Pacific Northwest | October 26, 2003Pacific Northwest MagazineOctober 26, 2003seattletimes.com home
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WRITTEN BY PAUL DORPAT

Big on Books
Photo
COURTESY OF SEATTLE PUBLIC LIBRARY
The historical view of the foundation work beginning on the old Carnegie Library was photographed from within the library block. The contemporary construction scene looks into the library block across Madison Street from Fifth Avenue.

 
 Photo
JEAN SHERRARD
The distance between these two construction scenes is about 40 yards and a century. Both are of the Seattle Public Library's central branch at Fourth Avenue and Madison Street. It might be just as accurate, though, to say the new library is at Fifth and Spring, for the footprint of Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas' imaginative pile covers the entire block with 13 floors of acute angles and soaring masses.

In 1902, the newly constituted Library Board chose the home site of one of the library's founders, James McNaught, to build the central branch. McNaught's 1883 mansion was so grand that it was saved with a move north across Spring Street, facing the First Presbyterian Church seen here on the far right.

Library philanthropist Andrew Carnegie paid for the institution's first permanent home on what was called the "Meacham Block," after the real-estate dealer who swung the deal in favor of established downtown interests. They had successfully persuaded the Library Board not to build the city's first oversized classical structure "far uptown" at Eighth and Union.

The Carnegie library opened on Dec. 19, 1906, with its front door facing the Lincoln Hotel, upper left, across Fourth Avenue. It was destroyed in 1957 and replaced in 1960 with the modern International Style library whose own term was a brief 40 years. Given its fantastic size, futuristic design and a functionality that is meant to serve whatever it is that libraries will be doing down the digital years ahead of us, the Koolhaas library would seem to have a good chance of standing longer than its two predecessors. It is scheduled to open in 2004.

Paul Dorpat's and Genevieve McCoy's award-winning illustrated Washington State history, "Building Washington," is available for $50 from Tartu Publications, P.O. Box 85208, Seattle, WA 98145; 206-547-7678.

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