Main Reading Room

James Harmon Hoose was the first Director of the School of Philosophy when the department was located in the Bovard Administration Building and in 1921 USC held a dedication for the two upper floors to be named The James Harmon Hoose Hall of Philosophy. 

The James Harmon Hoose Library of Philosophy was established in 1929, the first library built on USC’s main campus, and is located in the Seeley Wintersmith Mudd Memorial Hall of Philosophy (MHP). The Hoose Library of Philosophy was designed by architect Ralph Carlin Flewelling, the son of Dr. Ralph Tyler Flewelling, the first Director of the School of Philosophy once MHP was built, and was designated a City of Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2013 and is also part of the University of Southern California National Historic District as designated by the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015.

The Main Reading Room of the Hoose Library of Philosophy features a high cathedral ceiling with heavy cross-beams and tall windows that allow in natural light.  Along the wall are 22 mosaic portraits that are meant to depict the succession of philosophers and philosophical ideas from the Ancient Greeks through the 19th Century.  Both the subject matter and the inscriptions were supplied by Dr. Ralph Tyler Flewelling. 

Tall, graceful columns supporting Moorish arches parallel the windows and delineate study alcoves formed by the book shelves below the windows and lead the eye to the colorful stained glass windows designed by Judson Stained Glass Studio in Los Angeles in the apse and the decorative wall paintings designed by Julian Elssworth Garnsey.  At the end opposite the apse is the great stone fireplace; and down the center of the room, unifying the whole, are refectory-style tables and chairs.  In addition, the entry way arch displays a wood carving of a scholar and students.  

Design Specifics

  • Main Reading Room dimensions: 115 feet long by 22 feet wide by 38 feet high
  • Decorative wall painting designer: Julian Ellsworth Garnsey
  • Stained glass windows creator: Judson Stained-Glass Studios, Los Angeles
  • Mosaids (22) Subject matter and inscriptions were supplied by Dr. Ralph Tyler Flewelling, Director of the School of PHilosophy; design of all but two was by the architect, Ralph Carlin Flewelling.  The aim of the mosaics was to depict the succession of philosophical ideas from Greeks through the nineteenth century.  Buddha and Confucius are included "as important in the philosophical ideas of a great portion of the human race."
  • There is some evidence that the tile works were designed by Helen Bruton.  According to information provided by Wendy Good, "In several interviews she [Helen Bruton] discussed being hired by Gladding McBean to finish the project after the first draftsman left the job (after completing Confucius and Buddha)."  (Personal email communication from Wendy Good to Melissa Miller, March 17, 2019).

More from Wendy Good:

"I learned about Helen Bruton's involvement with the philosopher mosaics from interviews she gave in the 1960s and 70s as well as some contemporary sources.  I also want to bring to your attention this video recording of an interview with Helen and Margaret Bruton from 1875.  Helen (in red) talks about hte project at USC in the first video, from minutes 11:00 to 14:00.  Interview with Bruton Sisters.  I love this interview, because she talks about how Dr. Flewelling told her she could not put dogs in Emerson's portrait.  She agreed, but then she hid the dogs up in the clouds.  If you look closely at the clouds floating above Emerson's head you can see they are in the form of running dogs!  Helen Bruton was a talented artist and a fascinating person.  Her involvement iwth Hoose Library is very exciting and I hope we can work together to bring this interesting piece of history back to light."

For more information about the history of Hoose Library of Philosophy and Mudd Hall of Philosophy and the art and architecture, check out our library guide on the Hoose Library of Philosophy: Collections, History, Art and Architecture, and Digital Humanities Projects and Resources.  To learn more about the design specifications of Hoose Library of Philosophy and Helen Bruton's role in the design of the mosaics, check out this handy guide created by Ruth Wallach, Associate Dean of Public Services: [[{"fid":"177686","view_mode":"media_link","fields":{"format":"media_link"},"link_text":"Hoose Library of Philosophy -- Public Art in LA","type":"media","field_deltas":{"1":{"format":"media_link"}},"attributes":{"class":"media-element file-media-link","data-delta":"1"}}]]

For Studying

The Main Reading Room is a quiet study space and users can sit in the recessed alcoves under the windows or at the refectory-style tables in the center of the room.  The Main Reading Room also contains the Hoose Library of Philosophy bookstacks which can be browsed during open hours.