Board Previews Bob's "Baby"

Vol. IV No. 1 - SUMMER/FALL 1991

By: Sandee Remis

EHS board member Bob Remer, who happens to be Deputy Commissioner of Finance and Administration of the Chicago Public Library, got a chance to strut his stuff at the EHS board meeting on August 10. Thanks to Bob, our meeting was held at the soon-to-be-opened, spanking new Harold Washington Library Center downtown on State and Congress. Afterwards it didn’t take much nudging to have Bob show off his 144 million-dollar “baby.”

The building, dedicated to the late Mayor Washington (1922-1987), is the largest municipal circulating library opened to the public in the world. Each floor of the new 11-story library, designed by Hammond, Beeby & Babka, takes up one and three-quarters acres. More than two million books will be spread over 80 miles of shelves in the granite and brick Beaux-Arts style structure.

The library is definitely “new age.” It is an all-electric building with specialized lighting elements that provide both light and heat. Kiosks on each floor are equipped with TV monitors that highlight the day’s events and interactive computer directories that help you locate people, places and things in living color. The user friendly devices display details on activities, books and locations, departments/services/collections, administrative staff/offices, floor layouts and information in Spanish. And bye-bye clumsy card catalogs! Just cozy up to the nearest terminal and follow the easy directions.

The elevators talk to you. A double set of escalators move you quickly from floor to floor. Want to return a book without parking the car - use the drive-up window.

Touring from the top down, the 11th floor is engineering - off-limits to visitors. The 10th floor has administrative offices and what EHS has dubbed “Bob’s Bridge.” Seems that the original design called for office along the perimeter of two sides of the floor whose middle is open-air atrium for the 9th floor Winter Garden. Trouble was… the two sides didn’t connect and Bob’s office was on one side while his department personnel was on the other. At Bob’s suggestion, plans were modified to include a connecting walkway at one end which actually enhanced the final appearance of the 9th and 10th floors.

In addition to the spectacular skylighted Winter Garden, the 9th floor houses rare books, a Preservation Lab (sans staff right now), the employees’ lounge, a restaurant, multi-media classrooms and the Harold Washington Archives. A photo lab includes a dark room and a microfilm room. (Two other dark rooms are located elsewhere in the building.) One room of the Archives will recreate Harold Washington’s study and another will showcase a permanent multi-media exhibit. The small restaurant will be put out for bid to caterers to run and finish the space at a later time.

The regular library consumes floors 3-8. Each floor has high-ceilinged reading areas interspersed with study carrels along the east perimeter. The wall separating the two types of areas have telescoping monastery-effect window openings which are quite dramatic. Of special interest on the 7th floor is the Chicago Authors Room which will be used for events. The 3rd floor is the General Information floor for check-outs and returns and includes the Main Reading Room and an Orientation Theater.

The 2nd floor is entirely devoted to a children’s library complete with “read-aloud” spaces, a classroom-sized story hour room, kid-sized interactive directory kiosks and separate diaper-changing rooms for men and women. The space devoted to children is 50 percent larger than any of the library’s full-service branches.

The Video Rental Room is located on the first floor along with the lobby. The lobby boasts an oculus, a large circular cut-out in the floor which allows visitors to view a brass, compass-shaped cosmogram embedded in the basement’s terrazzo floor. The cosmogram, called DuSable’s Journey, is encircled with words from Mayor Washington’s inaugural speech and shows a parallel between the lives of DuSable and Washington.

The basement houses a TV studio, auditoriums (the larger seats 384), some large multi-purpose meeting rooms and an Art Exhibit Hall. The Chicago Cable Commission will run the TV studio in exchange for use of the studio facilities.

Three million dollars is being spent on the “acroteria,” comprised of aluminum cast owls and other decorations on top of the building. $2.7 million in artwork was transferred from the old library and $1.5 million spent on new commissions through the Percent for Art Program. Marble floors and countertops present a pleasing blend of greens, blues, tans, mauves, whites, blacks and greys. Furniture, wall trim and banisters are in blond maplewood. Gold trim on the doors gives a curious optical illusion of inset carving.

An open house for the public was held September 29. The ribbon-cutting took place on October 4 and October 7 - just one week short of three years since it’s groundbreaking - was the library’s first full day of operation. Bookworms wouldn’t have dreamed of missing the festivities; historians most assuredly didn’t.