The Lewis & Clark Branch of the St. Louis County Library is an architectural marvel -- a midcentury, modernist design with stained glass windows.
But it's also 50 years old and 20 percent too small, according to the ten-year library facilities plan voters funded with a $108 million bond last year, and so it's slated for demolition.
Preservationists have been fighting for over a year to protect the branch, proposing building an addition to the existing structure or even building a new library elsewhere and finding a new purpose for the Lewis & Clark.
"It has no damage. It has no problems. It is in perfect condition," says Toby Weiss, cofounder of regional modernist architecture advocates Modern STL. "Libraries are constantly documenting the march of history, and here they are at [the branch's] 50th anniversary and they couldn't care less."
Lewis & Clark's design harkens back to the 1960s, when county government invested time and money into institutional buildings, especially libraries, which were supposed to be free community spaces in the progressive, post-war era. For the first time, residents could linger, smoke, even bring in their dogs while they browsed titles, according to a 1960 St. Louis Globe-Democrat article titled "Modern as a Supermarket."
"It is the one St. Louis County branch that is still intact and perfectly expressive of that whole midcentury, post-war exuberance," says Lindsey Derrington, a board member with Modern STL. "We don't have anything else like that in St. Louis."
The internationally renowned architect behind St. Louis' most prominent modernist building was Fredrick Dunn, who also designed St. Mark's Episcopal Church, the first modernist church in the region. His functional, open floor plan design is embellished by a ring of stained glass created by master artist Robert Harmon.
By the 1970s, governments stopped funding institutional buildings. Now, technology has changed the way we interact with libraries. No longer do we need storehouses for books; rather, computer banks, e-books and gathering spaces draw librarygoers.
"To be fair, it's the library. They're not preservationists," admits Weiss. "But they're an institution of education. It would be helpful if they educated themselves on the worth of their building. They would really do a lot of good by respecting that building, because making a big deal about it is making a big deal out of north county's history."
Read the library's plan for Lewis & Clark on page 25.
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