The Yard at Howard University. A sacred place. A place where memories of students, current and former, spill in impassioned exchanges in locales far away from Washington, D.C. The Yard’s crown jewel is Founders Library. Named for the 17 men who signed the charter to signal the creation of Howard University, Founders Library is the most recognizable physical feature of the university. Founders sits atop one of the highest hills in Washington, D.C. and its tower is a prominent figure in the Northwest Washington skyline.
Designed as part of a conceptual plan to expand Howard University, Founders was built with the future in mind. Founders Library was designed by architect Louis E. Fry Sr. who worked under Albert Cassel, the “head” architect who often gets credit for designing the building. Founders would be the last building as main architect Cassel oversaw for the university ending 18 years of service. His master plan propelled the visual language for the university giving generations of students a common image of what IS Howard. Find out more about the founding here, here and here.
As a student of Howard University I pass Founders Library everyday and I am still fascinated by its architecture and sheer presence. With an initial appropriation of 1 million dollars from the United States Congress, at the time of its completion, Founders was the most expensive building on a college campus in America. It took ten years from the original appropriation to the library’s completion in 1939 and no expense was spared during construction. There were thousand dollar rugs, soundproof walls accompanied by cork and rubber floors to reduce the sound imprint in the reading rooms. It’s tower design was borrowed from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and echoes its intention of promoting liberty. The design team had a wonderful vision for what Founders Library would represent not only then but for future generations. They understood the importance of library to a college and gave Howard Univesity the ability to stake its place as the Mecca of black education. At the time especially a university library was the main indication of a school’s academic rigor and commitment. The more books and supporting materials a school has the better equipped they are to educate, especially in the pre-internet area. Howard L. Ickes, the Secretary of the Interior at the time, spoke at the library’s dedication in 1939, “A library is more than a building, it is more than than the volumes that rest upon its shelves… Let us hope that the experience, shall help one of the genuinely creative sectors of our population to achieve the more abundant life.”
The architects had the vision. And for this I will forever have a better photo with Founders in it. But for me, it goes much further than photos. Founders is the first building that made an impression when I first visited the school. It is our beacon to the outside world of our prominence and permanence as an institution. Now, Founder’s strongest feature is the Moorland-Spiringand Research Center which formally featured was the world’s largest collection of African American books, artifacts and information before the National African American History Museum opened on the National Mall. Founder’s Library still stands tall after over 75 years of providing a space where the most curious black minds can do diligent work.
All images (unless noted) were shot on a Minolta X-570.
“worldview through a viewfinder.”