Exhibit: Stories We Tell: The History of the Merlo Branch

The Stories We Tell: The History of the Merlo Branch exhibit is on display at the Merlo Branch from May 1 - October 31. Stories We Tell is an exhibit series celebrating 150 years of Chicago Public Library at branches around the system. This exhibit was curated by Michael Conlon, branch manager of the Merlo Branch.

Early History

The John Merlo Branch opened to the public on September 14, 1942. The branch was called the Lake View Branch at the time of its opening. The building was designed by city architect Paul Gerhardt Sr. Gerhardt had previously worked as an architect for Cook County and the Chicago School Board. Above the exterior entryway of the branch is a beautiful limestone sculpture which was carved by internationally renowned and award-winning Sculptor, Abbott Pattison. The Lake View Branch was on a notably smaller scale and a more practical design than many of Gerhardt's other buildings. It was originally built as a bomb shelter, as staff found large barrels of crackers and other emergency supplies in the basement when the library prepared for renovation nearly 40 years later.

Renaming and Renovations

After an extensive renovation in 1988, the Lake View Branch was renamed as the Merlo Branch for local politician John Merlo (1912-1992). Born on the South Side, Merlo moved to the Lakeview neighborhood in 1922 and lived with his family until his death in 1992. He spent 40 years working for the Chicago Park District before entering politics, where he served as a state representative, a state senator and the 44th ward alderman.

The Merlo Branch reopened to the public after its renovation on December 8, 1988. Changes to the building included moving the children’s area, adding a meeting room and installing an elevator. One of the most notable additions was the construction of a two-story glass entranceway that covered an entrance ramp. The branch recently reopened to the public on July 1, 2020, after another extensive renovation. The glass entryway was removed, and the building façade was restored. Pattison’s sculpture, as well as the “Chicago Public Library” sign done in coordinating limestone, could once again be seen from the street. 

Do you have any memories of the libraries in Lakeview? Let us know on social media by tagging #CPL150.

About CPL 150

Chicago Public Library is 150 years young! Since first opening our doors in 1873, we've served all Chicagoans with free and open places to gather, learn, connect, read and be transformed. Join us in celebrating 150 years of serving our communities. Learn more by visiting chipublib.org/150.