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Something in the way a city takes pride in its library tells you a lot about its citizens. And when that same city spends the necessary funds to restore pristine architectural examples you have a building worthy of visiting just to witness a glimpse of life as it was a hundred years ago.
The Boston Public Library (BPL)is such a place. Yesterday we did a quick one-day trip down to Bean Town in hopes of revisiting some of my more favorite memories from my last trip to Boston 13 years ago. Much has changed in that time, and one thing that made me smile was to discover that the BPL had finished much of the restoration I’d gotten a glimpse of in my last visit. At that time Bates Hall, one of the main reading rooms, was restored but access to the venerable hall was via a myriad of construction paths from the new addition (which in itself is a fine library). This time we were able to make entrance through the restored front hall and Grand Staircase with its glorious marble and mural covered walls complete with two lions (ala New York Public Library) guarding well against those who’d show noisy disrespect in such a hallowed place. Adjacent to Bates Hall was a beautifully restored (but oddly empty) Abbey Room, whose next purpose we didn’t discover. But the restored Arthurian Legend murals surrounded by ornate marble and exquisitely carved oak gave the room a special air, even when empty. I can’t imagine the Abbey Room becoming an effective reading room, since the walls and ceilings are so detailed as to prevent any serious study of anything other than the room.
The restoration, which began in the early 1990s and is almost complete, appears to have spared no expense returning the rooms and furnishings to their former opulent glory, and in ways the public will be able to enjoy them for many years ahead. The history of the library is as rich as the cities, and you can discover more about the BPL here.
As you can see by the photos, my favorite room (Bates Hall at top) is not exactly a visually calm place to sit and read peacefully. But while the intense ornamentation and detail is worth the attention it deserves, we spent a bit of a quiet evening at one of the long oaken tables quietly journaling and reading and can report that it’s a great place to do both. I will admit, however, that neither journaling nor reading held my concentration and I frequently stopped to gaze at the ceiling or marvel at the size and scale of the room, or simply to people watch the other patrons enjoying the room. I didn’t notice any of them struggling to concentrate amidst the wonder of the room, so I concluded I was probably the only tourist among them, most being students and a handful of intellectually curious homeless types.
I spent only a brief time in the BPL this trip, but seriously want to return some day soon and spend time researching in their vast collection of close to 8 million accessible books including rare collection and unique manuscripts. Although the more interesting part of the collection is not on open shelves, the staff seems willing to retrieve just about anything they own if your need is reasonable. And with the addition of a fine cafe and restaurant, there’s really no need to leave the building until they close. I can’t think of a better way to spend a day, although when in Boston it’s always a challenge deciding what to do. And as you might suspect, we packed a lot more into our brief day trip…but that, as they say, is a story for another day.