A Mid-century gem: Lewis and Clark library

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Will this unique modernist gem be lost in the name of progress?

Will this unique modernist gem be lost in the name of progress?

Yesterday I wrote about St. Louis County Library’s efforts to modernize its North County branches, and I mentioned the fact that the Lewis and Clark branch has been recommended for demolition. Like many of you who emailed me in response, I was shocked to hear that the library would consider tearing down this one-of-a-kind architectural gem, which was built in 1963 by a well-known modernist architect.

Though many St. Louisans don’t realize it, the city was actually home to many cutting-edge mid-century architects, including Charles and Ray Eames, Charles Nagel, and the designer of the Lewis and Clark library, Frederick Dunn.

lewisclarklibrary1Born and raised in Montana, Dunn graduated from Yale University and moved to St. Louis in 1936 to open an architectural firm with Nagel, his Yale classmate. Between them, they designed a number of modernist masterpieces, including this Italian-inspired house in Ladue, the National Garden Club headquarters in South City, and Grace Episcopal Church in Kirkwood.

Throughout his career, Dunn only designed two buildings in North County – the former Faith-Salem Church at 7348 W. Florissant in Jennings, and the Lewis and Clark library, which stands out because of its bold stained glass windows, domed skylight entrance, and clean, modern lines. Luminous and simple, with glass walls and tall ceilings, the library has an open, airy quality to it. Very conducive to reading!

The library's captivating stained glass windows depict explorers Lewis and Clark, as well as their brave guide, Sacagawea

The library's captivating stained glass windows depict explorers William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, as well as their brave guide, Sacagawea.

Although St. Louis County Library’s current facilities plan deems Lewis and Clark “inefficient in operation and outdated in design,” I know I’m not alone in hoping that this unique building can be saved. St. Louis has already lost so many mid-century treasures. Perhaps a nice, supportive note to the library’s director would help to ensure that Lewis and Clark library is preserved, not razed.

Just to be clear – SLCL does not have any specific demolition plans in place. In fact, the Tesson Ferry library in South County (another mid-century building) will be the first branch eventually torn down and replaced. But the facilities plan does recommend demolition for Lewis and Clark…some day.

In 1804, the Lewis & Clark expedition launched from a site less than five miles from the Lewis and Clark library.

In 1804, the Lewis & Clark expedition launched from a site less than five miles from the Lewis and Clark library.

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  1. Heidi says:

    I love this story! This would make a great residence/ studio.

  2. Brian says:

    I love the juxtaposition of religious glass work and state building use. It’s like voting at church.

  3. this library has always been a favorite of mine my kids used to walk from lloyd dr. all the way to the library everyday after school, my children or in their late thirties now and they still tell me stories about their way to the library and back and it still bring great joy to my heart listening to their stories. they still talk about how the religious glass would scare them into not doing anything wrong without god seeing them.the work of the building is always been outstanding.

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  5. [...] in 2009, when I first started my North County blog, NOCO, I wrote about the amazing Lewis & Clark library and how it was threatened with demolition. Designed by modernist architect Frederick Dunn in 1963, [...]

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