Happy 150th birthday, Detroit Public Library!

The Detroit Public Library is 150 years old today. And the building that now stands to hold the city's impressive collection of tomes is still as beautiful as the day she opened her doors to the public. 

Of course, the building itself isn't 150 years old. The Detroit Public Library got its start in 1865 on the second floor of the old state Capitol building. 

The building we now know as the Detroit Public Library opened to the public in 1921 after many years of tumultuous construction. Back in August, we wrote this column about the drawn-out affair. One of our favorite quotes said during the planning of library came from the library commission.

"What is wanted is a plain, substantial structure of pleasing, dignified and impressive appearance. Detroit cannot afford to stand for anything mean or picayunish."

The Detroit Public Library is substantial to say the least, and neither mean nor picayunish. Her façade is faced with white Vermont marble and a broad balustrade terrace made from Indian limestone and pressed brick. The exterior of the second floor features seven arched openings that form a loggia. The 12 signs of the zodiac are carved under the front cornice, along with the 18 literary immortals of Greece and Rome and 29 carved heads of the prominent literary figures of Western civilization.

But the building almost wasn't so beautiful. Funds were constantly running out during construction and the library commission suggested the building could be a little less grand. Commissioner Adam Strohm vehemently objected. 

"Mean surroundings make mean people," he said. "Things of beauty cleanse our hearts. True architecture, as any other artistic expression of the human mind, has a social function to perform in the liberal education of mankind. A building should be dignified and proper self-expression of its purpose and of the spirit within. The revelation of one's self is largely by the 'front' we make; one's mode of expression, one's taste revealed and good manners practiced in public and in private."
Strohm is commemorated by the gorgeous third-story Adam Strohm Hall inside the library. 

About The Author

Alysa Zavala-Offman

Alysa Zavala-Offman is the managing editor of Detroit Metro Times. She lives in the downriver city of Wyandotte with her husband, toddler, mutt, and two orange cats.
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