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"The perfect spot to get lost in"
January 21, 2014 6:54 PM   Subscribe

Old photos of the Cincinnati Public Library before it was demolished in 1955 (Go ahead. Weep. I did).
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (57 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow. I can smell the paper and cast iron.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:09 PM on January 21


When I lived there in the late '90s, the Pollard Library in Lowell, MA was very similar to this - a vast internal space separated by cast-iron grates separated by cast-iron pillars and connected by cast-iron spiral staircases. You could be in the stacks on the third level, look down, and see a librarian pushing a cart on the ground floor through the grates.

I may need to road-trip up there one weekend to take a photo, as GIS has failed in providing an example shot. (To be fair, it is pretty dim in there, even with the ginormous windows.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:10 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Fake.

Just kidding. Absolutely spectacular. And if you saw it in a movie made in the last decade you'd go "oh give it a rest with the over-the-top CGI will you?" We need to preserve places like this or no one will believe they were real.
posted by George_Spiggott at 7:15 PM on January 21 [9 favorites]


Hey now, that's a punch in the gut.

But that's a sweet sweet ass office building they replaced it with. Hamburger, with a side of grar.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:17 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


As a librarian my reactions are 1. That must be sooooo noisy, 2. How do people who can't use stairs get books, and 3. That space is crap for preserving books! How you gonna keep the heat and humidity at standard levels with those big windows?
posted by holyrood at 7:17 PM on January 21 [12 favorites]


I think it's beautiful. I'd like to wander around in there for a few weeks.

The transmission of wisdom and knowledge should take place in such grand spaces.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 7:20 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


Behind the scenes, that's what the internet looks like.
posted by mazola at 7:20 PM on January 21 [12 favorites]


I can see that this building would have been obsolete as a library by 1955 but it is still so glorious and fantastic; tragic that it couldn't have found a new life.
posted by Flashman at 7:23 PM on January 21


I like to think the interior of the MicroSD card in my Nook looks sort of like this.
posted by sonascope at 7:24 PM on January 21 [12 favorites]


When I lived there in the late '90s, the Pollard Library in Lowell, MA was very similar to this.

Johns Hopkins' Peabody Library is another massive warren of cast iron stacks that survives.

This style was also done beautifully in miniature - Georgetown's Riggs Library and the Providence Atheneum are two good extant examples.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:24 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


As a librarian my reactions are 1. That must be sooooo noisy, 2. How do people who can't use stairs get books, and 3. That space is crap for preserving books! How you gonna keep the heat and humidity at standard levels with those big windows?

Seriously. As neat as that place looks, what a shitty place to try and find a book. That lady isn't browsing the 'fiction alcove' she's trapped between the stairs and the bookcase!
posted by graventy at 7:28 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Incredible. What a place to explore.

We need to preserve places like this or no one will believe they were real.

So true. And that's letting go things have that already been demolished. I am continually astounded by the sheer scale of Victorian projects - even temporary ones, like the World's Fairs. Our hubris these days takes a different shape, but even it its tallest and glassiest, it hardly matches the beauty and insanely lavish intricacy of constructions from that era.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


I spent many years in what is essentially the new building - it's beautiful as well. I think I would prefer the new building over the old one. Of course, it helps that I love Brutalism which it's... well, not a great example, but decent (across the river a bit is a better collection of Brutalist buildings: Northern Kentucky University's campus).
posted by combinatorial explosion at 7:36 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]


As neat as that place looks, what a shitty place to try and find a book.

Nonsense! You'd go to the card catalogue, look up the Wilkins number, and then a librarian would issue you an Omni, which would detect the correct stairs and level by magnetic resonance and temporal displacement. It was a simple system for a simple time.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:38 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


I would love to hear what that place sounded like. Harsh echos, hard leather shoes on cast iron stairs.
The scooting of oak chairs on hardwood floors and marble. whispers and coughs. Dusty light columns
from the windows. yummmm.
posted by quazichimp at 7:46 PM on January 21 [13 favorites]


This style was also done beautifully in miniature - Georgetown's Riggs Library and the Providence Atheneum are two good extant examples.

As an undergrad at Georgetown, I worked at both Lauinger Library and the Bioethics Research Library, and occasionally had to fetch items from storage in Riggs (which is closed to the public, occasionally used for special events). I love that room. I recall at least one dumbwaiter for moving volumes between floors.
posted by candyland at 7:53 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


> We need to preserve places like this or no one will believe they were real.

At a meeting last week, my public librarian colleagues and I agreed that it seems like our jobs are to sweep up and turn out the lights on the Age of Print.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:53 PM on January 21 [5 favorites]


.
posted by buzzman at 8:01 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Dat staircase
posted by thelonius at 8:01 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Have you seen the train |station?

Still standing.

As is Cleveland's Old Arcade, which may remind you somewhat of these pics of the lost Cincinnati Library.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:04 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


a fine example of religious architecture...
posted by ennui.bz at 8:06 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


The St. Louis Public Library's Central Library is not quite as old, built in 1912 by Cass Gilbert. It was renovated starting in 2010 and reopened in 2012.

But prior to the renovation, it had stacks similar to those, though they were closed to the public; a set of pneumatic tubes would deliver call numbers to various sections, where librarians (or pages, maybe?) would retrieve the books. Gilbert designed the building so the stacks would be lit primarily by huge windows running almost the full height of the building. The stacks' lighting was also aided by the floors, which were glass block. (Here's another photo of the floors because they were awesome.)

After the renovation, the area that used to house the stacks was turned into an atrium, leaving the original glazed brick in place. The renovation also included architectural lighting.
posted by brentajones at 8:09 PM on January 21 [3 favorites]


That's so gorgeous, but I have to admit it made my knees hurt to think about climbing around in it.
posted by immlass at 8:12 PM on January 21


In trying to find out more about the library I've discovered to my delight that the nickname of Cincinnati in the 19th century was "Porkopolis". Though that doesn't quite fit with it being named after a Roman general; seems like it should be "Porculaneum" or "Porca Magna" or something like that.

Purportedly it was the inspiration for this.
posted by XMLicious at 8:20 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


In trying to find out more about the library I've discovered to my delight that the nickname of Cincinnati in the 19th century was "Porkopolis". Though that doesn't quite fit with it being named after a Roman general;

Only indirectly. Cincinnati is really named for George Washington, whom the Society of the Cincinnati regarded as the modern Cincinnatus --that is, a general who voluntarily relinquished power and returned to his farm (more or less) after reluctantly (more or less) leading his nation to victory (more or less) rather than setting himself up as dictator for life -- a genuine risk at the time.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:43 PM on January 21 [4 favorites]


I was going to show this to my kids, but number 8, the newspaper room was too scary. I do not think I could survive them saying, "What's a newspaper Pops?"
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:55 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


This is why we can't have nice things.

Alright, alright, it's a nightmare to consider the safety concerns and upkeep and functionality, but jesus those spiral staircases look amazing.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:58 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


My god, that interior! Be still my heart!

I love finding towns that still have some of these grand old places in existence, especially when it's a library. Anyone here ever been to/heard of the old Trans-Allegheny Bookstore in Parkersburg, WV? It was in an old Carnegie library building; nowhere near on this scale o' course, but it had beautiful marble and woodwork inside, big stained-glass windows, and still had the original spiral staircase. So cool. (Also had bookstore kitties, iirc.) Here's a link to a Flickr user who took some pics of the interior. Sad to see that they apparently closed back in 2010. Haven't been there since I moved out of the area in '09, but it was always a treat to stop in and browse a spell.
posted by cardinality at 9:25 PM on January 21


What a grand building! Such a shame it's gone. At least we have strip malls now.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 9:28 PM on January 21


That is fantastic. There's something fascinating about the age reflected in the black and white, but I'd really enjoy seeing a quality colorization of these photos.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:30 PM on January 21


The closed stacks in the Boston Athenæum are somewhat like this, iron with glass floors. Long time since I've been in there but I can't imagine that part would have changed. I discovered a quite old edition of "Gargantua and of Pantagruel" way back in those stacks, really messed with my head in a quite wonderful way. Ah libraries.
posted by sammyo at 9:55 PM on January 21


so much porn, no [nsfw]
posted by es_de_bah at 10:09 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


Looking at those alcoves made me think, "If only the Borg assimilated books rather than beings."

Beautiful place, but my acrophobia would have kept me reading on the ground level only.
posted by bryon at 10:14 PM on January 21


If you dig around on the library's Flickr account, you'll find versions of these images in the 4500x3000 range, more than large enough to make a decent print from.

Also on their Flickr: lots of evidence that they have an awesome program run by dedicated and passionate staffers committed to their community.
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:16 PM on January 21 [7 favorites]


Oh, man. These are gorgeous and heartbreaking.
posted by brundlefly at 1:20 AM on January 22


I know this is 'get off my lawn' whatever, but what I feel looking at all that lavish attention to print makes me wonder if it is a similar feeling that Rick, Carl, et. al. get when they think about their pre-zombie life.
posted by angrycat at 2:44 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I'm terrified of heights. This is like one of my worst nightmares.
posted by johnpowell at 3:13 AM on January 22


Beautiful library and photographs.
posted by carter at 4:15 AM on January 22


I've seen that photo #13 unattributed several times, and I always wondered where it came from.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:15 AM on January 22


As a librarian, my reaction is that that's what I want heaven to be like, as long as I don't have to do the shelf reading.

Well, maybe just a little, just to keep my hand in.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:34 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]


I need, I mean, I really really need, a time machine.
posted by KHAAAN! at 5:32 AM on January 22


It looks like something from a fantasy movie. Like a library from Harry Potter or something.
posted by Flood at 5:46 AM on January 22


Looking at those alcoves made me think, "If only the Borg assimilated books rather than beings."

In some photos it does look a bit like the interior of a Steampunk Borg cube . . .

Behind the scenes, that's what the internet looks like.

. . . or a Steampunk Chinese Room (if reality was a 19th century Matrix).


Does that comment make me sound searly?
posted by Herodios at 6:11 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


As is Cleveland's Old Arcade, which may remind you somewhat of these pics of the lost Cincinnati Library.
I fret for that arcade. I recall half the store fronts were unoccupied, and I usually never saw more than a handful of people in there at any one time. I guess the neighbouring hotel and the funds from hosting galas are keeping it alive, plus the sense of guilty obligation.

Stop it, guys, you're making me miss Cleveland.
posted by spamguy at 6:12 AM on January 22


To mention other older libraries with similar features:
  • Cornell University's A. D. White Library (university Flickr set; online tour) is a three-level open stack within one of the main library buildings.
  • The stacks of the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Public Library at least used to be a dense mesh of latticelike cast-iron walkways and railings. (Unfortunately a quick search hasn't produced any images; I wonder if any are extant. Apparently the library was recently renovated so that space has likely been lost.)
posted by yz at 6:31 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]


2. How do people who can't use stairs get books,

Just guessing from the photos, it might have been a closed stack library. You request a book and a page fetches it while you wait. (As a user I've always hated closed stacks because browsing to each side of the book you want is an amazing way to discover connections and things you would have missed otherwise. Happily they seem to be going out of style.)

Cornell University's A. D. White Library (university Flickr set; online tour) is a three-level open stack within one of the main library buildings.

I've been in there. It's pretty, but it has crazy low ceilings in the stacks (like duck your head under the sharp edged fluorescent light fixtures low) which made finding a book a rather claustrophobic process, and painful when you forgot to duck.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:50 AM on January 22


The second floor of the law library in the Missouri Supreme Court building is also iron and floored with glass blocks. Or as I call them, "DEATH TRAPS." Someone did something to them and it's akin to walking on ice now. Or is that how they're supposed to be like?
posted by Atreides at 6:52 AM on January 22


Those book boxes on the front of the building! I loves them!
posted by morganannie at 8:18 AM on January 22


Reminds me of El Ateneo in Buenos Aires.
posted by gottabefunky at 12:10 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


Those book boxes on the front of the building! I loves them!

The ones among the urchins? I was wondering about those. What's the story there? (And where can I get one?)
posted by IndigoJones at 12:17 PM on January 22


One of the things I like about this collection is the vast stretch of time it covers -- everything from the three-piece-suit and bustle era (with seemingly sex-segregated reading rooms) to greasers and bobby-pins.
posted by dhartung at 12:34 PM on January 22


This is kind of how I pictured the Library of Babel.
posted by rollick at 1:07 PM on January 22


I've worked on a couple of projects for the Cincinnati Public Library and they are an all around awesome team.

And the Clifton branch is about to move from this old storefront to this grand manor.
posted by Mick at 1:37 PM on January 22


The stacks remind me of the Library of Parliament in Ottawa; these are less ornate and more claustrophobic, but far more awe-inspiring to see the massive stacks of books.
posted by jamincan at 5:19 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]


It probably had shitty accessibility, but it is a lovely space. Once I make my billions, I'm building something similar, except with lots of ramps and wide aisles.
posted by wintermute2_0 at 5:36 PM on January 22


It's been years since I was in the Mechanics Institute Library in San Francisco, but this is reminiscent (on a larger scale) of its interior.
posted by goofyfoot at 5:59 PM on January 22


What a grand building! Such a shame it's gone. At least we have strip malls now.

There's a bunch more grand buildings still there. Just left Cincy for a town we like a lot better, but I have to say, the architecture there, combined with the kuh-razy San Francisco-like hills, made for much, much better eye candy. Take a look.



Also, FWIW, the ice cream at Honey's (in the "Cincinnati today" photo) is almost an acceptable consolation prize for that demolished building. Almost.
posted by Rykey at 1:45 PM on January 23


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