The Leslie J. Savage Library at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison is a Spanish Colonial Revival–style building designed by Temple Hoyne Buell and built in 1938–39. Funded in part by the Public Works Administration (PWA), the library included a reading room, a lounge, lecture rooms, offices, and book stacks. In the early 1960s, the college built an adjacent three-story addition to serve the needs of the growing campus while keeping the historical integrity of the original building intact.
A New Library for a Growing Campus
Colorado State Normal School was established in Gunnison in 1901 and opened its doors in 1911 as the first college on Colorado’s Western Slope. As it grew and developed programs beyond teacher preparation, it changed its name in 1923 to Western State College of Colorado. The college struggled financially during the Great Depression in the 1930s, but enrollment grew because it was more affordable than most other Colorado colleges.
To secure funding for much-needed expansion projects—a new men’s dorm, a dining hall, faculty apartments, and the president’s house—board member Leslie J. Savage helped the college successfully apply for its first Public Works Administration grants in 1936. The PWA was a New Deal program designed to revive the economy by assisting local governments and agencies with the construction of large-scale public works projects. Unlike its cousin, the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the PWA emphasized architect-designed projects rather than local labor and handcraftsmanship.
In 1938 Western State received another PWA grant of $45,000 toward the construction of a new library, with the state of Colorado paying the rest of the building’s price tag of nearly $105,000. The school hired Denver-based architect Temple Hoyne Buell, who designed a one-story building in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, with white stucco walls, a red tile roof, and a bell tower. The Spanish Colonial Revival style was popular at the time, largely thanks to its use at San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition in 1915–16, and Western State favored it as a way of highlighting the region’s cultural roots. Several other buildings constructed as part of the college’s 1930s expansion featured the same style.
Only Buell’s library, however, included decorative terra-cotta detailing and extended the Spanish Colonial Revival theme from the exterior façade to the interior design. The highlight of the library’s interior was a large reading room with round-arched windows, a vaulted ceiling with exposed beams, and custom furniture designed by Buell and the college librarian. Offices and book stacks lay to the west of the reading room, while lecture rooms and a smaller reading lounge lay to the east.
The library was located just northwest of the college’s administration building and opened in 1939. In 1951 it was named after Savage, who also donated a set of carillon bells for the library’s bell tower.
In the decades after World War II, enrollment spiked at colleges and universities across the country as the GI Bill, the baby boom, and broad economic prosperity funneled huge numbers of students into higher education. At Western State, the student population climbed from fewer than 500 in 1939 to about 2,700 in 1967. These students—and the rapidly expanding faculty that taught them—needed newer and larger facilities. The relatively small library designed by Buell was not equipped to serve as many people or house as many books as the growing campus required.
In the early 1960s, the college decided to build an addition just northeast of the existing library to increase space for study and book storage. Completed in 1965, the three-story addition was designed by Denver architects Atchison, Kloverstrom, Saul & Atchison as a modern glass, steel, and masonry building with a flat red roof. The expansion left the original building largely unchanged. From the outside, spatial separation and stylistic difference gave the impression of two different buildings, even though they were connected by a short passageway off the east reading lounge.
In 1993 the Buell-designed library building was listed on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties. It subsequently received three State Historical Fund grants in the mid-1990s for restoration work that included repairing the tile roof and restoring the reading room. Today the library continues to serve Western State students and faculty, as well as the larger Gunnison community.