Friday, October 29, 2010

Part 2: Tour of the Boston Public Library Central Branch

The original site of the Boston Public Library was where the Colonial Theatre is today. The current site was built on what was once a swamp in Back Bay. Back Bay was filled in with hundreds of wood pilings before anything could be built on it. Many of the surrounding buildings are also structured above wood pilings sunk deep in the mud, and the water was extracted.

Inside the McKim building, the vestibule harbors a statue of Sir Henry Vale, Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1636-7. Three large bronze doors with sculpture reliefs designed by Henry French grace the entry way.

Iowa sandstone piers line three aisles of the entrance hall, which is a feast for the eyes. A vaulted ceiling displays thirty names of famous Bostonians, including writers, politicians, and community leaders, in marble mosaic. A seal on the floor of the lobby denotes the founders of the library, and signs of the zodiac in brass are inlaid in the center aisle. Everywhere there is marble and sandstone, in pale earth colors that are illuminated by mostly natural light from large windows from the second floor landing.

Connecting the Entrance Hall with the Main Staircase is a deep triumphal arch. The marble of the very polished steps is ivory gray Echaillon, mottled with fossil shells and the walls are a richly variegated yellow Siena marble.

The great twin lions, couchant, on pedestals at the turn of the stairs designed by Louis St. Gaudens are made of unpolished Siena marble. They are memorials to the Second and the Twentieth infantry regiments of the Massachusetts Civil War. My next installment will describe the paintings by Puvis de Chavannes at the top of the stairs.

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