Groundbreaking Ceremony, May 12, 1917 Floral Motif on Column


75th Anniversary Main Page


Quest for a Home, 1894-1910

Main Reading Room at the Free Library of Philadelphia at 1217-1221 Chestnut StreetBetween the inauguration of the Free Library in 1894 and the opening of its present, permanent home on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in 1927, the central branch of the Free Library occupied three temporary headquarters. After less than a year in its cramped rooms in City Hall, the central branch relocated to the Old Concert Hall building at 1217-1221 Chestnut Street. Dissatisfied with the quarters from the start, library officials criticized their new home as "an entirely unsuitable building, where its work is done in unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded quarters, temporary make-shifts." Surrounded by "a theatre on one side, a saloon on the other, factories in the rear, a store on the ground floor," they yearned for a fire-proof, spacious, permanent central library building. s

Reference Department of the Free Library of Philadelphia at 13th and Locust StreetsSeeking a suitable home for the central library, President William Pepper and Head Librarian John Thomson had initiated a campaign to raise the funds to purchase a site and erect a building in 1894. After much lobbying, in 1897 Philadelphia voters approved a referendum for a municipal loan that included "one million dollars for library site and building: PROVIDED, Not more than one million dollars shall be expended by the City in payment of site and erection of building." Over the next several years, a library committee charged with erecting a central library building considered numerous sites in downtown Philadelphia including Logan Square and the old U.S. Mint Building, but none was deemed appropriate. In 1902, it solicited "sealed proposals" for a site in local newspapers. Myriad submissions poured into the Library, including one that offered to demolish the Academy of Music to create a site, but the committee rejected all offers and began again the quest for an appropriate location. The next year, philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, a wealthy benefactor of libraries, donated $1.5 million to the Free Library to erect 30 branch library buildings, initiating a library building boom and distracting library officials from their quest to erect a main building. In 1905, library officials returned to their search for a site, but, by the end of the decade, had not yet selected a permanent home for the central library. In late 1910, the Free Library abandoned its inadequate Chestnut Street quarters for the College of Physicians building at Thirteenth and Locust Streets. Much more suited to a library, the stately building served until 1927. Yet, despite the improved accommodations, Philadelphians longed for a central library building designed specifically for library purposes.


Floral Motif on Column
Floral Motif on Column
Floral Motif on Column Founding, 1889-1898 | Quest for a Home, 1894-1910 | Initial Plans, 1910-1912 | Delays, 1912-1919 | Construction, 1920-1926 |
Opening Day, June 2, 1927 | Central and Logan Circle
To the Free Library of Philadelphia Main Page History