In 1874, the Old Cincinnati Library emerged on the grounds intended for an opera house, captivating all who entered. Boasting five levels of ornate cast iron shelving, an enchanting foyer, checkerboard marble floors, and an atrium adorned with a skylight ceiling, this architectural masterpiece was truly awe-inspiring.
Patrons strolled through the entrance on Vine Street, greeted by the busts of literary giants William Shakespeare, John Milton, and Benjamin Franklin. Beyond a vestibule lay the cathedral-like main hall, soaring four stories high, crowned with an expansive skylight roof.
The floor beneath was a mosaic of checkerboard marble tiles, while five levels of bookshelves adorned the walls, allowing sunlight to cascade through the windows, providing ample illumination.
“The main hall is a splendid work,” raved The Enquirer at the grand opening. “The hollow square within the columns is lighted by an arched clear roof of prismatic glass set in iron, the light of which is broken and softened by a paneled ceiling of richly colored glass. One is impressed not only with the magnitude and beauty of the interior but with its adaptation to the purpose it is to serve.”
The total cost of the lot and building amounted to $383,594.53, equivalent to approximately $7.7 million today. The Public Library housed an impressive 60,000 volumes, with an estimated capacity for 300,000 books.
So why, then, was this architectural gem razed to the ground? Discussions for a new library had commenced three decades prior when the book collection began to outgrow the space. Books were piled beyond reach, ventilation was lacking, the air felt stuffy, and peeling paint adorned the walls.
In January 1955, a contemporary library arose at 800 Vine Street, rendering the old building obsolete. It was sold to Leyman Corp for about $100,000, and by June of the same year, the magnificent library met its demise.
The site that once housed literary wonders now serves as a parking garage. Only the three heads guarding the library’s entrance were salvaged, finding a new home in the garden of the modern library.