Monday, October 10, 2011

Onawa Public Library

Principal Architects: Normand Smith Patton and Grant C. Miller
Onawa Public Library, 1908
Addition (not shown) designed by FEH Associates, 2005-06
Onawa, Iowa (just off I-29 in Western Iowa, between Sioux City and Omaha)
photograph by Versluis, 2011

Patton and Miller was the Chicago architectural firm that designed the initial Onawa Public Library as another Carnegie Library in the United States in 1908. Construction began that year and was completed in 1909. Interestingly, along with the Carnegie monetary gift of $10,000 the library was built with a matching donation from an altruistic local judge, S. Addison Oliver. Near the completion of the library Judge Oliver also gave an endowment of $10,000 to be used for new book acquisitions.

The architectural mode of the Onawa Public Library is characteristic of the Chicago School. The Chicago School, although somewhat synonymous with Prairie School tends to be more eclectic than pure Prairie School architectural design. In its day Prairie School architecture was considered modern, efficient, and progressive. Actually, the state of Iowa has some excellent examples of early twentieth century Prairie School architecture by Louis H. Sullivan and many other architects associated more or less with the Prairie School; perhaps that’s the reason Carnegie’s Library Project Manager chose the idiom for Onawa.

The domestic style of the library is striking particularly as the landscape foliage turns autumnal. With dark earthy brick color and a large sheltering tiled hip roof, the classic symmetry creates a unified and harmonious composition. Chicago School architecture suggests the confluence of many influences, e.g., H.H. Richardson, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, English Arts and Crafts, Neoclassical, etc.; this building exhibits Prairie School attributes, but also includes Romanesque Revival elements such as prominent semi-circular arches on the main floor windows and the Japanese style lintel over the front entry stoop.

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