Remodeled St. Louis Central Library is a marvel

March 29, 2013
The Grand Foyer of the St. Louis Public Library.
The Grand Foyer of the St. Louis Public Library.

Bibliophiles, take note: There’s a spectacular new page on your tour of America’s great book sites: The reopened public library in downtown St. Louis.

The library closed almost three years ago for a $70-million renovation. The results of that work are now open to the public, and the 190,000-square-foot building is the most gorgeous — and usable — library I have ever seen.

The 1912 Beaux Arts building, which takes a full city block, was originally designed by Cass Gilbert, who also designed the U.S. Supreme Court. Andrew Carnegie provided the seed money — part of his campaign to build 1,600 libraries in America — and taxpayers provided the rest.

Even Washingtonians familiar with the Library of Congress will be awed by what St. Louis has accomplished with this renovation that reclaims the architectural glories of the past while offering all the technological conveniences of the present.

The Great Hall is decorated with alabaster and marble lamps and a hand-sculpted ceiling.
The Great Hall is decorated with alabaster and marble lamps and a hand-sculpted ceiling.

Visitors enter through a marble Grand Foyer and move into the Great Hall with its alabaster and marble lamps and its hand-sculpted ceiling. Walking through the other rooms, one discovers a perfect blend of reverence and whimsy, from the super-quiet genealogy center to the Children’s Library (kids only, please) guarded by three giant Jelly Baby sculptures by Mauro Perucchetti. Breathtaking stained glass windows by Gorham have been gleamingly restored, while a new stainless steel and glass atrium offers space for book clubs, computers and a cafe. A basement originally used for the furnace and coal storage has been transformed into a 244-seat auditorium for author events and concerts.

The Children's Library sports furniture to climb into with a favorite book.
The Children’s Library sports furniture to climb into with a favorite book.

The remodeling, which also doubled the available public space, was timed to commemorate the building’s centennial. It was funded by $20 million in donations and $50 million in bonds.

Make sure you stop by and take in this literary palace on your way to the Arch, less than a mile away.

@RonCharles

 

Ron Charles is the editor of The Washington Post's Book World. For a dozen years, he enjoyed teaching American literature and critical theory in the Midwest, but finally switched to journalism when he realized that if he graded one more paper, he'd go crazy.
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