Gothic grandeur

The University of Washington's Suzzallo Library reaches new heights
Lawrence Cheek

One evening in 1942, a University of Washington student named Gordon Hirabayashi packed up his books and left the Suzzallo Library reading room so he could meet the 8 p.m. wartime curfew for Americans of Japanese descent. But somewhere between the library and his dorm, his sense of injustice boiled over and he turned around, returning to the library to study alongside his Caucasian colleagues. His resistance and, later, his failure to comply with internment evacuation orders led to a 90-day prison term. (The conviction finally was overturned in 1987.)

Betsy Wilson, director of UW's University Libraries, likes to tell Hirabayashi's story to visitors entering the reading room. It's no stretch to believe that the structure's historic gravity and architectural impact were inspirational to Hirabayashi and many others. "It has this wonderful, uplifting power," Wilson says. "It pulls you outside of yourself."

The library, which opened in 1927, was designed by Carl F. Gould, then one of Seattle's most accomplished architects. The third-floor reading room is a cathedral of learning, a soaring sanctuary 250 feet long, 52 feet wide, and 65 feet high. Immense leaded-glass windows on the west wall welcome the afternoon sun and diffuse it into buttery reading light. Reopened last September after a two-year project to quake-proof the building and restore the reading room to its original appearance, it's one of several attractions that make the campus an inspirational day trip. Here are some others.

The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture has Northwest-oriented exhibits on civilizations, geology, and archaeology - most strikingly a collection of replica and actual dinosaur skeletons.

Henry Art Gallery unabashedly trumpets its reputation for "controversial, challenging, and thought-provoking" exhibitions of contemporary art. The gallery cafe serves light lunch fare.

A nice antidote to the Henry's sometimes troubling exhibits, the Liberal Arts Quadrangle has 30 Yoshino cherry trees, planted in 1964, that burst into glorious bloom around the first of April. The fairyland blossoms are a nice counterpoint to the gargoyles and spidery Gothic detailing of the buildings framing the quad. For a week or two each year, there is no more sympathetic embrace between nature and architecture anywhere in Seattle.

GETTING THERE

WHERE: From I-5 take the N.E. 45th Street exit and drive east to campus. Visitor parking is $8 a day except after noon on Saturdays and all day on Sundays, when it is free.

FYI: Suzzallo Library (free) and Burke Museum ($6.50) are open daily; call for hours. Henry Art Gallery ($6) is closed Mon.

CONTACT: www.washington.edu/home/maps for a campus map. Burke Museum, www.burkemuseum.org or (206) 543-5590. Henry Art Gallery, www.henryart.org or (206) 543-2280. Suzzallo Library, www.lib.washington.edu/suzzallo or (206) 543-0242.