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With approximately 972,000 square feet, Harold Washington Library is the centralized library in the Chicago Public Library System. After the former central library’s conversion into the Chicago Cultural Center in 1977, city legislators debated for nearly a decade over building a new centralized library and how to fund it. Finally, in 1986, with Mayor Harold Washington in office, the Library Board picked a location in the South Loop to build one of largest libraries in the world.
After securing a $175 million bond issue, the city held a design competition to decide on the library’s architecture. Five prominent designs were reviewed by a committee and the top was selected for a site on the corner of Congress Parkway and State Street. With the support of Mayor Washington and Chicago’s wealthy Pritzker family, the library was built on an entire city block and opened a few years after construction on October 7, 1991. Then-mayor Richard M. Daley dedicated the building in honor of Mayor Washington for being a longtime advocate of education and literacy.
Several features of Harold Washington Library are uniquely its own including aluminum fixtures placed on the roof of the building overlooking its side streets. For example, the fixture on the State Street side depicts an owl –– a symbol of knowledge and competency. The Library’s interior also features several stunning floors and rooms including the Winter Garden on the ninth floor and Pritzker Auditorium and exhibit hall on the lower level.
Harold Washington Library has been recognized as the largest public library in the world and is widely considered one of Chicago’s greatest architectural landmarks.