Demolished Library. Why?

The Old Cincinnati Library, once hailed as a symbol of architectural grandeur, met its demise in 1955. Discover the compelling reasons behind its demolition, from its initial conception as an Opera House to its transformation into a celebrated library, and the circumstances that ultimately led to its destruction.

Alex Haley

Why Was the Old Cincinnati Library Demolished?

Once renowned as “the most magnificent public library in the country,” the Old Cincinnati Library was destroyed in 1955, seemingly without a second thought. Originally intended to be an Opera House, construction began, but Truman Handy’s Opera House Company went bankrupt in 1868. The building was then sold to the library. Although the construction wasn’t completed until 1874, the library officially opened its doors in 1870.

Located at 629 Vine Street, the Old Cincinnati Library soon became known for its impressive interior, housing around 60,000 books with the capacity for 300,000. The total cost of the lot and the construction amounted to  $383,594.53, an equivalent to a whopping $7.7 million today.

Local architect James Mclaughlin primarily designed the building, but it was said that the true mastermind behind its design was William Frederick Poole, a librarian from Boston who ran the library from 1869 to 1873. Poole kept the library open seven days a week, added novels to the collection, and primarily appointed women for “nearly all professional operations.”

A side-by-side black and white image inside the Old Cincinnati Library.
Photo Credit: Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Featuring enormous pillars, five levels of cast iron shelving with intricate carvings, marble floors, and an atrium boasting a skylight ceiling, the library has often been compared to fantastical scenes from Harry Potter. The main entrance displayed the busts of William Shakespeare, John Milton, and Benjamin Franklin.

So, why was such an incredible building demolished?

While the Cincinnati Library, often referred to as “Old Main” may have looked magnificent, it was not practical. In the summer, the library became stiflingly hot due to the lack of windows.

The lack of windows also made it difficult to read, even after electric lights were installed. And in the winter, the coal furnaces covered the outside of the books with black soot. The library even had to hire “book cleaners”, employees responsible for cleaning the soot from the books and stacks.

Old Main had also become overrun with books, which eventually exceeded the capacity of 300,000. While some books were kept in the basement, it was prone to flooding, thus warping the volumes. Moreover, the public was not allowed in the stacks. Instead, pages had to pull books from the shelves as it was simply too dangerous for the patrons.

According to the book Free & Public, at least two of Old Main’s pages passed away. In 1875, Willie Haldecamp, books in hand, took the elevator to the third floor and fell. Then, in 1902, John Sloan fell down the elevator shaft. Due to the unsafe conditions and infrastructure issues, a new building was constructed.

In 1955, the library was moved just down the road to a more contemporary building at 800 Vine Street. The magnificent former library was then demolished, and now a parking garage stands in its place. The three busts of prominent figures were removed from the main entrance of the former library, and placed in the garden of the new location as an ode to Old Main.

No items found.
View album

Related posts

No items found.