St. Louis Central Library re-opens!

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Friday, December 14, 2012

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While most Americans were wrapping up their Christmas shopping last weekend, local officials were unwrapping a great gift to St. Louis.

After a $70 million renovation St. Louis’ Central Library re-opened last Sunday with a ceremony attended by 4,000 people despite threatening skies and the flurry of holiday activities vying for attention.

The re-opening of the 100-year-old Beaux Arts library that covers an entire city block adds another “must-see” attraction to St. Louis’ already bursting line-up.

A library, you ask. A tourist destination?

Yes! This one certainly is.

Whether you’re a history buff, architect aficionado, genealogy researcher or someone just looking for a respite to catch up on your reading or tap into free WiFi, Central Library has something for you.

The building itself is a masterpiece. Designed by noted American architect Cass Gilbert who also designed the elegant Saint Louis Art Museum and the stately U. S. Supreme Court Building on the National Mall in Washington, D. C., Central Library opened in 1912 with a three-hour ceremony.

The years took their toll on the grand building with an accumulation of grit and grim from the days when smoking was allowed and earlier “renovations” when some of the building’s original design elements were covered up.

The current project was not only a renovation–offices and the seven-story “stacks” were removed adding 40,000 square feet of space for public use–but a restoration that included uncovering a 100-year-old skylight now on view in the Carnegie Room.

The designers did a masterful job of blending the old with the new.

“When you walk into the Great Hall on the main floor, the way it looks is now is like it looked in 1912 but then you step over into the atrium, it looks like you just stepped 20 years into the future,” says Gerald Brooks, director marketing and public relations for the St. Louis Public Library.

Here’s the Cliff Notes version of what you’ll see at the library:

  • The Grand Foyer with its majestic archways and beaux arts painted ceilings.
  • The stunningly beautiful stained glass windows in the Grand Staircase.
  • The awe-inspiring Great Hall. Don’t miss the alabaster and marble lamps and the library’s original reading tables.
  • A new, expansive, bright and airy atrium.
  • An inviting 244-seat auditorium where the building’s coal bin was once located.
  • A Teen Lounge where kids can hang out and even a cut their own CDs in a state-of-the art audio lab (coming soon)
  • The vibrant, colorful Kids’ Room guarded by three Mauro Perchhetti Jelly Baby sculptures.
  • The Fine Arts Room with its ceiling that’s a replica of the church of LaBadia in Florence, Italy.
  • Center for the Reader with its inspiring quotes sculpted into the ceiling.

Then there are the books: some of the oldest Bibles in the county, an extensive collection of miniature books and illuminated manuscripts and an entire floor dedicated to history.

“If you’re into history and genealogy, this is the place for you,” Brooks says. “Our whole third floor is now history and genealogy, special collections, rare books, St. Louis history.”

And that’s just the beginning. The library has a fabulous line-up of programs and exhibits coming up:

  • The Not So Quiet! Concert Series to be held at 6:30 p.m. on the third Tuesday night of each month beginning Dec. 18 with Acoustik Element, an instrumental Latin-inspired ensemble.
  • Home for the Holidays, a karaoke sing-along in the Teen Lounge Dec. 19.
  • An impressive lineup of author/speakers including Anita Hill, an attorney and professor at Brandeis University who in 1991 brought national focus to workplace sexual harassment, for Black History Month in February.
  • An exhibit on the Wizard of Oz on display May through August.

Whatever your interest, no doubt you will find something to inspire and excite you at Central Library.

And for a real jaw-dropping experience, be sure to get a look at the building lit up at night, something Brooks highly recommends. “I keep telling everybody I think they can see it from space now,” he says.

Insider’s Tip: Speaking of Cass Gilbert and the Saint Louis Art Museum, be sure to mark your calendar for the exciting re-opening of the Art Museum following a 200,000-square-foot expansion. The museum will celebrate with a free two-day public festival June 29-30.

Guest Blogger Kathie Sutin a freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri contributed this blog.