October 2023: Celebrating 120 years
The Main Library celebrates 120 years as a public library, and 20 years in the current Main Library building this October. View a brief one-page timeline (pdf) or scroll down this page for a more detailed look.
James Scoville purchased land at Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue from the area’s first non-native family to settle here (Joseph and Betty Kettlestrings). Scoville helped establish a Pastor’s Library room at First Congregational Church (now First United Church) next door to the current Main Library building. Eventually this library moved into a room in a frame building on Lake Street near Harlem Avenue. After Scoville announced he would donate money for construction of a new library building, the cornerstone of The Scoville Institute was laid at 834 Lake St. in 1886. Completed two years later, the building served as a private subscription library—until Oak Park voters approved a tax to fund a public library in 1902.
Oak Parkers elected their first Library Board of Trustees and used the Scoville Institute building as a single location for Oak Park’s first public library.
A space needs study found the Scoville building is “obsolete and wholly unsatisfactory” for a public library space—despite strong community sentiment for its Victorian-era design.
The community approved a bond issue to construct a smaller and more modern public library building—after three referendum attempts.
The new main library building, designed by architectural firm of Holabird and Root, was dedicated on May 31. It had a full basement, a full first floor with an open design for future flexibility, and a second floor covering half the building width for a total of 42,324 square feet.
About 13 years later, more use and services demanded more space. The second floor was expanded to the full building width, adding 8,000 square feet for new children’s and audiovisual areas. The architectural firm Hammond and Beeby, the same firm that later designed the Harold Washington Library Center in Chicago, designed the expansion. Yet in the 20 years to follow, continued growth led to crowded facilities. Computers, large-type books for visually impaired readers, and an array of audiovisual material had been added. Staff work areas were moved to the basement, an area not originally created for work or public space.
To make expand its footprint north, the library acquired the adjacent property then relocated the structure there—the Hemingway Interim House. This delicate feat of engineering success was done after a Citizen’s Committee for Library Space Needs recommended a much larger building be constructed—one doubling the current design—to 100,000 square feet or more.
Oak Park voters approved a library referendum for $30 million to build a larger building and to accelerate repairs of the 63-year-old Maze Branch Library. Nagle Hartray Danker Kagan McKay Architect Planners of Chicago were named architects and Eva Maddox Associates, Inc. of Chicago was selected to design the interior. Proposed at three stories, the new building was designed to offer flexibility to meet future community needs.
The community bid a final farewell to it second library building in November 2001. A month later, temporary library services opened at 215 Harlem Ave. in Forest Park. In the spring of 2002 the old building at 834 Lake St. was demolished and a groundbreaking for the new building was celebrated.
Construction of the current main library building was completed on schedule and under budget. On Oct. 5, the building opened to the public at 834 Lake Street.
Supported by state grant funding secured by Illinois Rep. La Shawn K. Ford, significant building improvements added an open first floor community gathering space as well as three more study rooms on the library’s third floor.
Much of this text comes from a 1964 Oak Park Public Library brochure written by Lester L. Stoffel, Head Librarian, 1955-1967. Compiled by Ted Field.