Posted: January 17th, 2008 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Libraries, MLK Memorial Library, Watha T. Daniel Library | 2 Comments »
After years of inaction, the process of re-constructing the D.C. Public Library’s Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Branch seems on-track. A new temporary library hums with activity, demolition of the old building well underway, and a meeting scheduled later this month to reveal a preliminary design for the new building.
Last October, a well-equipped temporary library opened on the grounds of Shaw Junior High roughly two years since the old Watha T. Daniel branch closed. The temporary library is equipped with a children’s section, periodicals, a number of public computers, and variety of books, and a visit this afternoon found a number of people reading, browsing the stacks, and surfing the web.
Library officials have planned a community meeting to unveil the preliminary design for the new library, to be held on Wednesday, January 30th at the interim library from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
For the last several weeks construction crews have begun the painstaking task of the careful demolition of the brutalist 1960s structure, revealed in the photos below to be heavily reinforced concrete.
While I haven’t visited recently, during a visit last August I found the system’s long-beleaguered Martin Luther King Memorial Library to be in the best shape I’ve ever seen it. All four elevators were in operation, which hadn’t happened in so long the Washington Post saw fit to report the news. The lobby was so clean and well-lit it reminded me of the historic photos I’d found from when the building just opened, perhaps fitting as the building was declared a historic landmark by the city last July.
> DCPL Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library Reconstruction Page
> Previous library posts
Posted: July 17th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Libraries, Watha T. Daniel Library | 3 Comments »
UPDATE: This meeting has been canceled. If, like me, you received a post card about it in the mail please disregard it.
Next week the D.C. Public Library will start the first round of public meetings connected to the redesign of three neighborhood libraries: the Benning Neighborhood Library, Tenley-Friendship Neighborhood Library, and Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library.
Although it is not currently on the library website, the community listening meeting for the Shaw library will be next Monday, July 23 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. in the recently opened Interim Library, located at 925 Rhode Island Ave. NW in front of Shaw Jr. High School.
The meeting in Benning will be on Tuesday, July 31, and the meeting in Tenley will be Wednesday, August 1.
> DCPL: Capital Projects, Community Listening Meetings
> Federation of Friends of the DC Public Library
Posted: July 12th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: District of Columbia, Libraries, MLK Memorial Library | 3 Comments »
As several commenters noted on my recent post about the apparent demise of plans to build a new central public library, that building has recently been declared a historic landmark by the city and filed an application for listing on the federal register. The Historic Preservation Review Board staff report and the accompanying National Register nomination form, prepared by staff members Kimberly Prothro Williams and Anne Brockett, provides a well researched statement about the building’s early history and explanation of the architectural significance. Here’s an excerpt of the staff report:
The Martin Luther King Memorial Library building is an International-style four-story above-ground steel and glass structure. … The exterior of steel verticals and horizontals spanned by rhythmic expanses of plate glass follows a precise and ordered design aesthetic that Mies followed throughout his career. The ground floor loggia recessed under the column supported upper stories—a device Mies first used at his 1949 Promontory Apartments in Chicago … is a dominant feature of his D.C. library building. The recessed loggia not only reduces the building’s mass, but it also serves to visually draw people into the building, a stated desire in the library building program. Similarly, the granite lobby paving which extends outside the building to the street curb—a design element Mies first employed at the Apartments at 860-880 Lake Shore Drive (1949-1951)—and the juxtaposition of clear glass on the first floor and bronze-tinted glass on the upper floors, were implemented to integrate the exterior and interior of the building and to welcome the passer-by. At the time of the building’s opening in 1972, newspaper commentary clearly recognized the effect: “…from outside the library, the glass walls reveal bookshelves that permit one to view titles of books—titles which seem to beckon. Inside one feels at home, and not isolated from the outside world.”
Regardless of whether it remains a library, the designation will require city approval for any changes to the exterior, lobby, and first floor reading rooms (one is pictured above). Here are the two reports, courtesy the Historic Preservation Office:
> MLK Memorial Library Staff Report (PDF)
> MLK Memorial Library National Register Form (PDF)
And news stories:
> CityPaper City Desk Blog: “MLK Finally Declared Historic”
> Christian Science Monitor: “A new endangered species: Modern architecture“
Posted: March 15th, 2007 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: DC Shaw Neighborhood, District of Columbia, Housing, Libraries, Urban Development, Watha T. Daniel Library | 9 Comments »
Could the site of the closed Watha T. Daniel library in Shaw become home to not only to a new library, but also housing and perhaps even a small store?
That’s what Cheryl Cort, Policy Director for the Coalition for Smarter Growth, is suggesting in a provocative proposal being circulated in the community, that I have published below.
The idea is not as far-fetched as it might seem. Although composed of barely a quarter of an acre of land, the library site is located immediately adjacent two large Section 8 subsidized apartment buildings and across the street from an exit to the Shaw Metro station. (The canopy can be seen to the far left in the photo above.) A dense development would fit nicely in the existing context, and take advantage of the proximity both to Metro and 7th Street buses, which will soon include the new Metro Extra. As Cheryl suggests, a creative re-use of the building could provide not only library and retail services but also additional housing and safety to the neighborhood. Furthermore, the parcel is already zoned R-5-D, a category designed to include both residential buildings and “institutional and semi-public buildings that would be compatible with the adjoining residential uses.”
A quick web search turned up an article about the project in Portland, Oregon Cheryl mentions, where mixed-use development combines a library, restaurant, and 47 apartments — 19 of which are reserved for households below the area’s median income. Although the situation here in Shaw may have been created by poor planning by library officials, the closed library presents a tremendous opportunity for a creative redevelopment.
Watha T. Daniel Library redevelopment proposal for a mixed use facility
By Cheryl Cort
Our closest (closed) library is the Watha T Daniel library at the 8th & R St. entrance of the Shaw Metro station. It feels or is unsafe at night; it’s a depressing place by day due to poor land uses and urban design.
The Mayor has promised to rebuild or reopen the 4 closed libraries as soon as possible.
Given the problems with crime and poor land uses around the Watha T. Daniel Library and the adjacent Shaw Metro station, a mixed use library at this site with a pedestrian-friendly design is particularly important for creating a safer environment for the community, library patrons and Metro riders. To create a safer and more inviting street environment and library, I propose reconstructing a new library with affordable housing units above, and possibly a small retail space at the ground level. This proposal is similar to the new branch library in Portland Oregon which doubled library space, added a café and 40 units of housing – 19 of which are affordable.
Transportation: The Watha T. Daniel site is tight but located next to a Metro station, close to grocery stores, shops, services & downtown. In order to provide added public benefits, such as affordable housing on top of a new library, I propose that the mixed building be developed with no automobile parking. Instead, residents can be offered a valuable package of carsharing memberships & discounted usage, transit passes, bicycles and bicycle parking (ShawEco Village could provide the bicycles). The transportation benefits package could equal the cost of renting a parking space in such a location – about $150 per month. Two to four on-street carsharing vehicles could be parked adjacent to the new library building. Access to residential parking permits could be limited to a small number in order to address adjacent neighbor concerns about more competition for $15/year residential public street parking.
Until now, the opportunity to leverage the value of the library sites through redevelopment to provide greater public benefits has been largely overlooked. These public benefits include: expanded library space, public meeting and study spaces, enhanced technology, synergistic development potential with adjacent schools/public facilities, and complementary private uses such as a café and affordable housing that could offer greater safety and vibrancy to the library as a center of civic life.
I understand that some people have been skeptical of the opportunity to leverage added public benefits from a public-private venture for the library. The idea of mixed use libraries to maximize complementary public benefits is not new. The Montgomery County Library in Rockville, Maryland, is finishing a ground floor café that marks the prominent corner of the street and public plaza that leads to the main entrance of the new main library for the County. Library agencies all over the country are building mixed use, complementary facilities to leverage the opportunity to expand library space and offer other public benefits such as affordable housing and activities to reinforce the vitality and safety of public realm through cafes and other small-scale retail. This is the kind of mix of uses that would great benefit a new Watha T. Daniel Library.
I propose that we adopt a resolution asking for the city to look into a public-private partnership to increase the library space, upgrade facilities and add complementary uses such as a café and affordable housing.
Posted: November 18th, 2006 | Author: Rob Goodspeed | Filed under: District of Columbia, History, Libraries, MLK Memorial Library, Urban Development | 6 Comments »
The future of Washington’s downtown Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library hangs in the balance. A bill now pending before the DC Council’s Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation proposes to construct a new central library on the old convention center site, and lease the old structure as office space to help pick up the tab. Although the bill is supported both by outgoing Mayor Williams and incoming Mayor Fenty, the matter is far from settled. A variety of DC Councilmembers have voiced skepticism about the plan and preservationists are holding out hope the building can be refurbished as a library. Like all good public debates, the future of the library is a complex tangle of disparate issues.
The structure was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, widely recognized a master of modern architecture. The library is the only example of his architecture in Washington, and critics laud its minimalist simplicity and elegant dimensions. The city’s Historic Preservation Review Board is sitting on a landmark application that would protect the structure, awaiting a decision by city leaders about its future. Several previous plans to expand and refurbish the building have been promoted and discussed, but the mayor is committed to a new library. And the mayor seems overly confident he can make millions renting a run-down old library.
After a flurry of coverage related to the library last spring and summer, the issue has slipped into the background somewhat. With a new mayor elected things seem to be moving again. The Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation will hold a mark- up session on the Mayor’s proposal, which is
Bill 16-734, the Library Transformation Act of 2006, on November 21 at 3 p.m. Room 123 of the John A. Wilson Building. I thought now would be the perfect time to post some historical information on the structure I’ve collected. All of the historical images are courtesy of the DCPL Collection, DC Community Archives, Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library. The Washingtoniana Division is one of my favorite parts of the library, and the staff very helpful.
Timeline of Early History of the Library
1960 – DC government requests federal funds to study question of improving the public library
July 1961 – Report by consulting company Booze, Allen and Hamilton published, argues Carnegie library obsolete and a new structure needed. Library Board of Trustees subsequently identifies and purchases site at 9th and G streets.
September 23, 1965 – Mies selected as architect for the new building by a five-man panel, apparently appointed by the city. It is reported at the time that as many as 30 architects expressed interest in the project.
February 15, 1966 – Design approved by Fine Arts Commission
July 31, 1968 – Groundbreaking ceremony held
August 17, 1969 – Mies van der Rohe dies at age 83
January 14, 1971 – D.C. library board of trustees votes to name the new library after Dr. King after receiving dozens of letters and petitions
August 21, 1972 – Library opens
September 17, 1972 – Building dedicated
January 1975 – Bust of Dr. King by artist Jacob Stein presented to the library by Mrs. Ruth Resnick, widow of Congressman Joseph Resnick of New York
March 29, 1976 – FCC commissioner Benjamin L. Hooks reads King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” as part of “Memphis Revisited” event
June 27, 1976 – Library forced to close early due to excessive heat after both of building’s A/C units break. The Washington Post reports temperatures reach 94 degrees in the library.
November 4, 1976 – Library forced to close early due to a lack of heat while steam valve is re-located
September 28, 1982 – Library celebrates its 10th anniversary, ribbon-cutting held for Washington Star collection
January 20, 1986 – Library unveils mural by artist Don Miller depicting the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the date of King’s first national holiday
Above: DC mayor Walter Washington speaks at groundbreaking in 1968, library under construction in 1968 or 1969, the public observes construction in undated photo, library nears completion. All photos courtesy DCPL Collection, DC Community Archives, Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library
The records I examined leave the selection of Mies as the project’s architect as something of a mystery. The decision was apparently made by a small group of officials in the newly-constituted District government. The Fine Arts Commission hearing seems to indicate the members had already been extensively briefed about the project as the actual meeting was extremely brief and the members praised the design. Mies was provided a number of documents by city officials describing in general the functionality they needed. He made several changes from the basic program provided by city leaders: moved a proposed parking lot under the building to allow the building to cover the entire lot, added a recessed ground floor, and designed the library with an open floor plan. The furnishings were originally selected through extensive consultation with representatives of Mies’ company and included furniture of his design for the lobby. In the photos I found a series that must have been taken shortly after the building was opened and show the Mies furniture and other original interior decoration.
Above: main lobby of library, first floor reading room, and public lobby. All photos courtesy DCPL Collection, DC Community Archives, Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library
Relationship to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The building has had a long connection with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After King’s assassination in 1968, the Library Board was inundated by grassroots pressure asking they name the new library after the leader. At a tense meeting where the board’s three black members voted for it while the two whites voted against, the Library Board selected the new name. The library has a variety of artwork related to Dr. King including a bust presented in 1975, a large mural installed in 1986, and other paintings and drawings. The library’s longtime director, Hardy Franklin, was a personal friend of Dr. King and commissioned the lobby mural from artist Don Miller. The library’s archives contain numerous programs for events held in Dr. King’s memory. The building’s collections contain a large amount of material related to King in its general holdings as well as in its Black Studies Division, which was founded at the new library building’s opening in 1972.
Workers install The King Mural in the library lobby in 1986. Photo courtesy DCPL Collection, DC Community Archives, Washingtoniana Division, DC Public Library
Library officials have long complained of problems with the building’s heating and air conditioning systems. The large amount of glass in the building’s design result in extreme temperatures if the equipment fails in summer or winter. The building’s original design included
pneumatic tubes, dumb waiters, and a conveyor belt system, none of which have worked in years according to library staff.
When it opened in 1972 a plaza was constructed on G Street in front of the library. (Visible in this photo I found.) During the 1980s the plaza fell into disrepair and neglect. I believe it was finally removed in the early 1990s. Flickr user Raymond Fudge posted this photo of the plaza in 1977:
What Of the Library?
In recent months, much has been written about the library building and the associated debate about the future of the entire library system. City officials hope the library’s new director, Ginnie Cooper, will be able to lead a “transformation” of the system desired by Mayor William’s Library Task Force. Since her arrival the library has instituted free WiFi, opened branch locations on Sundays, and a long-promised bookmobile has appeared in my neighborhood Shaw to replace the library which closed two years ago. (Library officials also recently constructed a fence around the derelict structure.) The library staff desperately want a new library: their materials are endangered by the inadequate ventilation and sunlight. Meanwhile, preservationists are obsessing about the legacy of an architect most American’s have never heard of, defending the largely inaccessible and widely disliked architectural style of modernism. Many of the people who have power to make things happen in the city aren’t invested in the structure, as they have Amazon.com, Politics and Prose, the Georgetown Branch, or the Library of Congress. The library’s director from 1975 until 1997 who could speak to both the needs of the library and the history of the building passed away in 2004.
Despite the challenges, I believe there is hope yet for both the library and downtown building. The challenge lies in connecting Washington’s well developed preservation community with the library’s users and advocates. This sort of alliance would require the preservationists to look beyond the architecture and see the building as the physical home of a vital community institution. It would also require disgruntled library users and employees to see the tremendous power of retaining and enhancing a landmark structure. As I see it, the missing link in all this is not the people, ideas, or even resources, but instead the leadership to bridge divides and inspire a strong shared vision for both the library and building.
11/06 – InTowner: “Mayor’s Plan for New Central Library … Appears Close to Possible Decision in November” (Download PDF)
10/28/06 – W. Post: “Library Chief Pushes for New Building”
6/16/06 – W. Post: “Mayor Braves the Mies Mystique”
6/15/06 – W. Post: “Through Glass Darkly: D.C.’s Poor Vision for Library”
6/13/06 – W. Post op-ed by Mayor Williams: “Why D.C. Needs a New Library”
4/23/06 – W. Post: “Renovation Futile, Leaders Say”
4/06 – Kriston Capps: “‘ ‘For once in a public building in Washington, there is excellence throughout.’ ” (4/18/06), “Stranger in the Mies,” (4/21/06)
4/21/06 – DCist: “Meeting on the Fate of the MLK Library”
3/16/06 – W. Post: “Outdated Eyesore or Modern Masterpiece?”
1/18/06 – W. Post: “Overhaul Urged for D.C. Libraries”
DC Preservation League names library “most endangered” in 2004
DC Public Library System
DC Library Renaissance Project