Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Wilmette Public Library

The suburb of Wilmette is several miles north -- and more than a few rungs up the socioeconomic ladder -- from Rogers Park. But retro can be found all over Chicago's North Shore. The Wilmette Public Library is one nice example of mid-century civic design which we stumbled upon while estate saling one Saturday morning.

The building has undergone a number of additions, some more obvious than others. The two most recent are a bit unfortunate -- attempts to update the library rather than stay true to its classic Modernism. The front, shown here, is from 1994 and little more than a foyer that encases the original main entry in dark glass. Have you considered joining a reading club lately?

Walk around to the east side, however, and you can see what must have been considered pretty radical architecture at the time. The blocky, brick forms do a good job of expressing the library's interior spaces and functions, with reading rooms that jut out from the main body and a large boxy mass in the back. It probably housed the stacks once upon a time, but now contains an atrium and mostly administrative offices. The fieldstone planters are a nice touch that appear on several exterior corners.

Here's the atrium, a several story semi-circle that seems to be part of the 1986 update, judging from the Frank Lloyd Wright-style staircases that surround it, with touches of mauve and teal.

The interior is a bit maze-like, with a number of stairways connecting the floors of the separate masses. Fortunately, evidence of the early '50s interiors can be found all over. This stairway leads to a mezzanine where newspapers and magazines are archived.

Directly opposite it is another stairway leading down to the non-fiction area in the basement, and a passageway to the lobby.

These Wassily chairs surely date from the original building, judging from the degree of scuff and sag in their leather strips. They're still classics, however, no doubt originals, and probably worth a pretty penny. All it would take is a bit of polish and TLC to cover the wear and bring them back to life.

Though the '94 and '86 additions are proudly commemorated on large plaques, there's no obvious cornerstone for the original structure. Fortunately, some quick Internet research revealed that it was dedicated in 1951, and went on to win an award from the American Institute of Architects.

One of the librarians mentioned that the building is undergoing yet another renovation. I must have cringed a little when she said this, because she hastened to add that they were taking great pains to restore the original brickwork.


LaLaLu said...

Have you seen the Salt Lake City library? Amazing stuff.

Tea Time Consultants said...

Like your photos. Just recently visited Chicago. It is a great city. Lots of history.