Lewis and Clark Branch Library Threatened

by Michael R. Allen

In my capacity as President of Modern STL, I just sent out the following call to action.

As we near the November 6 election, the demolition threat to the Lewis and Clark Branch remains. (Read up on the issue here.) Landmarks Association of St. Louis placed the Lewis and Clark Branch on their 2012 Most Endangered Places list this fall, and the press has run a slew of articles highlighting the building’s significance and possible fate.

Still, the St. Louis County Library will not pledge to take way demolition as an option for the Lewis and Clark Branch under its proposed $108 million facilities plan. Director Charles Pace has recommended a study for reuse be done, but at the moment anyone who supports the St. Louis County Library bond issue may be supporting destroying one of the region’s finest Modern buildings.

That would be a loss. As a blog comment by Julia on the Modern STL site states, “Preserving and renovating the Lewis & Clark Branch would not only preserve history but preserve the community in which it serves.”

Now we ask that our members e-mail or mail a version of the sample letter to Mr. Pace, so that he can see the wide support for preservation. Thank you! Let’s win this one together.

Charles Pace
cpace@slcl.org
Director
St. Louis County Library
1640 S. Lindbergh Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63124

Dear Mr. Pace:

The St. Louis County Library needs to pledge to preserve the Lewis and Clark Branch (1963) before the November 6 election on the library bond issue. Without assurance that the St. Louis County Library will protect its most significant mod-century branch building, supporting the bond issue is practically impossible for anyone concerned with preserving our region’s great architecture.

Since the Library is a custodian of culture, its role ought to be in encouraging people to value cultural achievement. The design of the Lewis and Clark Branch by Frederick Dunn has been lauded as an official County Landmark. Architectural historians have noted the building’s form, open span interior, and clerestory with stained glass windows by Robert Harmon of Emil Frei Art Glass Company as significant characteristics that place the building among the finest Modern works in St. Louis County. Furthermore, the building is the last St. Louis area work by Dunn, who left for significant practice in New York after leaving St. Louis with works such as St. Mark’s Episcopal Church (1939; St. Louis City Landmark) and the National Council of Women’s Garden Clubs Building (1959).

Architectural historians with experience think that the Lewis and Clark Branch is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Clearly, the building is significant in whole, and should be preserved as a landmark for our future. Salvaging the stained glass windows is a weak gesture, and one not worthy of the St. Louis County Library which is devoted to promoting cultural literacy.

The trustees of the library system entrusted design of the Lewis and Clark Branch to Frederick Dunn because they wanted to build a timeless masterpiece. They succeeded beautifully. Please honor their gift to us by formally removing demolition as an option under the facilities plan that would be funded by the bond issue.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

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  • http://twitter.com/TomLeb T-Leb

    Is there any specifications on the proposed “new” building? Is there any feedback from what local branch using residents would prefer?

  • http://www.preservationresearch.com Michael R. Allen

    No specifications, and SLCL has stated that bond issue money *might* not be used for replacing every building recommended for replacement in the study. That is the problem: there is no certainty in the fate of the building once the bond issue passes.

  • http://twitter.com/TomLeb T-Leb

    Thanks for the answer. Without any indication of what could be, I agree that preservation action is required.