In 1975, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library was still a work in progress.
This photo, recovered recently from a box of newspaper negatives found at the Times Free Press, shows the five-story building under construction at 1001 Broad St., between 10th and 11th streets.
The library, which replaced the former public library on McCallie Avenue, was a focus of community pride when it was completed in 1976, America's bicentennial year.
This and other images from the newly found box of negatives will be on display at ChattanoogaHistory.com, a website devoted to vintage images of the city.
The downtown library's distinctive architecture is an example of brutalism, which was popular from the 1950s to the 1970s. According to newspaper archives: "Such buildings are typically massive in character" with lots of exposed concrete used in the construction.
At the time, the building won the Gulf States Regional Design Award from the American Institute of Architects. Newspaper reports of the day noted it had been called "the most outstanding" library design in the South.
Still, some Chattanooga residents were less than thrilled with the large, stainless steel sculpture installed outside the entrance to the library. One critic compared it to "200 years of recycled cans." It was designed by John Geoffrey Naylor of the University of Florida but was installed at a time, unlike today, when public art installations were rare downtown.
The Bicentennial Library was constructed at a cost of about $4 million, a sum raised through city, county and private funds. Furniture for the library was budgeted at $343,000.
Ground-breaking began in March 1975, and the library was opened to the public on Oct. 18, 1976. Kathryn Arnold was the original director.
Launched by history enthusiast Sam Hall in 2014, ChattanoogaHistory.com is maintained to present historical images in the highest resolution available. If you have photo negatives, glass plate negatives, or original non-digital prints taken in the Chattanooga area, contact Sam Hall for information on how they may qualify to be digitized and preserved at no charge."
A newspaper reporter described a first impression of the library entrance as a "lush-floored, sun-filled room." The building featured a ramp system for handicapped visitors. The children's area included a "fantasyland" and a gazebo.
The land for the library was purchased from the Stone Fort Land Company. Robert Kirk Walker was Chattanooga's mayor during the push for the library, and Alex Guerry, a Chattanooga businessman and philanthropist, was a leading advocate for the project.
About a decade ago, the library reverted to its original name the Chattanooga Public Library. In May, the downtown library reopened after being closed for more than a year due to the pandemic.
Follow the "Remember When, Chattanooga" public group on Facebook.
Remember When publishes on Saturdays. Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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