Postales de Chicago: #2 Biblioteca Harold Washington

Harold Washington Library

By Wes Douglas, USk Chicago

As we look forward to the 8th International Symposium, I will continue to take you on a virtual tour of my favorite views of Chicago which I have named “Postcards from Chicago.” Each week I will post a different scene of Chicago – some may be familiar to you and some may be less familiar – and by the time I am done it should be time for the Symposium. In addition, I will introduce you to a few of my fellow urban sketchers from USk Chicago. This should be a fun series. 

For this second postcard, we are moving west by a couple of blocks from the lions at the Art Institute of Chicago. This is the Harold Washington Library. With the conversion of
Chicago’s former central library into the 
Chicago Cultural Center in 1977, a long-term temporary central
library was opened in the Mandel Building at 425 North Michigan 
much of the library’s collection was put into storage.

A highly publicized design competition, the winning design was awarded to the most overtly traditional approach in the midst of some very diverse proposals. The building recalls neoclassical institutions, but is not literal in all its details. Anyone who walks past this solid red brick structure is compelled to look up when a strong sense of being watched is hard to ignore. It is one of four ten foot tall ornamental owls situated at the corners of the roofline.

Con la
support of then Chicago Mayor Harold Washington and Chicago’s wealthy 
, ground
was broken at the chosen site at Congress Parkway and State Street, covering an
entire block. Upon the building’s completion in 1991, the new mayor, 
M. Daley
, named
the building in honor of the now-deceased former mayor Harold Washington, an
advocate of reading and education among Chicagoans as well as an advocate of
the library’s construction.


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