St. Louis County Library Plan Will Raze North County Architectural Gem

Categories: Arts

Lindsey Derrington
The Lewis & Clark Branch of the St. Louis County Library is an architectural marvel -- a midcentury, modernist design with stained glass windows.

But it's also 50 years old and 20 percent too small, according to the ten-year library facilities plan voters funded with a $108 million bond last year, and so it's slated for demolition.

Lindsey Derrington

Preservationists have been fighting for over a year to protect the branch, proposing building an addition to the existing structure or even building a new library elsewhere and finding a new purpose for the Lewis & Clark.

"It has no damage. It has no problems. It is in perfect condition," says Toby Weiss, cofounder of regional modernist architecture advocates Modern STL. "Libraries are constantly documenting the march of history, and here they are at [the branch's] 50th anniversary and they couldn't care less."

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Lindsey Derrington
Lewis & Clark's design harkens back to the 1960s, when county government invested time and money into institutional buildings, especially libraries, which were supposed to be free community spaces in the progressive, post-war era. For the first time, residents could linger, smoke, even bring in their dogs while they browsed titles, according to a 1960 St. Louis Globe-Democrat article titled "Modern as a Supermarket."

"It is the one St. Louis County branch that is still intact and perfectly expressive of that whole midcentury, post-war exuberance," says Lindsey Derrington, a board member with Modern STL. "We don't have anything else like that in St. Louis."

Lindsey Derrington
The internationally renowned architect behind St. Louis' most prominent modernist building was Fredrick Dunn, who also designed St. Mark's Episcopal Church, the first modernist church in the region. His functional, open floor plan design is embellished by a ring of stained glass created by master artist Robert Harmon.

By the 1970s, governments stopped funding institutional buildings. Now, technology has changed the way we interact with libraries. No longer do we need storehouses for books; rather, computer banks, e-books and gathering spaces draw librarygoers.

"To be fair, it's the library. They're not preservationists," admits Weiss. "But they're an institution of education. It would be helpful if they educated themselves on the worth of their building. They would really do a lot of good by respecting that building, because making a big deal about it is making a big deal out of north county's history."

Read the library's plan for Lewis & Clark on page 25.

Facilities Masterplan 2012

Follow Lindsay Toler on Twitter at @StLouisLindsay. E-mail the author at

Location Info


St. Louis County Library, Lewis & Clark Branch

9909 Lewis & Clark Blvd., North St. Louis County, MO

Category: General

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This library was my childhood home. A lovely bright oasis of books, magazines, and newspapers. 50 years ago I lived about a mile away. The assertive building with the cathedral glass and the interior bathed in natural light was always out of place and I loved it. Such authority contrasted with barren sterile unremarkable ranch houses surrounding it.


The public has supported and will continue to support buildings, parks and monuments honoring American history. Artistic expression is a fundamental basis for communicating these kinds of ideas. Whether it is a mural, a statue, a fountain or stained glass is immaterial.

In actuality, the materials used here are unique and not standard stained glass by any means. Typically stained glass can only be truly appreciated from inside the building (during the day) and outside (at night if the interior is lit). This enameled glass fabricated by the Emil Frei Studio can be viewed and appreciated equally from the interior and the exterior, day or night.

There's nothing about this artistic expression of an important historical event related directly to St. Louis history that makes it religious. Stained and colored glass is not reserved only for religious structures. The wonderful downtown St. Louis Public Library has wonderful artwork throughout and was recently renovated for $70 million. The public can, will and should support efforts to honor our history and our significant architectural structures.

JamesMadison topcommenter

Find someone willing to pay for an addition, the costs of maintaining an old building, plus the additional utility bills from less than modern isolation. Do not ask the taxpayers to fund what you consider art. Find patrons of the arts to do that. then keep the ignorant from claiming the stain glass includes religious themes.


@JamesMadison You will find (if you look) all sorts of government and publicly funded buildings containing artwork. Would you argue that we shouldn't preserve the Old Courthouse downtown or allow the murals in the State Capitol decay because we don't agree with every theme and idea conveyed?

Would you prefer that that absolute minimum cost be expended on buildings like libraries? Should we build warehouses like shopping centers without windows, without character, so we can pick up DVDs and books in the cheapest way possible?

All kinds of historic buildings don't have all of the optimal technology in their construction, insulation, plumbing, etc. Would you prefer that we simply demolish old out-dated buildings like museums, city halls, etc., simply because of the need for updating HVAC systems?

You can take a look at my own pictures and thoughts on this building here:

JamesMadison topcommenter

@alwraimist , please read what I wrote. FIND SOMEONE willing to pay for the additional costs. Start a Friends of the Library fund raising organization. Taxpayer monies ought not be spent on what someone else calls art. Serra Sculpture leaps to mind. Private monies will endow the arts. Public monies need to provide for the general welfare, not a few people's thoughts of what is art and what merits all the tax payers to contribute.

This is simple. The common ground is we need public schools and libraries. Taxpayers pay for the building and maintenance of the what is the building. You find specific patrons to fund the artwork and ornamentation.

If no patrons step up to keep the artwork preserved in the courthouse or capitol, sell it for needed repairs.

Democracies are not to elect someone by 50.1% of the vote to force the other 49.9% into paying for non-essential items. Anyone believing that will change their minds when 0.2% of the people change their minds.

If you want nicer looking buildings, be willing to fund it through like-minded individuals. Do not abuse the power of the tax collector to do so.


Very philistine of you. When we are done destroying ourselves with war, greed, ignorance and narcissism. Our art will be the only thing remaining that will demonstrate we were something other than a virulent voracious self destructive plague species. This library is a prime example of our better angels of our nature. Of course given what the surrounding area has become this library is doomed. Surprised the stained glass is still intact. I wish that were not factor in the decision to reprieve this beautiful historic building but to feel otherwise would be unrealistic.

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