This Saturday at 3 p.m. I will give an illustrated lecture at the William Henry Hall Free Library to celebrate the Hall library and the amalgamation, half a century ago, of six independent neighborhood libraries as the Cranston Public Library system in 1968. The Hall, completed in 1927, was one of the six, and remains one of those “be still my heart” classical buildings.
My talk will put the library into the context of the history of architecture in the 20th century. The land was donated by William Hall to erect a new building for the Edgewood Library Civic Club, founded in 1996. Hired to design it was the architecture firm of Martin & Hall, whose George Frederick Hall was (so far as we know) no relation to the library’s namesake. Hall was the supervising architect for the Industrial Trust Bank Building we nowadays call the Superman Building, but also the Roger Williams Park Museum and the Smith Building, whose 1999 rehab as lofts was the scene of my tenancy in downtown for the next 11 years, right across Eddy Street from Providence City Hall (no relation to either William Henry Hall or George Frederick Hall) and the Old Journal Building, now slated for renovation as a hotel.
What a view! But I digress.
Such tidbits may or may not make it into my talk on Saturday, but be warned that the broader history of architecture in the last century will be targeted. This may reveal how a library system featuring a goddess of architecture like the Hall Free Library could end up under the suzerainty of a central branch, built in 1982, that looks like the building that sits at the bottom of this post. (I try to find the best possible shot even of buildings I don’t like, but I could locate online nothing decent, or even containing the entire building.)
For years my ignorance denied me the pleasure of viewing the William Hall Free Library. My doctor has her office on Broad and for years I would drive there from downtown, park, and have my ailments addressed. She is Jeanne Swen, whom I would stack against any G.P. east of the Mississippi, but she didn’t tell me to drive a few blocks farther south to behold the local branch of the Cranston Public Library. So the Hall remained hidden, just beyond my ken – that is, until Clay Fulkerson, who crafts miniature ancient temples of sublime virtuosity, asked me to come see his collection, then on display at the Hall Free Library.
I came, I saw, and was conquered – by the library but also by Fulkerson’s work, which I described and photographed on Nov. 13, 2015, in “Ancient temples on parade.” Two days later I posted “Cranston’s Hall Free Library,” also with a host of photos, some of which will make it into my little talk on Saturday, a free event tacked on at the end of the library’s open house, which I hope my dear readers will attend.
William Hall was my neighborhood library as a kid. Back in the ’60’s, it had dim lighting, and the brown cork floors soaked up the light. There was a quiet, soothing, echoing hush to the place that I loved. I would sit on the floor in the Children’s Section as my mother browsed the stacks in the rear of the library. The Librarian hand-stamped the glued-in slip in the end paper with the due date while the machine hummed and the book’s card and my metal library card slipped in the curved metal feeder with a satisfying electronic thunk.
As we left and headed down the side stairways to the family car, my sister and I would slide down the sloped polished granite walls on the exterior stairs.
I visited last about 20 years ago and the interior was painted brightly and carpeted. All the mystery was gone, and seemingly, the aura of a place that held undiscovered treasures on its shelves where one could linger in the cool gloom during the heat of the summer day.