A Blog for the 1960's Classes of Morgan Park High School (EMPEHI) in Chicago
Dec 9, 2013
Chicago's Oldest Library - Who Knew?
Why is Chicago's Oldest Library not considered its First Library?
May 20, 2010
The George C. Walker Branch Library, at 11071 South Hoyne Avenue, in Beverly Hills-Morgan Park on the Far South Side of Chicago, was built in 1889-1890 with a $12,000 gift by George Clarke Walker (1835-1905). He also provided $1,000 to purchase books.
Walker had made his fortune as partner in a family grain and lumber business that became known as the George C. Walker Company. He was an investor in, and officer of, the Blue Island Land and Building Company, as well as a member of both the New York and Chicago Stock Exchanges.
His philanthropy and civic spiritedness included being one of the co-founders of the Chicago Academy of Sciences, the Illinois Humane Society, and the Graceland Cemetery Improvement Fund. In addition, he was a trustee of the first University of Chicago, which collapsed financially in 1886, and the second University of Chicago, which was founded in 1890 by John D. Rockefeller I (1839-1937).
The Walker Branch Library has a distinctive appearance because of the twin towers that flank the entrance. It was designed by architect Charles S. Frost (1856-1931), a former partner of the famous architect Henry Ives Cobb (1859-1931) in Cobb & Frost (1882-1889).
It is an example of the Richardsonian Romanesque style of architecture, which is to say the Romanesque Revival style in the manner of Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886). If you’re having trouble visualizing Romanesque architecture, find a photo of the Cathedral of St. Martin and St. Stephen in Mainz, Germany or the Mont Saint-Michel abbey church in France, or picture Minas Tirith (“the White City”) from The Lord of the Rings.
The AIA Guide to Chicago (AIA being the American Institute of Architects) likened Frost’s library to suburban train stations designed by Richardson. The author also noted, though, “the twin towers with inward-facing windows have a slightly pigeon-toed charm all their own.”
As it was built in 1890, it is older than either the Chicago Public Library (now the Chicago Cultural Center) or the Blackstone Memorial Branch Library, so why doesn’t it qualify as Chicago’s first branch library? The reason is that the T.B. Blackstone Memorial Branch Library, which opened in 1904, was built by Isabella Blackstone inside the Chicago city limits as a branch library, but George C. Walker built his library as a municipal library for Morgan Park, which was then a suburb. In 1894, the Village of Morgan Park transferred administration of the library to the University of Chicago, an arrangement that lasted for ten years. In 1914, the City of Chicago annexed the Village of Morgan Park, the village library became the third branch of the Chicago Public Library, and this branch library was renamed in honor of its builder.