The magnificent main library building in Toledo, Ohio was constructed with the aid of multiple New Deal agencies: the Public Works Administration (PWA), which supplied a large grant to the city for construction, and the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which supplied labor. The building, which bears a 1939 cornerstone, was dedicated on September 4, 1940.
“With a cost of nearly 2 million dollars, the Main Branch Library brought work to many Toledo workers and continues to be one of the best public libraries in the nation.”
One remarkable aspect of the building is the breathtaking frieze that wraps around above its main lobby. According to ToledoLibrary.org: “Displaying more than 80 colors of glass, the breathtaking murals in Main Library’s Central Court illustrate the history of arts and sciences in a variety of fields such as architecture, painting, music, philosophy, and industry. Designed by New York Artist John Benson (with the exception of the “Philosophy” panel, which was designed by Frank Sohn) the murals are six feet tall, and surround the atrium in a continuous frieze.” “The work was “created by inlaying ‘puzzle pieces’ of hand-cut art glass onto large panels of colored Vitrolite.” (Living New Deal has no evidence that separately ties this remarkable work directly to a New Deal agency.)
Elsewhere, “the massive columns in the court, as well as many other walls throughout Main Library, are surfaced with Vitrolite.”
The building has since been expanded, notably in 2001.
"Life - Always a Choice of Doors," by Ruth Lampe
Toledo News Bee, July 5, 1937
Project originally submitted by Evan Kalish on October 13, 2017.
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Even more remarkable Vitrolite mosaics are in the Children’s Library on the second floor. Be certain to take the elevator up and find both the Reading Room and the Toddlers Room. You can stand within inches of this breathtaking art and appreciate the detail and painstaking effort.
The Toledo Zoo (admission $16) has several simply stunning WPA era buildings unlike anything you’ve seen before. The Zoo itself is only about 4 miles from the Library, and is outstanding at many levels. Check out the Reptile House in particular for its architecture and remarkable story. Other WPA buildings include the outdoor amphitheater with its magnificent band shell, the Natural History Museum, Aviary, and Aquarium.
Don’t miss these stunning treasures.
Also, two miles to the west of the library is the Toledo Art Museum, admission is FREE and it is simply stunning, including a 1,750-seat 1933 indoor theater designed like an outdoor amphitheater, the Peristyle.