Massachusetts Historical Commission - 2006 Preservation Award Winners
Cambridge Public Library
Cambridge Public Library

Rehabilitation & Restoration

The Cambridge Public Library was designed by the noted architectural firm Van Brunt & Howe in the Richardsonian Romanesque style. Opened in 1889, the building, its site, and its design were the gift of philanthropist Frederick H. Rindge, who donated two other buildings to the city in the late 19th century. The library was expanded several times. The first two additions – an 1893 Children’s Room and a 1902 expansion of the stacks – were also designed by Van Brunt & Howe. In 1967, a three-story addition was made to the west of the stacks, designed by Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the Cambridge Public Library began a modernization plan with preservation in mind. The project involved a complete restoration of the exterior, including cleaning and repointing the original brownstone and granite façade and installing a new Vermont red slate roof and copper trim. The 1967 addition was removed and the long-hidden west façade was fully restored, with new decorative elements carved to match the originals. On the interior, craftsmen carefully restored 1934 WPA murals. To provide much-needed additional space and a new main entryway, the library received a contemporary addition, sensitively placed to the east of the historic structure. At the same time, the original, historic entry porch’s appearance was preserved by enclosing it in glass (and thus creating a well-lit conference room); the original entry stairs became an outdoor sitting area. Community involvement, an essential part of the project, included more than 100 public meetings over almost 15 years. The newly restored Cambridge Public Library reopened in 2009. Its restoration has revitalized this historic structure as a popular destination and focal point of the neighborhood and the city.

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