Historic McGregor Room restored
First Tracy W. and Katherine W. McGregor Distinguished Lecture set for Sept. 16
Photo by Dan Addison
By Jane Ford
Walk into the McGregor Room on the second floor of Alderman Library’s East Wing — once kept dark to protect exhibits staged by Special Collections and reserved for research — and the first thing you notice is the dramatic change. The room is filled with daylight, beautiful carpets, comfortable seating and study tables.
Students have already discovered it’s one of the nicest places to study on Grounds — the room is filled to capacity each day.
“It’s less sterile than some of the study rooms. There are not a lot of places on Grounds like this that are quiet enough to study,” said Jennifer Reut, a graduate student in the architecture history program.
The restoration provides much needed space for study in Alderman Library. “This lets us offer the University community a real ‘reader’s room,’” said Karen Marshall, director of humanities and social sciences services. “Students are treasuring it already and even their parents, who saw it during summer orientation tours, told us they’re excited to see a study space like this.”
The restoration of the historic room to its former warmth and grandeur began last fall. The magnificent solid walnut wood paneling was oiled, the walnut parquet floors refinished, chandeliers cleaned, shutters removed from the windows, original tables refinished and new reading lamps, carpets, comfortable chairs, sofas and ottomans purchased. The restoration is almost complete — couches and table lamps are due any day — but the room is already a success.
“It seems like a space that had always wanted this purpose,” Reut said. “It has more of an older feel in terms of its attitude toward studying and academics.”
First-year student Chip Longenecker stumbled upon the room when he was trying to find a quiet study place away from the dorms. His first impression was, “This is awesome. I want to spend more time here,” he said. Longenecker likes the comfortable chairs and carpet. He said it makes him feel like he’s studying in a lush study in a home. Although he was only into his second week of classes, he had already studied there five times.
“I can lose track of time down here and get more done,” he said.
The transformation of the historic room, which was designed to house the Tracy W. McGregor Library Collection of American History, part of the U.Va. Library’s Special Collections, was made possible thanks to a $200,000 grant from the McGregor Fund, a Detroit-based private foundation.
“The McGregor Fund’s relationship with the U.Va. Library is one of the longest in our history,” said University Librarian Karin Wittenborg. “I am grateful for their generous gift toward renovating this beautiful room and thrilled to see it returned to students as a wonderful place to read and study.”
The McGregor Fund has been involved with the room and the Tracey W. McGregor Library of American History for decades. Detroit philanthropist and influential civic leader Tracy W. McGregor bequeathed his valuable collection of rare books and manuscripts to the University in his will. The collection, which became part of the library’s holdings in 1938, then consisted of 5,000 volumes of rare books, a research collection of some 12,500 volumes, and a number of manuscripts. The collection reflects McGregor’s special interest in American history and remains a cornerstone of the University’s collections of rare books and manuscripts, which moved to the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library last fall.
The trustees of the fund, which McGregor and his wife Katherine had established to support charitable works in areas of their interest,
provided funding in 1938 to establish the room as a memorial to McGregor. The richly decorated room, which is nearly 2,800 square feet, includes paneled carvings of the University of Virginia seal above the entrance door, the McGregor bookplate above the lobby door and fluted pilasters. The renowned Philadelphia artist Samuel Yellin designed the wrought iron entrance gates, and London artist Frank O. Salisbury painted the portrait of McGregor that hangs over the fireplace. The University commissioned Detroit sculptor Marshall Fredericks to create the large bronze bas-relief plaque of McGregor that hangs at the entrance to the room. All these decorations contribute to the ambiance of the refurbished space.
During the six decades that the room was used as the Special Collections reading room and exhibition area, it was the scene of numerous events that included dignitaries and scholars. Screen star Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark spent time in the McGregor Room on their visits to the University. W. H. Auden, Charles Wright, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Stephen Spender and Malcolm Cowley are among the writers and poets who have given lectures there.
While the McGregor Room will now be reserved for reading and study, the McGregor name’s link with special University lectures will continue, with the inauguration this year of the Tracy W. and Katherine W. McGregor Distinguished Lecture series. An endowment for an annual lecture was included in the McGregor Fund’s gift and this year will bring Pauline Maier, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of American History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to speak on the ratification of the federal Constitution. Her talk, “Take This or Nothing: Rethinking the Debate Over the Constitution,” will be in the auditorium of the Harrison Institute / Small Special Collections Library on Friday, Sept. 16 at 3 p.m., followed by a reception in the McGregor Room. Space is limited, so arrive early for the lecture.