Exhibit: Central's 25th Anniversary September 2009

History of Central's East Building 1984-2009

Birmingham Public Library’s Central building opened its doors to the public in September 1984. Constructed from the same Indiana limestone quarry used to build the Linn Henley Building, the library was an enormous project that took more than fifteen years from conception to completion. Then director, George Stewart, and a new library board traveled the country in search of library design ideas. Encouraged by an 8.5 million dollar tax referendum approved by the Birmingham City government, Mr. Stewart and the Library Board traveled from Houston to New York to Harvard.

Five years after the tax referendum, construction began. During that time, the Board put an advertisement in the American Institute of Architects Journal and received an enormous response, garnering design ideas from across the country. The board selected the Morris Aubrey Architects of Houston as the lead architectural firm and Kidd/Plosser/Sprague Architects of Birmingham to serve as the associate firm.

In 1968, the City had approved a one million dollar bond issue for the site of Central. The library had purchased a quarter of the lot (where Central stands now) and had planned to build on it. However, the board was asked to consider several other options first, which included the Pizitz Building and then the Loveman's Building (where the McWane Center sits now). The Board even considered a site next to St. Paul’s Catholic Church (the site of the current YMCA). For this particular site, the architects designed an elaborate building, one that would cost the city two and a half million dollars more. A referendum would be required. This time the referendum was not approved, effectively ending the plans for the lot across from St. Paul's. In turn, construction began for the new building on the current site.

Completed in 1984, the East Building was the first building in the city of Birmingham with all four floors open-aired, created by the enormous Atrium at the southwest corner. The elegant simplicity of the glass curtain wall enclosing the entrance to the new building provided a dramatic backdrop to the classical architectural features of the original, neo-classical building. The library featured several subject departments, an art gallery, and a completely open floor plan. The Central Library has served the City of Birmingham for twenty-five years. It continues to change and evolve with the downtown district, attracting new patrons with new programs and carrying out the mission statement of the Birmingham Public Library, which is “to provide the highest quality library service to our citizens for life long learning, cultural enrichment, and enjoyment.”

Mr. George Stewart, former BPL Director
A look down memory lane as the "new" building turns 25 years old
Recorded 9 September 2009

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