Main Detroit Public Library, photo submitted 1983
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Main Detroit Public Library
5201 Woodward Avenue, at Kirby, Detroit - Wayne County
Property Type library
Historic Use EDUCATION/library
Current Use EDUCATION/library
Style Italian Renaissance
Architect/Builder Cass Gilbert
Cass Gilbert Jr.
Francis J. Keally
Narrative Description The Main Detroit Public Library is designed in the Italian Renaissance style, with a structural steel frame, faced with white marble. The building is almost square in plan, measuring 196 by 219 feet, and rising 60 feet high. The symmetrical facade is broken on the delicately-rusticated first story by square, molded openings, and is topped with a belt course. The piano nobile at the second level is articulated on the front of the building by a bold loggia consisting of seven arched bays, which are flanked on both ends by a projecting bay containing an arched window. At the third level, small, squared windows are set within a frieze of bas-relief panels which represent the signs of the zodiac. The interior of the building is richly decorated with colorful murals and mosaics, stained glass and Pewabic tile depicting a number of cultural, historical, and allegorical scenes.
Statement of Significance The Main Detroit Public Library was built in 1915-1921 on designs by the prominent New York Architect Cass Gilbert. After earning his degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he went to Europe to experience the architecture there firsthand. When he returned, he worked at the architectural firm of McKim Mead and White for a time before striking out on his own. In 1913 he won the competition for the Detroit Public Library, and traveled to Italy to study the Renaissance architecture there for inspiration. Gilbert had designed several libraries prior to the one in Detroit, and had vary definite thoughts on what a library should be. He believed that a library should not only be a repository for books, but a symbol of the cultural life of the community, and therefore it was not proper to house a library in a building that was itself "illiterate". The cornerstone was laid November 1, 1917 and in March, 1921, the building was opened to the public. Later additions to the library were built in the 1960s, designed by Francis J. Keally and Cass Gilbert Jr., the son of the original architect.
Period of Significance 1915-1998
Significant Date(s) 1963
1915-1921
Registry Type(s) 01/24/1964 State Register listed
Site ID# P25166