Cranston’s Hall Free Library

Drawing of Hall Free Library by architect George Frederick Hall. (Cover, “A Library Is Born”)

Your intrepid correspondent met on Friday at the William Hall Free Library, in the Edgewood neighborhood of Cranston, with Clayton Fulkerson to view his models of ancient temples, now on exhibit there through the rest of this month. The library, built in 1927, is also very much worth seeing. Clay and I were shown around by head librarian Adrienne Gallo.

Adrienne said she knew of no family connection between William Henry Hall, the business magnate who donated the land he lived on for a new library, and its architect, George Frederick Hall. With Frank H. Martin in Martin & Hall, his firm designed 30 buildings in Providence alone. These included the boathouse and the museum at Roger Williams Park and, in downtown, the Smith Building (1912), where I lived in 1999-2010. At the time he designed the library in Cranston, Hall was also the supervising architect for the Industrial Trust (“Superman”) Bank Building. He designed the 1903 portion of the Shepard Building and both the Kennedy Plaza and Weybosset Street comfort stations. He designed his own house at 49 Orchard Ave. Martin died in 1917, Hall in 1928.

With the considerable merit of that work, it still seems easy to nominate the William Hall Free Library as the most elegant and pleasing product of Hall’s career. After its dedication, the Providence Journal, quoted in A Library Is Born (2000), by Marian Sachs, stated with a fine editorial floridity:

If one is not prone to use superlatives, an attempt to describe the new William H. Hall Free Library presents a difficult task, for it is a building of rare beauty, approached on every side by wide terraced lawns and girded by rows of elm and pine trees.

The limestone edifice on a base of granite sits gently upon its landscape. Its delicate ornament displays the talent of architect Hall in using the classical tool box to articulate by way of shadow the sun’s course of travel hour by hour along the raiment of its embellishment.

The slender grace of the library’s Renaissance Revival entry portico, with its three arches, lightens considerably the architecture of the structure as a whole. The original bronze doors remain intact. They are light and heavy at the same time. Heaving them open to enter leaves a powerful impression of quality that reminded me of the doors of the Rhode Island Convention Center; but the library only cost $275,000 ($3.7 million in today’s dollars).

The Edgewood Free Library, founded in 1897, occupied sites in a schoolhouse at Park and Warwick avenues and on Norwood Avenue, where the Edgewood fire station was erected in 1928 after the relocation of the library to the new Hall Library on Broad Street, a few blocks south of the offices of my excellent doctor, the family practitioner Jeanne Swen.

Adrienne’s tour revealed the care taken by architect Hall to bring a degree of elegance even into the most understated parts of the building, whether it be the auditorium or the men’s comfort station in the basement. She described the building’s restoration and renovation by the firm of Robinson Green Beretta in 1989, performed to stanch a period of decline following the construction of a new central library for Cranston in 1982, after which the Hall had reverted to a branch library. (Don’t even ask what the central library, on Sockanosset Cross Road, looks like!) The job – which installed a host of needed utilitarian improvements, plus mahogany shelving around the perimeter of the main reading room and a beautiful circulation desk at its center – reinvigorated the Hall’s mission to carry out its benefactor’s wishes.

Words can only carry readers so far to experience the beauty of the William Henry Hall Free Library. Fortunately, this reporter has a camera:

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DSCN9728The last photograph shows the display case that contains Clay Fulkerson’s models of ancient temples and arches, on display for the rest of this month.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Cranston’s Hall Free Library

  1. Pingback: Incense and monuments | Architecture Here and There

  2. Eric Daum says:

    This was my neighborhood library while growing up in Edgewood. I spent many days here as a kid. Before the Robinson Green Baretta renovation, the lighting was dimmer, the colors more muted, the floor a murky sheen of polished brown linoleum. It was a a hushed and serious space in which the sound of a chair pushed back from a table or a dropped book would reverberate to be followed by a whispered “Ssshhhh….” from the librarians in cardigans and woolen skirts with their half glasses suspended on delicate chains around their necks. I loved that space, with the delicate vaulted ceiling and the dark shelves crowded with possibilities: all the books yet unread. I loved the climb up the multiple flights of granite steps to the sanctuary on it’s little knoll and the softening of the facade into warm sculptural limestone details. For what seemed to be otherwise, an undistinguished if pleasant neighborhood, William Hall was jewel of civic virtue. I miss it still and have yet to find its equal in design in the places I have lived.

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  3. How many of us have driven by this gem? I shared your blog on FB’s “Discover Beautiful Rhode Island” – maybe others will knock on the door! Lovely…

    Like

    • I think I noted in my post on Clayton Fulkerson’s model temples that I’d driven by days before and beheld it with astonishment even though I must have seen it before. But maybe I just blitzed by it unawares because of its setback from the street!

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