Lewis and Clark Branch Library rendering

The local preservation group Modern STL’s rendering of an upgraded and expanded Lewis and Clark Branch Library in Moline Acres that preserves its existing historic structure. More than 50 years old, the library was the last St. Louis structure designed by Frederick Dunn, who also designed St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis Hills and Steinberg Rink in Forest Park.

The St. Louis County Library only has one building of high architectural significance: the modern masterpiece Lewis and Clark Branch Library in Moline Acres. Just past its 50th year, the library has become part of the lives of dozens of North County residents, as well as a testament to St. Louis’ highest achievements in modern architecture.

The Lewis and Clark Branch Library is older than the Gateway Arch, and part of the same era of changed architectural expression. The library expresses ideals of a modern age, through its abstract geometric form and its stunning stained glass windows. While North County has changed, the building remains a landmark of modern design, as well as of regional association with the historic Lewis and Clark journey.

When architects and historians praise great buildings, through official lists or lectures, rarely do many buildings north of Delmar Boulevard get a nod. North County seems invisible. Yet here stands a library branch designed by Frederick Dunn, whose St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in the city’s St. Louis Hills neighborhood shines forth in books, and whose Steinberg Rink in Forest Park is a beloved regional destination. Dunn left St. Louis after designing the Lewis and Clark Branch Library, making it a crucial final word in his career.

Since the Library first proposed demolition after passage of its 2012 facilities sales tax hike, the Lewis and Clark Branch Library has appeared in national publications as a threatened work of modern architecture worthy of national concern. National recognition of library buildings in St. Louis comes rarely – most recently with the stunning renovation of St. Louis’ historic Central Library.

St. Louis County Library Board Chairman Lynn Beckwith has made the point in responding to letters from concerned preservationists that few voices for saving the building have come from North County. True, preservationists have been quick to push for preserving Dunn’s graceful library. Yet if they refrained from fighting for this building due to its location, they would be perpetuating the age-old dismissal of North County as a culturally significant place.

The fact that few North County patrons of the branch have spoken out comes as much from the lack of public engagement on the future of the building as it does from not caring about its future. The County Library has never hosted a public meeting at the library where it solicits community engagement. The local preservation group Modern STL actually has done so, twice.

North County deserves a great library branch – but it already has St. Louis County’s finest. The building needs an addition and upgrades to be worthy of the 21st century. Modern STL has produced a concept that advances the Library’s facilities program for the branch while saving money and giving patrons the system’s most unique branch.

North County could retain and expand the irreplaceable, nationally-recognized Lewis and Clark Branch Library, or it could get the same undistinguished branch library design being built elsewhere. The St. Louis County Library turned to a consultant from New York to answer that question before it ever asked patrons of the library branch itself. Branch patrons would do well to let the St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees know what they think.

North County library users should share their views with Lynn Beckwith Jr., chairman, St. Louis County Library Board of Trustees, 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis MO 63131-3598. Or email him at boardpresident@slcl.org.

More information on the effort to preserve the Lewis and Clark Branch Library: http://www.modern-stl.com/modern-stl-releases-concept-for-a-new-lewis-and-clark-branch-library/.

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