The Haydon Burns Library: A Case Study in Preservation

Six months after the Great Fire of May 3, 1901, architect Henry John Klutho won the competition to design Jacksonville’s new city hall to replace the former one destroyed by the blaze.

On March 3, 1903, the new edifice was completed and opened with great fanfare. It featured a stately limestone façade with paired Ionic columns and was crowned with a forty-foot-diameter copper dome. Its neoclassical style was the latest fashion. It was the pride of the city.

Sixty years later, it was outmoded and cramped for space. Its classical architecture was old-fashioned and out of style. It was demolished to make way for Jacksonville’s newest, most ultra-modern building, the Haydon Burns Public Library. The library’s architecture was state-of-the-art, and the building quickly became the new pride of the city.

Photo by H. Robin Clark

Designed by innovative Jacksonville architect Taylor Hardwick, the new library was like nothing else the city had ever seen. Its façade featured eighty-eight cast-concrete sculpted fins, each nineteen feet tall, which mimicked the windswept profiles of popular automobiles of the era. The fins created ever-changing shadow patterns and added to the harmonic, almost musical rhythm of the exterior. (Architect Hardwick liked to point out that the number of fins on the library was the same as the number of keys on a piano.)

Completed in November 1965 at a cost of $3.7 million, it was considered one of the finest libraries in Florida. Three stories tall (plus an underground level), it contained 126,000 square feet, and housed over a half-million books. The interior of the building contained a profusion of light and cheerful colors.

Photo by Ingrid Damiani

Hardwick commissioned artist Ann Williams to design mosaic murals of colorful glazed bricks to adorn both the interior and exterior. The ground floor had two-story glass walls overlooking Adams Street, which illuminated the soaring 3,500-square-foot reading room. These floor-to-ceiling windows also allowed pedestrians to view the activity inside the library, fulfilling the architect’s desire to “attract people and create in them an interest to enter and find out what was going on inside.” Hardwick personally selected all of the interior furnishings and the innovative free-standing book shelves. He even designed the logo for the city’s new library.

Forty years later, the Haydon Burns Library was outmoded and cramped for space. To many people, its quirky Mid-Century Modern architecture seemed old-fashioned and out of style. It was slated to be demolished to make way for an ultra-modern eleven-story condominium project. Luckily, supporters who wished to preserve the iconic library rallied to the cause, and the condo’s financial deal with the city fell apart.

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Written by Wayne Wood


Author: Arbus

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