You may remember your first trip to a magnificent library. You were likely awe-struck by how cool it looked and how it made you wish that you’d be able to have a collection that grand of your own some day. Despite people’s love of libraries, the look of a library and the impression it gives library-goers is increasingly disregarded as important. To our dismay, many branches are becoming little more than holding pens for books. To honor the great libraries that have impacted people worldwide, we decided to memorialize some wonderful libraries that, for one reason or another, are no longer standing. The books may still be around, but the space itself makes going to the library an experience. It’s why children beg their parents to stay just a little while longer.
‘Old Main’ Cincinnati Public Library, b. 1874 – d. 1955
Its loss has been much bemoaned for years now by (almost) the entire country. Initially designed as an opera house, the building was refitted to feature five flights of books and materials. It had every staple of sophisticated design: roman columns flanking foyers, cast-iron railings on spiral staircases, and busts of famous authors built into the façade. Its demolition after the library moved into a bigger space was carried out without much protest.
What stands there today: A hulking, blocky building with floors of office space atop restaurant fronts.
Carnegie Library of Yonkers, New York, b. 1904 – d. 1982
Just a few miles north of New York City proper sat one of the more than 1,600 libraries built under the auspices of Andrew Carnegie. It was uniquely Yonkers, designed by a local architect in a reserved, geometric style. It featured paintings and murals by local artists flanking the shelves of the main hall. Sadly, the building did not have quite as many fans in the government. Yonkers officials moved to expand the street, and despite an 11th–hour effort to save the building, it was razed for the road and the library was evicted.
What stands there today: The street, if you consider that ‘standing’.
The first Minneapolis Public Library, b. 1889 – d. 1961
As the first public library in town, this building had an old-world attitude to it. Towering above the area with its castle-like construction, big, arched windows, and large art collection, the library lent itself well to a sense of precociousness. It was ultimately torn down for a good reason: demand for books meant the library had to move to a larger space. The library’s newest incarnation, completed in 2006, does remind us that progress isn’t entirely bad. The collections are designed to make access to the books easier for all and, not for nothing, it is also quite the looker.
What stands there today: A parking lot. Yes, a parking lot.
Birmingham Central Library, b. 1974 – d. 2013
This towering library in the United Kingdom had its enemies. Its architectural style, known as Brutalism, is frequently criticized for its drab concrete slabs and harsh, unwelcoming-looking angles. Even Prince Charles publicly disliked it, saying it looked “more like a place for burning books than keeping them.” In the face of its high-profile detractors, the library became an icon to both architects and library-goers. Despite multiple petitions to save or repurpose the building, the city council moved to sell the land.
What stands there today: The old library has still not been completely demolished. While nothing has been erected just yet, the plot itself is slated to be a £550 million (approx. $795 million) development space with offices, storefronts, and a hotel.
J. Henry Meyer Memorial Library at Stanford University, b. 1966 – d. 2015
Meyer library is another victim of changing opinions. While tastemakers described it as “a gentleman’s library,” many people who used the library had mixed feelings towards it, saying that while its placement on campus was impractical, it was a reprieve from the increasingly homogenous architecture nearby. An assessment later found that retrofitting the library would cost more than building a new one altogether, a common concern and a death knell for oldie-but-goodie buildings. The university’s newspaper published a post-mortem for the doomed building, saying, “Meyer was this campus’s most notable physical monument to taking a risk and failing.”
What stands there today: Equipment, dirt, and the remains of whatever hasn’t been cleared out since demolition ended last March. Meyer’s stake of land will eventually be replaced by a grassy open space for students.
Beverly Hills Library, b. 1963 – d. 1990
When you look at photos, it’s hard to argue with the passionate, nostalgic fan base of the old Beverly Hills Library. Designed by one of the creators of the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, its most striking feature was the mosaic tile façades that were meant to resemble the varying sizes and colors of books you would find on the shelves inside. The interior had wide windows, deep reading alcoves, and a state-of-the-art screening room. By the time renovations were in order, the colorful, modernist flair was simply no longer in vogue, and designers chose to go with a more restrained Spanish revival style.
What stands there today: Beverly Hills was fortunate enough to have another library built in its place, but its flat, monochrome face feels far more bland by contrast.
Carnegie Library of Guelph, Ontario, b. 1905 – d. 1964
Another of many libraries built from a grant by the Carnegie Foundation, this standout building was the flagship for the small town’s public library system. Lauded as “an ornament to the city and a credit to the architect,” it showed off its classical style with rounded columns, textured bricks and a dome above the atrium. While the small space was fitting for the 12,000 residents, population and demand grew to the point where maintaining it no longer made sense, and the city decided on a more humble style for its next library.
What stands there now: The new Guelph Public Library’s main branch—a simplistic, stony structure that services more readers but lacks the outward identity its predecessor had.
Featured image courtesy of Vintage Los Angeles