Old Library, New Tricks
St. Louis’ century-old Downtown library is freshly restored and looking to the future.
After two and a half years and $70 million of renovations, Downtown St. Louis’ Central Library has reopened its doors to the public, revealing a seamless blend of the historic and the cutting-edge.
THE OTHER FRONT DOOR
The first thing many library visitors will notice is the brand new entrance on Locust Street. Until now, the stately Olive Street entrance was the only way to enter the library—and it wasn’t accessible for those who had difficulty climbing the grand stairs. The new handicapaccessible entrance features a sloped granite walkway underneath a sleek steel-and-glass canopy, which Executive Director Waller McGuire calls “a piece of sculpture.” There is also a serene reflection pool, carved with words from films, books and poetry.
In its 100 years, Central Library has played host to a number of famous authors, speakers, musicians and entertainers. With the introduction of the library’s 250-person auditorium, crafted out of a space that used to store coal, guests have a comfortable and modern venue to see anything from films and puppet shows to classes for kids and adults. “The original architect had designed an auditorium as part of his earliest designs, but because of costs, it had to be cut out,” McGuire says. “Before, for each event, we would have hundreds of people crowded into the grand hall, which has difficult acoustics.”
Aside from the beautiful restoration of its grandiose architecture, the library’s technological upgrades may be one of the most impressive feats accomplished with the renovation. The facility now boasts one of the fastest wireless networks in St. Louis, energy-efficient lighting systems and a system of modern plumbing, heating and cooling behind the thick marble walls and floors. In the Creative Experience Room, visitors can rent laptops and tablets, make use of a recording studio or explore other creative tech tools. “Architects found a way to build a representation of our own century within the great walls of the original building without disturbing any of the historical architecture,” McGuire says. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t just building a museum, but a library that functions and reflects today’s world.”
Photo credit: Library photo by Jennifer Silverberg.