joel Helfrich says:

    The library once housed the largest stacks in the world, if my memory serves me. The building was supposed to — or did? — house the administration in its early years at the top.

  6. UR'73 says:

    A slight quibble, the view over the Goergen Athletic Center is to the North-West.

    The empty tower is due to concerns that the weight of tons of books at the top of the tower could present structural issues to the building when combined with the new bells… or so I was led to believe as an undergrad.

    Thanks for the nice writeup and tour. It’s been a long time since I was up there…

  7. Well, roughly to the north. But yes, northwest. The bit about the weight up there may be true. Though this is a pretty solid building. The bells that are up there now may actually be lighter than the old set of 17 bells. Actually yes, I think I read that the largest bell in the old original set weighed close to 8,000 lbs. by itself!

  8. Doris says:

    https://www.facebook.com/pages/University-of-Rochester-Carillon/119957801392640?fref=ts

    Welcome to our world. University of Rochester Carillon Society plays the carillon that is housed in the area of this Rush Rhees tour. Many have wondered what our environment looks like and have been saddened to hear they could not tour the area as it is closed to the public and campus community with only a few days of exception. We love to play for you. We post concerts and can be contacted through the Facebook link shown above. For more information see also: http://www.rochester.edu/pr/Review/V74N6/index.html#3

  9. Doris says:

    http://www.rochester.edu/pr/Review/V74N6/pdf/0403_carillon.pdf

    The above pdf file download contains a detailed graphic illustration of the bell lantern environment provided by Steve Boerner of http://www.steveboerner.com/. Steve used blueprints of the bell lantern area, blueprints of a carillon console, actual photos of the bells, and map orientation to provide as accurate a presentation as possible. The total bell weight, range, note values, and arrangement of the bells is depicted. This should help answer many readers’ questions.

    The alignment of true north to Rush Rhees is available for birds eye view on https://maps.google.com/ Just type in Rush Rhees Library.

    Extra heavy duty girders were installed in the dome by Hopeman contractors to support the 17 tons of bells in the original Meneely chime installation of 1930, later expanded to 23 tons with additional bells in 1956. The original Meneely bells were a full octave lower than the present bells. The present carillon 50 bell set by Eijsbouts weighs less in total than a single low bell of the original chime. The present instrument is considered light, bright, and transposes an octave up. The original Meneely chime has a few remaining bells that can be heard daily sounding on the hour at Christ Church downtown near Manhatten Square Park.

    Other historic Meneely chime bells are available to hear locally at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School near Highland Park and at Third Presbyterian Church
    http://www.thirdpresbyterian.org/music/chime.shtml.

    We hope to see your audience at our annual July concert series. Professional carillonneurs from all over the world perform on Monday evenings weekly at 7pm as a gift to the Rochester community. By the way, 2013 is the 40th anniversary of the installation of the carillon.

  10. Barbara S says:

    Ah, I love that library! Such good memories of my undergrad days :)


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