The irony is not lost on us. The Park Hill Branch Library is commemorating its 100th year in operation with…its doors closed to the public.*
The COVID-19 pandemic may put a damper on in-person celebrations for the Park Hill Branch Library, but interestingly, this particular library was born just as the world was coming out of a pandemic.
Like most cities in 1920, Denver was getting itself back on its feet after enduring a deadly influenza outbreak that had begun in late 1918 and lasted through 1919. The virus, along with the United States’ participation in World War I, had changed Denver’s best laid plans — including the expansion of its library system.
The City of Denver embarked on the construction of two public libraries in the neighborhoods of Elyria and Park Hill during the latter half of 1920. The funding for these libraries came about in December 1916, when Denver City Council accepted an $80,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation to build four branch libraries in the Denver neighborhoods of Berkeley, Park Hill, Globeville, and West Denver.
On March 22, 1920, the Rocky Mountain News reported that the Carnegie Corporation had approved building plans for the Park Hill Branch Library at the site of Montview Boulevard and Dexter Street. Plans for a building of Spanish Renaissance architecture, featuring a large main room with fireplace and a basement auditorium, were authored by Denver architects (and brothers) Merrill and Burnham Hoyt. The library’s construction budget was set for $23,000.
The finished building measured 64 x 32 feet and was constructed from brick covered in rough troweled cement that was then painted buff in color. Spanish tiles in various shades of gray and terracotta covered the roof. Cornice, trim, and exterior decorations were fashioned from cast stone, while the under-cornice was stenciled in terracotta and blue paint.
The library’s front door, painted in two shades of red, was flanked by wrought iron lanterns screened in isinglass, a flexible type of transparent material made from mica and used in carriages and street lanterns in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The windows featured leaded glass.
The Park Hill Branch Library’s interior contained a spacious, open-concept main floor. The walls and beamed ceiling were troweled in gray plaster. Bookcases were set into the plaster walls, creating a uniform lining of shelving throughout much of the main floor. The adult reading room’s focal point was a large bay window with seats below.
In the children’s room, two window seats were set on both sides of the cast stone fireplace, which featured a sunken stone plaque by sculptor Robert Garrison in its chimney breast. An August 22, 1920, Rocky Mountain News article described Garrison’s plaque:
The medallion represents the "Ancient Mariner" looking up at the albatross that hovers over the fated ship. Romanesque in spirit, it thus reflects the morbid, uncanny mood of the story.
Despite the library’s decorative interior, a February 1, 1921, Library Journal article gave much of its attention to the building’s innovative heating design. Since so much of the wall space was dedicated to book shelves, steam heat radiators were placed underneath window seats and reading ledges. Then, long heating ducts were set five inches into the walls in the backs of bookcases and near windows. Duct openings, covered in metal mesh, were placed above bookcases and windows.
Library employees had some areas of the building specially designed for their work as well. The main floor had a ‘librarian’s room,’ a space encased in low, double-faced bookcases that provided excellent supervision of the reading room. The nook contained a desk, typewriter, telephone, and filing cabinets. Additional work rooms were located in the basement level, along with an auditorium that could accommodate 165 folding chairs.
The Park Hill Branch Library is presumed to have opened sometime in late 1920, perhaps without much fanfare as articles and archival documents that mention an opening date have yet to be found. Therefore, it only seems appropriate that this library enjoys its centennial year with the recognition it deserves.
Please wish Park Hill Branch Library a very happy 100th birthday!