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Closing the Books

Meyer Library bites the dust, making way for an open landscape.

Photo: Leo Holub/Department of Special Collections & University Archives

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By Sam Scott

Surely the Daily writer who called it the bastard child of Fascist architecture and California Mission style was taking things too far, but Meyer Library was hardly the loveliest feature on Stanford’s campus. Still, for generations of students who found a second home within its looming walls, UGLY—as Meyer was once known—made for beautiful memories.

Indeed, when the Alumni Association marked the library’s final day of operations last August with a Facebook post titled “Goodnight, Meyer,” the size of the response—some 500 comments—made the item SAA’s most remarked-on Facebook entry in 2014. Some remembered it as a study haven, a few bid it good riddance, and many delighted in celebrating it as the venue for famous bouts of craziness, from streaking pledges to Big Game pranks.

The building will soon be gone—a 40-day demolition began in February, as the university chose removal rather than tens of millions of dollars in seismic upgrades. Most of its resources have moved to the new Lathrop Library in the old Graduate School of Business. In its place will be open space. The memories, though, will live on.

Meyer was UGLY,then it wasn’t.

Named in memory of J. Henry Meyer, a business leader who donated funds in 1911 to Stanford’s Lane Medical Library, the library was better known to some by its nickname (sometimes rendered UGLI). As late as 1984, the Daily included the moniker on its list of essential Stanfordese. But by 1986, it was evidently passé. “Use UGLY to refer to your little sister or your dog if you like, but not to Meyer, damn it,” the paper dictated.

Meyer was a mimic.

When the library opened in 1966, the Daily catalogued its design inspirations: The alcoves were modeled on buildings at Harvard; the signs echoed ones at Santa Clara; the pavilion had roots at Bowdoin, Dartmouth and Cal. Even the once ubiquitous nickname UGLY, a truncation of Undergraduate Library, was copied from the University of Michigan. But the amalgam was pure Stanford.

Meyer was batty.

Bats were quick to take up abode in Meyer’s upper reaches, occasionally sending panicked students diving under desks—and prompting others to avoid the top floor. Others hardly blinked. “Once they are in here, boy, they multiply like crazy, and then you’ve got bat grandchildren you’ve got to work at getting out,” the office manager recalled in 1990, four years after an extermination program ended their residence. “The staff became very expert at popping wastebaskets over them.”

Meyer was mayhem.

During Dead Week in the spring of 1967, university police shut it down early in an effort to stop the nightly barrage of paper airplanes. In recent years, naked fraternity pledges ran through its lobby. But the high jinks may have peaked in the ’70s, when disturbances included impromptu Band performances, a loinclothed Tarzan swinging between floors, and a clothed dummy flying off the uppermost balcony after a prankster yelled “I can’t take it anymore.” Fun for some, a headache for others. The cheers and jeers of the students watching, the disruptions can last up to two hours,” the head librarian lamented in 1976.

Meyer was Big Game.

In recent years, the sight of a giant “Beat Cal” banner stretched across Meyer was almost as much a part of the run-up to Big Game as the spearing of the Bear at the Claw. Last year, the Axe Committee found alternative locations in the Bing Wing of Green Library and in the Engineering Quad. At least once, the library found itself at the front line of the week’s rivalry: In 1984, a Berkeley fraternity let loose 50 blue-and-gold painted mice in Meyer. The following year,Berkeley’s Moffitt Library was reportedly hit with five red mice and 1,000 crickets

Meyer kicked the habit.

Initially, the library allowed students to light up on the third floor, but a rash of spilled and stolen ashtrays, burned upholstery and general disregard for rules forced a quick reset. The final straw came when a pipe-puffing undergrad knocked ash into a main floor wastepaper basket. Another student smothered the ensuing blaze with a rug but not in time to stop the trash can melting.

Comments (2)

  • Ms. Birgit Calhoun

    There used to be a lake before Mayer Library was built. Is the Lake coming back to reflect Hoover tower?

    Posted by Ms. Birgit Calhoun on Mar 31, 2015 8:08 AM

  • Ms. Diane Mott Davidson

    I loved Meyer Library, and spent many happy hours reading there. It most emphatically was NOT ugly.

    Posted by Ms. Diane Mott Davidson on Apr 2, 2015 7:18 AM


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