Arts & Culture
3:03 pm
Wed December 5, 2012

Early Look: Past And Present Meld In Renovated St. Louis Central Library

Updated December 6th to correct funding mechanism for Central Library project.

Fifteen years of planning and more than two years of construction will culminate on Sunday with the re-opening of the St. Louis Public Library’s Central building in downtown St. Louis.

The Cass Gilbert-designed structure, which occupies a city block bounded by 13th, 14th, Locust and Olive streets, first opened to the public in January 1912. The renovation was timed to coincide with the library's centennial year.

The $70 million project included the restoration of original plaster, chandeliers, woodwork and granite, plus the installation of new electrical, plumbing and ventilation systems. In addition, the entire library now has wireless internet access. The St. Louis Public Library Foundation raised $20 million, and the library issued $50 million in bonds to cover the rest of the cost.

"It was always our intention to preserve one of America's great buildings, while giving it another century of life as one of America's great 21st century libraries," Waller McGuire, the executive director of the St. Louis Public Library, said.

The restoration also opened another 50,000 square feet of space to the public, including an expanded 

An art installation in the teen room at the newly renovated Central Library. The teen room is just part of the 50,000 square feet of space that the renovation opened for public use.
An art installation in the teen room at the newly renovated Central Library. The teen room is just part of the 50,000 square feet of space that the renovation opened for public use.
Credit (Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)

children's library and a brand new auditorium. In addition, books that used to be stored in seven floors of glass-floored stacks are now spread throughout the library, making them more easily accessible.

The library is also, for the first time, fully compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, including a new pedestrian entrance from Locust St.

Lead architect George Nikolajevich with Cannon Design says that new entrance best displays the combination of respect for Gilbert's original building with modern design principles.

"What we have created is a stainless steel canopy that protects people from the elements," Nikolajevich said. "It's very modern, it comes out of the fountain, but it doesn’t touch the building."

McGuire says the $70 million project is coming in right on time, and under budget.

The new pedestrian entrance on Locust St., which architect George Nikolajevich calls the best example of respecting Cass Gilbert’s original building while still bringing in modern design principles.
The new pedestrian entrance on Locust St., which architect George Nikolajevich calls the best example of respecting Cass Gilbert’s original building while still bringing in modern design principles.
Credit (Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)