St. Louis County Library Seeks to Demolish Historic Lewis & Clark Branch

-by Lindsey Derrington
Of the twenty libraries in the St. Louis County Library (SLCL) system, Moline Acres’ Lewis & Clark Branch stands out for its exuberant modernist design and an architectural pedigree comparable to the finest mid-century buildings in the metropolitan area. Designed by prominent architect Frederick Dunn, FAIA, with Emil Frei Stained Glass windows by artist Robert Harmon, it was completed in 1963 at 9909 Lewis-Clark Boulevard.

After nearly 50 years in use, the building’s architectural integrity is unparalleled amongst its peers, and it functions as a vibrant hub for the surrounding North St. Louis County community. Such qualifications should give pause when considering the building’s future, yet Lewis & Clark is slated for demolition pending the passage of a massive county bond issue in the fall of 2012.

On November 6, 2012, SLCL will ask voters to approve a $108 million bond issue to enact, among other things, a “proactive” ten-year facilities plan. Upgrades ranging from renovations, to additions, to wholesale replacement are a major part of the system’s strategy as recommended by the New York-based consulting firm Aaron Cohen Associates. The goal is to expand community and collaborative spaces, enhance flexibility, and provide more room for changing technologies. $76.9 million in funds would be allocated to replace eight, or nearly half, SLCL branches within four years, including the beloved Headquarters building in Frontenac. The historic 16,000 square foot Lewis & Clark would be replaced with a new $6.5 million, 20,000 square foot building.

Consultants have recommended Lewis & Clark’s demolition since 2008 because of its age and in spite of its excellent condition. The building has benefitted from numerous improvements since 2000, including a new roof, carpeting, HVAC system, parking lot, signage, furniture, and reference area. All of these investments would be lost in demolition, and all for a net gain of only 4,000 square feet. The need for this gain is questionable since the facilities plan also calls for the development of a new 15,000 square foot library building program for certain branches throughout the system. Given that the existing Lewis & Clark is 1,000 square feet larger than this, and in light of the building’s significance, one wonders why this scheme could not be implemented here.

Indeed, of the nine branches marked for renovations to existing facilities alone, seven range between 15,500 square feet and 18,000 square feet, and two serve higher populations than Lewis & Clark. These two, Jamestown Bluffs and Samuel C. Sachs, were built in 1998 and 2002. This indicates a fair amount of ageism in the decision to demolish the comparably sized and populated Lewis & Clark, which features an entirely open floor plan easily adaptable to 21st century needs.

While most support SLCL’s desire to remain competitive in the fast-moving information age, its current strategy leaves something to be desired. As pointed out by St. Louis County’s Historic Buildings Commission, which opposes the plan, this takes none of these buildings’ architectural merit into account in weighing which should be demolished and which are deserving of renovation and addition. The Lewis & Clark Branch is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places based on its exceptional architectural significance and as a symbol of post-war development in North St. Louis County. Surely the St. Louis County Library system can move into the 21st century while still preserving its significant architectural past.

Your input is crucial!
To write in favor of preserving and renovating the historic Lewis & Clark Branch for future use, send a few words to:

St. Louis County Library Director Charles Pace:

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley:

10 thoughts on “St. Louis County Library Seeks to Demolish Historic Lewis & Clark Branch

  1. Jeannie

    It’s a beautiful old building will so much character. Leave it alone! Bright, shiny, and new isn’t always the best.

  2. Emily

    St. Louis–both city and county–has already lost so many of its wonderful architecture. There is an ugly irony in the idea that libraries–our custodians of information and culture, both past and present– would contribute to the systematic removal our community’s history. Please work to bring together the old and the new in a less destructive way!

  3. Emily

    That should have been “so much of its wonderful architecture.” Wish there were an edit function here!

  4. Travis Sheridan

    I have not visited the L&C branch, as I’ve just recently moved to St Louis; however, my girlfriend is a librarian at Tesson Ferry (one slated to be replaced). I am all for preservation, but there are some branches that need to be replaced. I’d hate to see this measure fail and subsequent funding lost. Who’s to say the facilities slated for demolition toward the end of the ten-year plan won’t resonate with preservationists in the future. I do know there has not been a tax increase for SLCL since 1983. In order to stay competitive and provide facilities that meet the functional needs of the community (now and into the future) this measure is necessary.

  5. Sam

    When I clicked on the link to e-mail Mr. Dooley, it said “The Specified URL Could not be found.” Does anyone know what’s up with that?

    I’ve e-mailed Mr. Pace. Hopefully the preservation of this building can be effected.

  6. Sam

    I’ve gone ahead and e-mailed Mr. Dooley at his e-mail address. Nevermind. hahah.

  7. Adam Woehler

    This is my childhood library, just a couple of blocks from where I grew up. I didn’t think about the building much when I was a child, but now that I’m older and in real estate, I really appreciate the beauty of this building. I stopped in recently while passing by for no reason at all just to look at it. It would be a shame to lose it. I also have a lot of memories of sledding on the hill on the property, cutting through behind the building past the crab apple trees to get to the store, and riding the go-cart around the parking lot.

  8. Julia

    I have been visiting and continue to visit the Lewis & Clark Branch library for over 45 years. I grew up across the street in a nearby neighborhood, participated in the 100 summer book reading program, sled down the hills, sat on the walls, and stared for hours at the beautiful stain glassed windows. The history of this building is priceless and preservation of our past is what brings our future together.

    Times have changed in the North County area and we have lost a lot to surrounding communities and Counties; however, this Library continues to bring our community together and is a needed and valuable resource. The library is accessible to everyone through to public transportation, offers needed computer access, and supplies an array of valuable resources used for education, job searches, etc.; especially with families and schools struggling to meet budgets through cut-backs on teachers, extra-curricular actives, and up-to-date resources.

    Preserving and renovating the Lewis & Clark Branch would not only preserve history but preserve the community in which it serves.

  9. Joan

    DO NOT tear it down. Why are we paying for you to tear down & rebuild a PERFECTLY good building? It gets used!

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