ARCHITECTURE | West Coast Modern :: The Opening of the New Vancouver Public Library ::: 1 November 1957

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photo credits from top:

 VPL 29956 Photo > Dominion Photo Co.

May 1959: Vancouver Public Library at the corner of Burrard and Robson with Hotel Vancouver in the background

 VPL 3404 Photo > Province Newspaper

1 November 1957: Lieutenant Governor Frank Ross cutting the ribbon to mark the opening of the new Vancouver Public Library

 VPL 3406 Photo > Province Newspaper

1 November 1957: Crowd at entrance to the library; Library staff, reference desk, card catalogues and part of mosaic wall

 VPL 3409 Photo > Province Newspaper

1 November 1957: Men and women at the library entrance on opening day

 VPL 3407 Photo > Province Newspaper

1 November 1957: Opening day crowds at Vancouver Public Library

 VPL 3413 Photo > Province Newspaper

1 November 1957: Library staff looking down from the Mezzanine

 VPL 3408 Photo > Province Newspaper

1 November 1957: Library staff looking down from Mezzanine floor

 VPL 3414 Photo > Province Newspaper

1 November 1957: Men and women at the opening of the Vancouver Public Library

 VPL 3410 Photo > Province Newspaper

1 November 1957: Children at the library on opening day

 VPL 3427 Photo > Philip Timms

190- : Carnegie Library. South west corner of Hastings Street and Main Street (Westminster Avenue until 1910); Men in foreground

 VPL 8856

1951: Collingwood Branch exterior

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VPL Central Branch (1957) by Harold Semmens and Doug Simpson is/was one of my favourite buildings in the West Coast Modern Style. And look — it featured Ray and Charles Eames’ “Bikini” chairs for the kids!

eames chair wire 1 Eames Wire Chair

eames chair wire front Eames Wire Chair

I say was one of my favourite buildings because when VPL decided to “vacate the premises” and move to its new digs at Library Square (Moshe Safdie, 1995), Semmens and Simpson’s masterpiece of civic design was bastardized for retail and office space.

The converted library has never really worked as a retail complex. An extra floor was thrown on top of the building to house a now-forgotten outpost of Planet Hollywood. Virgin Music and HMV each failed to thrive in the building’s magnificent “living room” window frontage along Vancouver’s prime intersection. With these disasters of retailing, perhaps it’s time to install a mini-branch of VPL back on the corner of Robson and Burrard. It could be a reading room for today.

Meanwhile, these historical photos capture the essence of the “New Spirit” architectural historian Rhodri Windsor Liscombe writes about in his seminal book that defined West Coast Modernism (below). It was great while it lasted!

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> Semmens and Simpson also designed VPL’s Collingwood Branch (1951):

That’s the spirit!


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OLD SPIRIT:

Carnegie Library, Main and Hastings Streets, Vancouver, ca. 190-

The main home of VPL from 1903 to 1957.

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NEW SPIRIT:

Lionel and Patricia Thomas

Origin & Evolution of the Alphabet

1957; demolished 1995

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