Happy 25th, Harold Washington Library Center!

Elevation of south side of building, 1991 March 14. Source: Chicago Public Library Archives. Harold Washington Library Center Construction Photographs. Peter Fish Studio, Chicago.
Elevation of south side of building, 1991 March 14. Source: Chicago Public Library Archives. Harold Washington Library Center Construction Photographs. Peter Fish Studio, Chicago.

The first couple weeks of October boast a number of important anniversaries in Chicago and Chicago Public Library history. Following the Great Chicago Fire on October 8, 1871, the Chicago Public Library was founded. It bounced around among different locations for many years until October 11, 1897, when the Central Library (now the Chicago Cultural Center) opened its doors. Built expressly to house CPL, this massive building served that role for nearly a hundred years.

Toward the end of the 20th century, however, CPL was outgrowing its space. In 1986, Mayor Harold Washington worked with City Council to authorize a design/build competition for a new central library building and approved a bond issue to pay for it. Unfortunately, Mayor Washington passed away before ground broke on October 13, 1988. In honor of his love of books and his work to have the library built, the new library was named for him, and Harold Washington Library Center opened 25 years ago, on October 7, 1991.

Construction for both these massive buildings was impressive. Follow the progress through construction photographs in this photo gallery, drawn from the Chicago Public Library archives and the Harold Washington Library Center Construction Photographs.

Learn more about CPL's history with our CPL history timeline and our Chicago Public Library Digital Collection.

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