University of Rochester

Gleason Foundation Makes Gift to Restore Great Hall of Rush Rhees Library in Time for University's 150th

June 8, 2000

A gift of $500,000 from the Gleason Foundation will allow for the complete renovation this summer of the Great Hall of Rush Rhees Library at the University of Rochester. The gift was approved by the directors of the Gleason Foundation earlier this spring. Official announcement was made June 8 at the annual meeting and dinner of the Friends of the University of Rochester Libraries.

Plans call for the completion of the room by this fall's celebration of the University's 150th birthday during Sesquicentennial Weekend Oct. 12-15. A number of special events will be held in the room, including an exhibit on the University's history.

"We are delighted to help the University commemorate this important institutional occasion by making a grant to restore such a highly visible space in the library that is so vital to the whole University," noted Janis Gleason and Edward Atwater of the Gleason Foundation. "The foundation is impressed with the vision of Ronald Dow, dean of River Campus Libraries, for the Great Hall, and how its renovation will continue to improve the overall environment for learning on campus."

The Great Hall is one of three historic "grand old rooms" of Rush Rhees Library and is regarded as among the most handsome spaces on the River Campus. Rich in architectural detail, the Great Hall features intricate inlaid woodworking incorporated into the paneled oak walls. Referred to as the "Delivery Room" in the original architectural plans, this large room housed the circulation and card catalogue for nearly 40 years. With the expansion of Rush Rhees Library in the early 1970s, these functions were moved to the first floor and the room was renamed the Great Hall based on suggestions by faculty, staff, and community members.

As part of this summer's renovation, the effect of the skylight formerly located in the ceiling will be recreated; the artwork in the design of the ceiling will be restored; a new tile floor and acoustical panels to improve sound quality will be installed; and custom-made exhibit cases will be added. Displayed prominently around the perimeter of the room and in the adjoining hallway will be large oil portraits of various individuals who have played a role in the University's history and development over the past 150 years.

"This wonderful gift from the Gleason Foundation permits the 'Rush Rhees Renaissance' to continue its progress," stated Dean Dow. "We launched the renaissance initiative two years ago to improve the impressive physical spaces found in Rush Rhees Library, which have become tired and worn down from many years of heavy use. The work we have done so far has been overwhelmingly well received by students, faculty, and community members who use this library, and is creating a much improved learning environment. The most compelling proof has been in the dramatically increased number of students we see studying and using the restored Periodical Reading Room and Welles-Brown Room."

Gifts from Martin E. Messinger, Class of 1949, and Roger B. Friedlander, Class of 1956, provided the support for these two projects, which were undertaken in the summers of 1998 and 1999, respectively. The main lobby of Rush Rhees Library, now known as the Roger B. Friedlander Lobby, and a new Library for Contemporary Writing in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, have also been renovated during the same period. Nearly $2.3 million has been raised thus far toward the renovation of the landmark library building, which was completed in 1930 along with the other original River Campus buildings.

The Gleason Foundation has served charitable, cultural, and educational needs of the Rochester community for more than 40 years since its establishment as a private family foundation in 1959. The foundation was originally named the Emmet Blakeney Gleason Memorial Fund Inc. at the time of its formation, and this name has been changed twice, first to the Gleason Memorial Fund, incorporated in 1973, and then to its present name, the Gleason Foundation, in 1994.

A dedication ceremony will be held later this year.