“The Foundation of the Chicago Public Library,” by S.M. O’Connor

      The Chicago Public Library came into existence largely due to the generosity of the British and Irish public after the Great Fire of 1871 consumed the libraries of scholarly societies, labor unions, and private citizens.  There was no public library in Chicago before the Great Fire, but a number of private organizations had libraries.  In fact, there were no public libraries in the whole of Illinois.  Public libraries throughout the state owe their existence to the passage of a law by the state legislature in 1872 that authorized municipal governments to establish public libraries in order for there to be a governmental entity in Chicago to house the nearly 7,000 books that arrived from the British Isles.

      There was no public library in Chicago before the Great Fire of 1871, but a number of private organizations had libraries.  Several affluent private citizens also owned splendid libraries before the Great Fire, notably Isaac N. Arnold (1815-1884), J. Young Scammon (1812-1890), Henry S. Monroe, and Ezra B. McCagg.[1]  [It is worth noting that law partners Scammon and McCagg were two of the twelve co-founders of the Chicago Historical Society (C.H.S.), and Arnold was an early member of the C.H.S.] In the 1850s and ‘60s, Chicago had two literary debating societies, the Mendelssohn Literary Association, and the Zearing Literary Institute.[2]  This indicates that Chicago, then a small but growing town by modern standards, had a substantial number of literate people with cultural aspirations.

      The Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A.), founded in 1858 by Cyrus Bentley I (1819-1881),[3] Dwight Lyman Moody (1837-1899),[4] and others, then open only to Evangelical Protestants, added a library facility within about two years of its foundation.[5]   A few years later, in 1869, a non-denominational Protestant church built on (what was then called) Michigan Street for the benefit of sailors included a library and reading room.[6]

      Labor unions and organizations founded to encourage adult education often had libraries for the benefit of members.  In 1861, for example, the Iron Molders Union, which represented 250 skilled workingmen, proudly opened a Liberty Hall and Reading Room inside rented space.[7]    The Mechanics’ Institute had a library and museum to promote adult education amongst mechanics.[8]  In 1855, the U.S. Congress chose the library of the Mechanics’ Institute as a depository for the Smithsonian Institution.[9]

      The Chicago Library Association, known before 1868 as the Young Men’s Association, operated a library that, though not free, was considered the next-best thing to a public library in Chicago.[10]   In 1841, the Young Men’s Association opened a reading room that was open to the public provided one paid a fee.[11]  The Chicago Library Association possessed 30,000 volumes by 1871.[12]   Even before the Great Fire, there were calls in the Chicago Tribune for a public library.[13]   The shortcomings of such an arrangement had convinced Daniel J. Shorey by 1871 that Chicago needed an actual public library supported by tax money. [14]

      The Chicago Library Association lost many books and artifacts in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, as did the Chicago Historical Society, the Chicago Academy of Sciences, the Chicago Law Institute Library, and the Y.M.C.A.  After the Great Fire, the Chicago Library Association’s treasury was empty.[15]  English immigrant John Robson, the Librarian of the Chicago Library Association, and Association member Thomas D. Lowther (1818-1903) called for the establishment of a public library.[16]  Robson went back to England with a mandate by Lowther to acquire a new set of British Patent Office Reports and appeal to the British public for books for “the old Chicago Library if revived or the new free City Library if established.”  Lowther normally wintered at a residence in the American South, but perceived the Chicago Library Association officers were in no position to devote energy to revive the organization, chose to undertake research into its affairs, and determine the prospects of its revival.[17]

      Mr. A. Hutton Burgess, a Londoner, suggested to the London Daily News editor that England – then at the height of its global power – should give “a new Free Library to Chicago, to remain there as a new mark of symphony now, and a keepsake and a token of true brotherly kindness forever.”[18]  Thomas Hughes (1822-1896), an author best known for Thomas Brown’s School Days, published in 1857, and a Member of Parliament (M.P.), actively supported this proposal, which as further publicized by  the Anglo-American Association.[19]  [He is the eponym of the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library inside the Harold Washington Library Center.]  The Anglo-American Association appropriated £200 to purchase books that were “otherwise unobtainable.”[20]  Famous people and groups who made commitments to donate books included Queen Victoria (lived 1819-1901, reigned 1837-1901); the Duke of Argyle; The British Museum; the University of Cambridge; Lord Alfred Churchill; former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1801-1884); the Royal Geographical Society; Prime Minister William Gladstone (1809-1898); the Earl of Kimberly; the Marquis of Lorne; Macmillan & Company; the University of Oxford; The Patent Office; The Religious Tract Society; Lord Romily; the Social Science Association; and the Royal United Service Institution.[21]

      Queen Victoria who joined British and Irish authors in donating books, was under the impression a public library had been lost in the fire.[22]  Mayor Joseph Medill (1823-1899), the Chicago Tribune publisher who was elected mayor in 1871 at the head of the temporary Fireproof Party, authorized Robson to accept approximately 7,000 volumes donated by private individuals, authors, publishers, and societies.[23]

      Galvanized by the show of British and Irish generosity, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law to authorize the creation of free public (tax-supported) libraries in any incorporated city, town, village, or township in Illinois.[24]  This was the law signed by General John M. Palmer (1817-1900), Governor of Illinois (1869-1873), on March 7, 1872.[25]

The Foundation of the Chicago Public Library

      The next month, on April 3rd, the Chicago Common Council passed an ordinance to establish the Chicago Public Library.[26]  A few days later, on April 8th, the first nine members of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Public Library were appointed: journalists James W. Sheahan and Herman Raster; publisher Willard Woodward (1824-1891); lumber dealer Robert F. Quea; and lawyers Thomas Hoyne (1817-1883),[27] Elliot Anthony, the aforementioned Daniel Shorey, Samuel Hayes, and Julius Rosenthal.[28]  The latter was Librarian of the Chicago Law Institute Library.[29]  [The 7,000-volume Chicago Law Institute Library was lost in the Great Fire of 1871.  The business of replenishment began with the gift of 109 volumes worth of English statues by Professor Langdell of Harvard College.  By 1881, the Chicago Law Institute Library had 14,000 volumes and by 1902 it had grown to 38,224 volumes.  On September 30, 1963, the Cook County Board of Commissioners founded the Cook County Law Library.  A little over two years later, on December 6, 1965, the Chicago Law Institute dissolved.  Its library in the Cook County Building closed.  The Cook County Law Library received its unique collection.]  The first structure to house the Chicago Public Library (C.P.L.) was an iron water tank at the intersection of LaSalle and Adams.[30]  Other temporary accommodations followed.[31]  In 1878, Lowther’s book Memorials of the Old Chicago Library, Formerly Young Men’s Association, and of the Advent of the New, was published.[32]

      In October of 1873, Dr. William Frederick Poole (1821-1894) came to Chicago to take charge of the Chicago Public Library, and would remain in office for fifteen years.  Poole held office from January 1, 1874 to until January 23, 1887.[33]  He subsequently became the first Librarian of The Newberry Library, which he remained until his death.  Not long after his graduation from Yale University in 1849, Poole had become Librarian of the Boston Athenaeum.  Subsequently, he served as Librarian of the Boston Mercantile Library. In January of 1869, the next phase of his career began as a consultant on library organization. He had become famous as a librarian, bibliographer, and historian who wrote the books An alphabetical index to subjects, treated in the reviews, and other periodicals, to which no indexes have been published, which was published in 1848; An index to periodical literature, published in 1853; Cotton Mather and Salem Witchcraft, published in 1869; Anti-slavery Before 1800, published in 1887; Poole’s Index to Periodical Literature, published in 1888; and Columbus and the Founding of the New World, published in 1892.

      By 1874, the Chicago Public Library’s reading room contained serial publications from the U.S., U.K., and twenty-three other sovereign states.[34]  Nineteen years later, in 1893, the year of Chicago’s first World’s Fair – the World’s Columbian Exposition – the Chicago Public Library had 189,350 volumes.[35]  A number of states in Continental Europe contributed books to the Chicago Public Library at the request of immigrants from those countries and empires.[36]  The Chicago Public Library also purchased new and older books on an annual basis.[37]

The Chicago Public Library Building, Part I (1891-1897)

      The construction of the Chicago Public Library Building, now the Chicago Cultural Center, obliterated Dearborn Park, which had been one of Chicago’s first parks.  Future President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) once spoke in Dearborn Park.  The Chicago Public Library was not, however, the first building erected in Dearborn Park.  Before the Great Fire of 1871, the Union Hall had stood there.

      Before plans could be prepared to construct the first permanent quarters for the Chicago Public Library in Dearborn Park, conflict arose over control of the park. The Illinois state legislature had given the north quarter of Dearborn Park to the Soldier’s Home, an American Civil War veterans’ organization.  In 1891, an agreement was finally reached that specified the new building in Dearborn Park would be a dual-purpose structure.

      It would both house the Chicago Public Library and serve as a Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall dedicated to soldiers who fought to preserve the Union (and free the slaves).  For decades after the Civil War, the Republican Party in particular courted the Grand Army of the Republic (the name of which George Lucas borrowed for the Star Wars prequels) as a voting bloc. Instead of seeking philanthropic support from affluent residents, the Chicago Common Council levied a 1% tax on its citizens.

      In 1891, there was a competition to design the new library.  The Instructions to Architects specified that the new library “convey to the beholder the idea that the building would be an enduring monument worthy of a great and public spirited city.”  The famous architect Peter Bonnett Wight (1838-1925) submitted a design in 1891, but he was not asked to submit plans for the exterior. An elevation drawing of it was in the scrapbook he donated to The Art Institute of Chicago’s Burnham Library of Architecture, which appeared in The Art Institute of Chicago traveling exhibition P.B. Wight: Architect, Contractor, and Critic, 1838-1925 and replicated in the exhibit catalog.[38] Five designs aroused enough interest to elicit solicitations for exterior plans, those by Solon. S. Beman of Chicago; Jenney & Mundie of Chicago; Huel & Schmid of Chicago; McKim, Mead and White of New York; and Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston. [39]   The contract was awarded to Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge (known today as Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott). The three partners in the architectural firm were the successors to Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), one of the greatest architects in American history.

      This is how it came to pass that while Charles Allerton Coolidge (1858-1936) of Boston was at work on an Italian Renaissance style building to temporarily serve as home to the World’s Congress Auxiliary during Chicago’s first World’s Fair, the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893) and permanently serve as the new home for The Art Institute of Chicago (A.I.C.), Coolidge was also awarded the contract to design the city’s first permanent public library building, which opened in 1897, and in 1977 became the Chicago Cultural Center.[40]  [C. A. Coolidge would go on to design a mansion, built in 1896, in the Georgian Revival style, for the aforementioned Joseph Medill.  It was later enlarged in the 1930s by Medill’s grandson and Tribune publisher Colonel Robert R. McCormick (1880-1955). That residence is now home to the McCormick Museum on the 500-acre Cantigny Museum and Gardens in Winfield in DuPage County, west of Chicago.]  Coolidge’s final concept for the library was a Beaux-Arts (neo-classical) style of architecture. The building combines Greek columns of the Doric order and Roman arches. The design combined a unified exterior with an interior that served as both a library and war memorial.


Figure 1 Credit: The International Encyclopædia Caption: This is how The Art Institute of Chicago looked around 1905.

      Ground broke in Dearborn Park for this library building on July 27, 1892.[41]  With great fanfare and excitement, a groundbreaking ceremony was held at the corner of Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue on July 27, 1892. Rabbi Emil G. Hirsch, President of the Library Board, addressed witnesses, “We have for years been like the ancient people of Egypt, wandering about in search of a home. At last we have reached the promised land and here we intend to remain. As the sun’s heat is oppressive, I will not detain you further. I now take the first shovel of earth and cast it into the wagon.”  Dr. Hirsch then emptied his shovelful of dirt into a wagon waiting close by. The dirt from the excavation site was hauled to the Art Institute of Chicago site in Lake (now Grant) Park across the street and down a few blocks from Dearborn Park, where it was used for landfill.
      It took almost a year for seventy men to drive 2,357 wooden piles seventy-five feet to the hardpan clay below the sandy soil along Michigan Avenue. Structural engineer William Sooy Smith’s design was so stable that there has been no noticeable settlement of the building in more than a century.
      The structure was originally U-shaped. It is less than half as wide as it is long as it is 352 feet north to south, 134 feet east to west.  Three-foot thick limestone walls stand atop a granite base. This limestone is fine grade Bedford limestone, which means Salem limestone quarried in Bedford, Indiana. In terms of height, it is ninety feet tall from the sidewalk to the balustrade. From the outside, one might guess that the building was three stories tall, but in actuality it is five stories tall.


Figure 2 Credit: The International Encyclopædia Caption: This is how the Chicago Public Library looked around 1905.

     The Interior

      The building has different architectural elements on its north and south sides. If one enters from Randolph Street, the north side of the building, one encounters Greek-inspired architecture with three doorways sharing a massive portico with Doric columns set in pairs.  At the top of the curving marble staircase one can access the 45-foot-by-50-foot Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) Rotunda. The ceiling is embossed with plaster carvings of swords, shields, helmets, and flags.
      The building has two domes designed by the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company, one of which is the largest Tiffany Glass dome in the world.   Forty feet in diameter, the larger of the two Tiffany domes spans a distance of greater than 1,000 square feet.  Within its ornate cast iron frame, manufactured by the Winslow Brothers of Chicago, the dome contains roughly 30,000 pieces of glass, which are in 243 sections. The colored glass of the dome comes in shades of tan, beige, and ochre.  Originally, the stained glass dome was covered by a protective exterior dome of translucent glass. A floor inset with glass blocks originally provided natural light from the dome to the first floor below. The stained glass was manufactured by Healy & Millet of Chicago. The dome formerly illuminated naturally, is now illuminated electrically.  The room’s white marble and glistening mosaics were also Tiffany-designed.

      The immense Grand Army of the Republic Memorial Hall lies beyond the Grand Army of the Republic Rotunda. It is fifty-three-feet-long, ninety-six-feet-wide, and thirty-three-feet-high. Between 1898 and 1948, it was leased to the Grand Army Hall and Memorial Association as a meeting place for members of the G.A.R. [Today, the collection of Civil War artifacts once displayed there is now preserved at the Harold Washington Library Center.] Weddings are sometimes held here.  The Vermont (Verdé) marble walls bear the names of thirty Civil War battles including the Battle of Fort Sumter, the Battle of Shilo (also known as the Battle of Pittsburgh landing), the Battle of Antietam (also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg), the Battle of Gettysburg, and the Battle of Cedar Creek (also known as the Battle of Belle Grove). The coffered ceilings are encrusted with images of dragons and fruit. Adjacent to the Memorial Hall is a space that was formerly a flat-floored G.A.R. meeting room and is now the Claudia Cassidy Theater.
      If one enters from Washington Street, the south side of the building, one encounters Roman-inspired architecture with arches. There are three pairs of glass doors. A 34-foot-long elliptical white marble arch decorated with glass-type tesserae sparkles with the names of great thinkers of history such as the Athenian philosopher Plato, the Roman orator Cicero, and the Roman historian Livy.

      The forty-five-foot-by-fifty-three-foot lobby is decorated in white Italian Carrara marble, dark green Irish Connemara marble, fine hardwoods, stained glass, and polished bronze.   Throughout the interior, the marble was inlaid with a variety of materials, including lustrous Favrile glass, colored stone, mother-of-pearl, gold leaf in the Cosmati technique, which gives the walls a jewel-like appearance. The grand staircase of white Carrara marble contains mosaics designed by Robert C. Spencer, Jr. (1865-1953) of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge. The mosaics were executed in the Tiffany Studios in New York by Jacob Adolphus Holzer (1858 – 1938), a Swiss immigrant designer, muralist, and mosaicist. Above the third floor, this marble staircase is less intricately decorated with Italian and American marbles and mosaics.
The staircase opens on the 3rd floor into the G.A.R. meeting room (now Preston Bradley Hall). It spans the building’s width. Originally, this was the general delivery room where library visitors received the books they had requested.   The second Tiffany dome, 38 feet in diameter and made of translucent Tiffany Favrile glass, has a fish scale pattern, while the center of the dome, called the oculus, depicts the signs of the zodiac. Like the other dome, it was originally illuminated by sunlight and is now illuminated electrically.

      At the base of the dome is a quotation from the English playwright and essayist Joseph Addison (1672 – 1719). The Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company of New York fabricated the dome glass, lighting fixtures, wall sconces and chandeliers. The Chicago Ornamental Iron Company produced the supporting iron frame. On the hall’s east and west sides are quotations in Greek, Chinese, Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, and German, as well as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Where once there were elevators for book delivery in the corners of the room, there are now black ornamented boxes.

The Metropolitan Library Agreement

      In 1896, the Chicago Public Library, The Newberry Library, and The John Crerar Library had reached an agreement by which they would divide the work of developing collections.[42] The Chicago Public Library would concentrate on general literature and Chicagoana, The Newberry Library would concentrate on the humanities, and The John Crerar Library would concentrate on the biology, medicine, and physical science.[43]  The John Crerar Library later merged with The University of Chicago Libraries.

      In 1897, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld catalog retail king Aaron Montgomery Ward’s lawsuit against the City of Chicago to clean and improve Lake (now Grant) Park, and prevent the City of Chicago from building a civic center there, but exempted The Art Institute of Chicago in Lake Park and the Chicago Public Library in Dearborn Park.[44]   Although he would not block the construction of The Art Institute of Chicago, Ward used his legal status as an owner of property on Michigan Avenue that overlooked the park to block plans to erect buildings for The John Crerar Library and The Field Museum of Natural History in Lake Park (now Grant Park).

Opening the Chicago Public Library

      The organization moved in and opened on October 11, 1897 after several construction delays.[45]   During the first week of October 1897, about 10,000 Chicagoans a day came to see the palatial granite and limestone library “with its two dazzling stained-glass domes; white marble stairways and walls decorated with shimmering mother-of-pearl and colored glass mosaics; green marble war memorial rooms containing the names of important battles; and beautiful coffered ceilings,” as one commentator put it.  The Chicago Sunday Tribune opined, “While its decorative splendor is surpassed by other notable libraries, particularly the new structures in Washington and Boston, its tastefulness and fitness leave little to be desired.”  On October 9, 1897, almost 3,000 guests attended a gala celebration to celebrate the library opening. The Chicago Orchestra played the intermezzo from the Cavallieria Rusticana, which Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945) had composed just eight years previously. In his dedicatory address, Charles S. Thornton declared, “Here the soul of the past is ready to impart intelligence to the living.”[46]  The central library opened on October 11, 1897.[47] Originally, subterranean railroad cars supplied the coal that fed the massive boilers in the basement. Today, however, heat and hot water are supplied to the Chicago Cultural Center by the Pittsfield Building across the street.

      In the 1890s, the Board of Directors chose to ignore the C.P.L.’s true strength lay in its literature collection and emphasize its “reference collection of Americana and fine arts.”[48]

      With a flabbergasting lack of foresight, after the Chicago Public Library’s main library building on Michigan Avenue opened in 1897 Chicago’s political leaders cut the budgets for both book acquisitions and neighborhood libraries.[49]  For the next ten years, budgetary constraints led to the Chicago Public Library being closed on evenings and Sundays, “the curtailment of delivery stations, and a halt on acquisitions.”[50] The system recovered in part due to the efforts of Librarian Henry Legler.[51]

      The T.B. Blackstone Memorial Branch Library, at 4904 South Lake Park Avenue, in Hyde Park-Kenwood on the South Side of Chicago, is often cited as the city’s first branch library. However, the George C. Walker Branch Library in Morgan Park on the Far South Side of Chicago is older as it was built in 1889-1890.  Furthermore, in the third volume of Bessie Louise Pierce’s A History of Chicago, she states the Chicago Public Library had twenty-nine delivery stations by 1892 and six branch libraries in 1894.[52] In The Chicago Public Library: Origins and Backgrounds, Gwladys Spencer stated the Hyde Park Lyceum, which existed from 1867 to 1891, became a branch of the Chicago Public Library, so the T.B. Blackstone Memorial Branch Library was not even the first branch library in Hyde Park.[53]  According to a book published at the direction of the Chicago Library Club in 1905, the six other branches that existed at that time were in “rented quarters.”[54] What is true is that it was the first purpose-built library building to be erected as a branch of the Chicago Public Library, because the Walker Branch Library started out as the library of the suburb of Morgan Park but after the City of Chicago annexed Morgan Park its library became a branch of the Chicago Public Library.

      The T.B. Blackstone Memorial Library was a gift to the Chicago Public Library from Isabella Farnsworth Norton Blackstone (1838-1928) in honor of her late husband.[55] She was the widow of Timothy Beach Blackstone (1851-1900).[56]  In 1901, Isabella Blackstone who had inherited the bulk of her husband’s fortune, proposed to build the Timothy B. Blackstone Memorial Library to the Board of Directors of the Chicago Public Library.  Timothy B. Blackstone was one-term Mayor of La Salle, Illinois in the mid-1850s; founder of the town of Mendota, Illinois; President of the Joliet & Chicago Railroad from 1861 to 1864; an incorporator of the Union Stock Yards & Transit Company in 1865 and first president of the Union Stock Yards; and President of the Chicago & Alton Railroad from 1864 to 1899.[57]    He died at the age of seventy-one of pneumonia in his mansion on Michigan Avenue, which is now the site of the Blackstone Hotel, on May 26, 1900.[58]  Mrs. Blackstone laid the cornerstone on June 23, 1902.  During this ceremony, she used the same mason’s trowel that her husband had earlier used to lay the cornerstone for a public library in his hometown he had built as a memorial for his father. The opening ceremony was held on January 8, 1904.[59]   She handed the deed and keys to John W. Eckhart, President of the Board of Directors of the Chicago Public Library.[60]  Frederick H. Hild (1858-1914), the second Librarian of the Chicago Public Library (1887-1909), was also at the ceremony, as were James F. Bowers, Vice-President of the Board of Directors; and Directors C.P. Brosseau; John W. Lowe; Samuel Despre; F.A. Lindstrand; Dennis J. Egan; Bernard Cigrand; and Colin C.H. Fyffe.[61]

      The Chicago city charter of 1905-06 called for a “board of public libraries, museums, and art galleries.”[62]  Unfortunately, that city charter never went into effect because of conflict with the Illinois General Assembly.[63]

      The C.P.L. Board of Directors declared the position of Librarian vacant and formed an advisory committee of professional librarians and academics which in 1909 submitted a report that called for the city to be divided into five library districts.[64]  Each district would have a central district library that would support smaller neighborhood branch libraries and delivery stations. [65]  The report also called for increased service for children and a commitment to serve the many immigrants in the city. [66]    The next Librarian would have to pass a civil service examination. [67]

      His name was Henry Eduard Legler, and he was determined to make the Chicago Public Library system efficient. [68]   His goal was to place branch libraries at busy intersections.[69]  Branch libraries need not be neoclassical in design so long as they did not succumb to “commonplace ugliness.” [70]  Reference book collections were to be situated near reference desks and an emphasis was to be placed on such collections being useful for problem-solving. [71]

The Chicago Public Library Building, Part II (1915-1977)

      By 1915, cultural events were regularly held in the Chicago Public Library building.  In 1916, Legler issued a proposal seemingly inspired by D.H. Burnham and E.H. Bennett’s Plan of Chicago (1909), A Library Plan for the Whole City: Proposed System for Regional and Auxiliary Branches. [72]   It called for regional districts and an extensive network of neighborhood libraries.[73]   Legler delegated implementation of the proposal to his assistant, Carl Roden.[74]  Roden succeeded Legler as Librarian of Chicago in 1918 and held the office until 1950.[75]   During his tenure in office, the branch library system in Chicago neighborhoods grew by 50%.[76]

      Between the 1930s and 1970s the scope of the Chicago Public Library’s offerings continued to expand and the central library was clearly overcrowded.   An architectural survey conducted in 1967 by the famous Chicago architectural firm Holabird & Root confirmed the library building remained structurally sound, but the mechanical, electrical, and communication systems were obsolete.

In 1970, a design competition for renovation of the Chicago Public Library was held. Two architectural firms from Madison, Wisconsin shared the prize.  They estimated the renovation project would cost $28,000,000. Soon the library became the center of a spirited public debate. The City of Chicago was challenged with the need to provide Chicagoans with an updated public library that could be built at reasonable expense. Some people called for the demolition of the old library building.  During the early 1970s, many beautiful buildings, old by American standards, were demolished to make way for nondescript office buildings. Preservationists wanted to save the library, both for its aesthetic magnificence and its historic importance.

On February 7, 1972, Mayor Richard J. Daley (Richard Daley the Elder) formed a six-man committee to consider future of the library building. Four days later, his wife, Eleanor “Sis” Daley (1907-2003), was quoted in the Chicago press – a rare occurrence – as saying, “I am for restoring and keeping all the beautiful buildings.”  Mayor Daley’s committee announced a few weeks later that the building would be saved.
The Chicago Public Library organization would vacate the library building and move to a new site. In another important move Senator Adlai Stevenson III, a Democrat who represented Illinois in the U.S. Senate from 1970 to 1981, succeeded in having the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places because it was “a precious public resource.” This designation, granted in 1972, would also protect it from future demolition.  By 1974, about half the library’s books and periodicals had been moved elsewhere.  Library materials were divided between two locations.  This was an important year because the firm of Holabird & Root was also chosen to design the building’s renovation. When the renovation project was finished in 1977, Holabird & Root received praise for skillful work.  Along Garland Court, on the west side (back) of the structure, a long, gently sloping ramp had been built to provide easy access between several floors and the building’s north and south sections. The ramp also closed the original U-shape of the building.  A sculpture garden was made within the newly enclosed space. The stacks (stack-filled library rooms) became exhibition space.  The G.A.R. meeting room became the Preston Bradley Hall.  The latter provides setting for functions from concerts to luncheons. The Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks granted the building Chicago Landmark status in 1976.

      Thus, the Chicago Public Library, badly in need of repair, had been refurbished to house the Chicago Cultural Center, which opened in 1977. The Chicago Cultural Center housed only the special collections of the Chicago Public Library.  A replacement facility was not provided until the Harold Washington Library Center opened in 1991.[77] However, while the C.P.L. Board of Directors debated the best site for the new main library, they cut the budget, staff, and hours for the system. Between the lack of a main library and the cuts at the branch libraries, circulation dropped.


[1] Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume II: From Town to City 1848-1871. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (1940, 2007), p. 398 footnote 24

[2] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume II, p. 398

[3] Cyrus Bentley I (1818-1881) is not to be confused with his son, Cyrus Bentley II (1861-1930), who was also a prominent lawyer in Chicago.  He represented Cyrus Hall McCormick II (1859-1939) on both personal and professional matters.  Cyrus Hall McCormick, Jr. was President of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company from 1884 to 1902 and after it merged with the Deering Harvester Company, the Plano Manufacturing Company, the Milwaukee Harvester Company, and Warder, Bushnell, and Glessner to form International Harvester in 1902, he became president of that company.  Cyrus Bentley, Jr. was the author of The Invention of the McCormick Reaper, published in 1930.  The mansion known as the Cyrus Bentley House on Astor Street in Chicago’s Gold Coast, was built for Cyrus Bentley, Jr.

[4] Moody also founded the Moody Church in Lincoln Park (Community Area #7) on the North Side of Chicago.  In 1886, he founded the Moody Bible Institute, which is headquartered in the Near North Side (Community Area #8).

[5] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume II, pages 377 and 378

[6] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume II, p. 369

[7] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume II, p. 166 footnote 71

[8] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume II, p. 400

Today, when we hear the word “mechanic” we are apt to picture an auto mechanic, but the word formerly had a broader meaning.  It indicated a man who was capable of maintaining and repairing a machine, as opposed to an engineer, who was capable of designing and building a machine from scratch, back when all machines were called “engines.”

[9] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume II, p. 400

[10] Bessie Louise Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III: The Rise of a Modern City 1871-1893. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press 91957, (2007), p. 419

[11] Alice Calabrese, “Cook County Libraries,” The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Ed. James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press (2004), p. 476

[12] Alice Calabrese, p. 476

[13] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 419

[14] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume II, p. 398

[15] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 419

[16] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 419

[17] Rufus Blanchard, Discovery and Conquests of the Northwest with the History of Chicago in Two Volumes, Volume II. Chicago: R. Blanchard and Company (1900), p. 470

[18] Blanchard, pages 470 and 471

See also Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[19] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[20] Blanchard, p. 476

[21] Blanchard, p. 472

[22] Elizabeth McNulty, Chicago Then & Now. San Diego, California: Thunder Bay Press (2007), p. 32

[23] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[24] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[25] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[26] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[27] Thomas Hoyne is the eponym of Hoyne Street.  He would go on to win the mayoral election of April 16, 1876, as he received 33,064 of the approximately 40,000 votes cast, but Mayor Harvey Doolittle Colvin (1815-1892), a member of the People’s Party, a pro-alcohol offshoot of the Republican Party, simply refused to leave office.  [The background for this is that in 1872 the Illinois General Assembly had passed the Cities and Villages Act of 1872 that extended mayoral terms from one year to two years and moved elections from November to April.  The Common Council passed an ordinance on April 23, 1875 under which the City of Chicago would operate under the Cities and Villages Act of 1872 rather than under the rules laid out in the Charter of the City of Chicago (1867).]  The Common Council and some department heads accepted Hoyne as the new mayor, but the comptroller and the Chicago Police Department sided with Colvin.  On June 5, 1876, a Cook County Circuit Court judge declared the election null and void and ordered a special election to be held on July 12, 1876.  Monroe Heath (1827-1894), a Republican, won the election and served from 1876 to 1879.

[28] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420 footnote 61

[29] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420 footnote 61

[30] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[31] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[32] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 419 footnote 60

[33] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[34] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 421

[35] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, pages 420 & 421

[36] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 421

[37] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 421

[38] Sarah Bradford Landau, P.B. Wight: Architect, Contractor, and Critic, 1838-1925. The Art Institute of Chicago (1981), pages 104 & 105

[39] Landau, p. 40

[40] Donald F. Miller, City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster (1996), p. 385

See also Chicago’s Famous Buildings. Ira J. Bach, editor. 3rd edition. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (1965, 1969, 1980), p. 389

See also Cathleen D. Cahill, “Chicago Public Library,” Encyclopedia of Chicago , Ed. James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press (2004), p. 145

[41] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[42] Alice Calabrese, “Cook County Libraries,” The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Ed. James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, and Janice L. Reiff. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press (2004), p. 477

[43] Calabrese, p. 477

[44] Lois Wille, Forever Open, Clear, and Free: The Struggle for Chicago’s Lakefront. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press (1972, 1991) pages 23 and 75

[45] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[46] Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, Culture & the City: Cultural Philanthropy in Chicago from the 1880s to 1917. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press (1976, 1989), p. 122

She cites Annual Report of the Chicago Public Library 26 (1898), p. 31

[47] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 420

[48] Horowitz, p. 123

[49] Cahill, p. 145

[50] Horowitz, p. 124

She cites Annual Report of the Chicago Public Library 31(1903), p. 9

[51] Cahill, p. 145

[52] Pierce, A History of Chicago, Volume III, p. 421

[53] Gwladys Spencer, The Chicago Public Library: Origins and Backgrounds. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (1943), p. 120

[54] Chicago Library Club, Libraries of the City of Chicago with an Historical Sketch of the Chicago Library Club. Chicago: The Lakeside Press, R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company (1905), p. 75

[55] Ida Hinman, Biography Of Timothy B. Blackstone. New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago: Methodist Book Concern Press (1917), p. 38

See also Chicago Public Library, p. 36

[56] Hinman, pages 27-29

[57] Hinman, pages 17-23

See also Don Hayner and Tom McNamee, Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names. Chicago: Loyola University Press (1988), p. 12

[58] Hinman, p. 3

[59] Hinman, pages 38 and 39

[60] Hinman, p. 39

[61] Hinman, p. 39

[62] Horowitz, p. 214

[63] Ibid

[64] Horowitz, p. 215

[65] Horowitz, p. 215

[66] Horowitz, p. 215

[67] Horowitz, p. 215

[68] Horowitz, p. 215

[69] Horowitz, p. 216

[70] Horowitz, p. 215

[71] Horowitz, p. 215

[72] Cahill, p. 145

See also Horowitz, p. 272 endnote 32

[73] Cahill, p. 145

[74] Cahill, p. 145

[75] Cahill, p. 145

[76] Cahill, p. 145

[77] The Harold Washington Library Center was named in honor of the city’s first Black African-American mayor because he had strongly supported the construction of a new main library.

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