Five Mid-Century Modern Library Buildings That Will Make You Swoon!
Mid-century modern design has always had a wholesome influence on me. When I see a building, piece of furniture, type, or graphic design that is spare and functional, full of long lines and quadrilaterals, made of simple materials, and connected to its environment, it gives me a distinctly calm feeling. When I see a mid-century modern building, the world slows down, it makes sense.
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Beside the fact that they promote endless curiosity and lead to occasionally life-changing discoveries, this quality of calm and order is also present in libraries. Much like with the rest of civil society, libraries also saw a boom after the end of WWII, with many lovely buildings in the mid-century modern style being designed and built around the middle decade of the last century. Here are five mid-century modern libraries for you to enjoy:
Grosse Pointe Public Library (Grosse Pointe Farms, MI, 1953, Marcel Breuer)
And to think, this library was going to be demolished! From the Michigan Modern website: “In 2005 it was determined that the modest, fifty-two year-old structure could no longer meet the community’s needs for library services and a decision was made to demolish the building. This prompted a ground-swell of support for preserving Breuer’s modernist landmark, including the launch of an online design charette to explore alternatives to demolition…The library board eventually reconsidered its decision and initiated a campaign for the restoration and expansion of the Central Library...”
Aside from the huge windows allowing for plenty of natural lighting and it’s no-nonsense red-brick exterior, the Grosse Pointe Public Library contains art by Alexander Calder, Wassily Kandinsky, and Lyman Kipp, in addition to a mural by Herbert Matter. Not to mention the typography of the “Grosse Pointe Public Library” on the outside. More info and photos available at World Monuments Fund (WMF), and the website of the Grosse Point Public Library.
Azusa Public Library (Azusa, CA, 1959, Ben Parker)
Julius Shulman (1910–2009) was a renowned architectural photographer who popularized mid-century modern architecture with his elegant photographs. Some of his prodigious output is accessible online through the Getty Research Institute, where I found these photos of the Asuza Public Library (and the one that follows).
Azusa is a relatively small city east of Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Valley. From 1950 to when this library was built in 1959, the city’s population nearly doubled from around 11,000 to just over 20,000 people. Mostly smooth stone and windows on the outside, the indoor space is one long room allowing for a mixture of age groups and use. A real mingling place for the community.
El Paso Public Library (El Paso, TX, 1954, Carroll and Daeuble)
Unlike the prior selections, which exemplify mid-century modern style, but perhaps relate little to the surrounding culture, I was impressed by the artistic details, above and beyond mid-century modern motifs, of the El Paso Public Library. Notice the tiling around the window in the first photo, and the figures in the entryway in the second two, finally (it’s a little bit hard to see), but there’s a little zig-zag above the glass door in the first photo of the second row. These details give this building a notice of place, taking it beyond a faceless civic institution.
Santa Rosa Central Library (Santa Rosa, CA, 1965, Francis Joseph McCarthy)
Santa Rosa is located almost right in the middle of Sonoma County, California, a region known for its wine and agriculture. This library building didn’t have to work very hard to get my attention. Look at those interesting chairs in the third photo of the first row! They’re located in the record album listening area (note the record albums behind right chair). Not sure if those still exist, but I’m fairly sure that the dramatic reference desk in the lower row is still around. Photo of card catalog included for bonus points.
Will & Ariel Durant Library (Los Angeles, CA, 1959, Honnold & Rex)
For most of its life, this was called the “West Hollywood Branch” of the Los Angeles Public Library, but in 1987 it was renamed the Will & Ariel Durant Library, after the well-known historians who made their home in Hollywood. I include this library because it is both lovely, and the library of my childhood. My brother and I visited this library every week in the 1990s (by that time, that sapling in the middle photo shaded the entire courtyard), and started my library career there as a teen volunteer and then as a Messenger Clerk. It is a major part of my childhood, and the reason I am who I am today.
Unlike the other four libraries mentioned here, the Will & Ariel Durant Library no longer functions as a library. The growth of the Hollywood area meant that by the early 2000s, the region was due for a new building. In 2004, the new Will & Ariel Durant Library opened on the corner of Sunset Blvd. and Detroit St. . Last I checked, the shell of the previous building still stands at 1403 N. Gardner St. .
It is not buildings that create memories, in my opinion, but the experiences that occur there. That said, I am certain that these beautiful mid-century libraries continue to serve as (at the very least) the setting for important events in many lives, and will for years to come.