Renovations Uncover Our Original Ceiling
Recent renovations in the original portion of the Tompkins-McCaw Library revealed a pleasant surprise from our architectural past.
Tompkins-McCaw Library originally opened in 1932, constructed and decorated in a popular Georgian revival style that hearkened back to the simple elegance and symmetry of high-style urban structures in Colonial Virginia. The main lobby of the building was situated at the site of today's Pastore Memorial Exhibit Hallway, forming a grand atrium extending to the second level and lit by an extensive quarter-paned skylight above.
A major addition wrapping around the original structure opened in 1974, and at this time the older part of the building was substantially altered. The main entrance was relocated to the new section, and the atrium was closed off, turning the second floor into a normal hallway and making room for new Group Study Rooms. The renovations also included adding a false ceiling to accommodate air conditioning ducts, surely a welcome addition for users of the older part of the library. Unfortunately, adding this modern amenity and additional space for a growing library and student population came at a cost to the original style of the building. The elaborate and careful plasterwork and moldings that had helped make the library a showpiece for the Medical College of Virginia in the 1930s summarily disappeared behind the acoustical tile, where it remained hidden for decades.
One of this summer's improvement projects for the building included a new dropped ceiling for the second floor Group Study Room area. When contractors removed the old dropped ceiling in this area, the original ceiling infrastructure was completely exposed for the first time since the 1970s.
We were delighted to see that, behind all the wires, tiles, ducts, fluorescent light fixtures, and sheetrock walls that have been installed in the interest of modern improvements, the original high-style top of the atrium is almost completely intact, right down to the Williamsburg Green paint so popular in the South just a few short years after John D. Rockefeller Jr.'s Colonial Williamsburg restoration project had opened to the public.
For more information about this exciting discovery, contact Special Collections and Archives.