The fate of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood library building is uncertain. The Saint Paul Public Library (SPPL) is seeking Capital Improvement Budget (CIB) funding to either fully renovate the current, historical building or to tear it down and build something new. Saint Paul’s portfolio of libraries includes stunning remodels, such as the George Latimer Central Library and the St. Anthony Park branch library which will continue to serve the public well into the future.
The library opened in 1908 as a book station in the building now known as Lloyd’s Pharmacy. Neighbors later purchased and donated the land that the current library sits on. The library itself was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hale and opened in 1930, while the country was in the throes of the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression. The library was identified as a potential historic resource in a 2018 Hamline-Midway survey and an earlier survey of historic buildings in 1983 found the library to have several significant architectural features. The library is the only remaining Henry Hale Memorial Library in Saint Paul. Demolition of the beloved neighborhood library would forever diminish Saint Paul’s historic landscape and alter the historic character of the neighborhood.
The use of CIB funding predicated on demolition is contrary to preservation goals expressed in Saint Paul’s Comprehensive Plan, which claims that “Saint Paul strives to be a leader in the use of best practices towards an equitable and sustainable approach to the conservation, preservation, rehabilitation, restoration and reconstruction of publicly-owned historic and cultural resources.”
In a groundbreaking study by the National Trust for Historic Preservation Research, the study concluded that “building reuse almost always offers environmental savings over demolition when comparing buildings of equivalent size and function.” Two French architects who recently won the highly prized Pritzker architectural award have the mantra: ‘Never demolish, never remove – always add, transform and reuse.’ They try to bring out the best in old buildings in order to save energy, save material, and to preserve history.
Too many historic buildings have been needlessly lost to demolition. I encourage the city of Saint Paul and the CIB Committee to vote for the more affordable full renovation of the library as opposed to the costly demolition and rebuild option.