Cass Gilbert Society


Detroit Public Library, Detroit, MI

Image "Perfect Rhythm" from The House That Love Built by W. Francklyn Paris

Detroit Public Library

5201 Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan
Design & Construction:
1913-1921 [1913-1921 Irish-1999; 1915-1921 Christen-2001]
Cass Gilbert 

In 1913, the city of Detroit held a competition for the design of its new public library. Gilbert's design was chosen by a jury of three for its restrained Beaux-Arts design and its plan which arranged three reading rooms around a large central book delivery room. Although the commission was awarded in 1913, financial difficulties delayed construction. The cornerstone was laid in 1917, and the library finally opened in 1921. [Irish-1999 pp. 106, 108-109]

The library has been characterized as "a symbol of cultural life in Detroit." [Eckert-1993 p. 87] The building has symmetrical facades of white Vermont marble rising from terraces. At the second level, an arcaded loggia with fluted Ionic pilasters indicates the location of the major service areas on the interior. The barrel-vaulted hall has white marble walls adorned with murals by Edwin H. Blashfield. Arches in the east wall of the former delivery room, now Adam Strohm Hall, contain murals by Gari Melchers. The painted glass windows in this room were designed by Frederick J. Wiley. The fireplace in the former children's reading room has Pewabic tiles illustrating storybook characters.

The building was expanded in 1960-1963 with two wings at the north and south designed by Cass Gilbert Jr. and Francis J. Keally. [Eckert-1993 p. 87]