Historic 1959 Cornerstone Box Unearthed During Korman Renovations

A sampling of the memorabilia stored in the cornerstone box found in the Korman Center that is now being stored in University Archives.
A sampling of the memorabilia stored in the cornerstone box found in the Korman Center that is now being stored in University Archives.

When today’s Korman Center officially opened as Drexel’s Library Center back in 1959, a special ceremony was held in which a treasure trove of Drexel documents and mementos was placed in the building’s cornerstone. Now, more than 57 years later, that very cornerstone was opened in December during the building’s renovation process. 

The memorabilia found inside offer a historical look at what life was like at the then-Drexel Institute of Technology as well as its library and then-Graduate School of Library Science (now part of the College of Computing & Informatics). Since the building was originally opened as the home of a campus-wide library as well as Drexel’s library school, most of the documents and items in the cornerstone relate to the field of librarianship and Drexel’s role as one of the first schools in the country to train librarians.

For example, promotional pamphlets and brochures about Drexel’s library and librarianship programs were found in the cornerstone. Information relating to the construction and planning process of the library program and building was also included. Additionally, there were publications documenting the growth of Drexel and its librarianship program as well as a handbook for Operation 020.7, a project of the library school’s alumni association on behalf of the Drexel Library Center.

The entire Drexel Institute of Technology was represented through curriculum catalogues about various academic programs; Drexel’s charter; a pamphlet promoting the co-op program; sheet music of the “Drexel Ode” and a photo book called “Drexel is People” featuring images of Drexel’s president, faculty, staff and students. A map of Drexel’s plan of campus development was also included ­— at the time, the institution had only six buildings on campus. Printed versions of various speeches that Drexel’s then-President James Creese gave were also stored, including an address he gave to local business, industrial and educational leaders in 1956 about his recent tour in the U.S.S.R. to learn about Soviet scientific and technical education, as well as a speech titled “The Decade of Opportunity” that he gave at a luncheon recognizing the 10th anniversary of his 1945 inauguration at Drexel.

A stack of letters congratulating Drexel and its dedication to librarianship was included and featured notes from prominent librarians and academics from across the country. A catalogue from the Library Company was inscribed with a handwritten note congratulating Drexel on its new library.

Items from or relating to the April 13, 1959 cornerstone ceremony were also included in the cornerstone itself. A ceremonial trowel, depicted in yellow on a blue background on a piece of cardboard, was the smallest item to be found in the cornerstone. Press releases announcing the event were present, as were programs from the actual ceremony. A microfilm of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Evening Bulletin issues from the day of the cornerstone ceremonies was added as well.

The cornerstone — and everything inside of it — was formally presented to the Drexel community during an afternoon event held at the Library Center. That day, Drexel’s president James Creese addressed the crowd and John F. Harvey, the director of libraries and dean of the Graduate School of Library Science, presented the cornerstone box. Representatives of trustees, administration, faculty and staff, the library school’s alumni, and the architects and builders attended the event. A symposium was later held on campus for the National Library Week, and a reception and tea later followed in the Basic Science Center building (today’s Stratton Hall).

Drexel's library later moved to the W.W. Hagerty building across the street on the corner of 33rd and Market streets. The building became known as the Korman Center (named for the family of Max Wm. ’29 and Samuel Korman ’34) and served as the University’s computer networking facility.

The building’s original cornerstone will be reinstalled as is and remain part of the Korman Center building, as it has for over half a decade. The contents of the cornerstone, however, have been handed over to University Archives.

In this 125th anniversary year, it’s fitting that these historical documents and objects have been found to further illustrate Drexel’s history of promoting its library and library science: the library was one of the original 11 departments that the school opened with in 1891 and Drexel began training librarian students a year later.