The Boston Public Library was built in 1895 across from Trinity Church in Copley Square. With 23 million items, it is the third largest public library in the United States. The library has two connected buildings: the McKim and the Johnson. The McKim Building was the original structure opened in 1895. Architect Charles Follen McKim called it his “palace for the people.” This was made possible by the Massachusetts Legislator who granted the City of Boston a free piece of land at the corner of Dartmouth and Boylston Street in 1880 with the limitation that the land be used to build a library for the people. The board of trustees were allotted a budget of $450,000 and three years to break ground on the development to secure the land.
However, this was easier said than done when they started working with Architect George A. Clough, who designed the Latin School on Warren Avenue, “then admired as the largest structure in the world used for a free public school”. The City considered using the school for the library, but it took two years to realize it wouldn’t work as a location. They lost so much time pursuing the school design that the Massachusetts Legislature graciously extended the time limit for another three years.
Their next option was Arthur H. Vinal, the City Architect in 1885. He drew up proposed plans for the library, but no one was pleased with them. An architectural student named Ralph Cram called it “an example of what Richardson’s own style could become at the hands of a sincere but incompetent disciple – it was a chaos of gables, oriels, arcades, and towers, all worked out in brownstone”. Once again the Trustees were reaching the end of their deadline to break ground. The deadline date was set to April 21, 1886 and at 4:18 that night the first pile was driven into the ground and the land was secured. However, this was done without a design finalized or even an architect chosen. The Trustees figured they could start the foundation and secure the land without needing to know what they were building. Then in March of 1887 The Act of Incorporation of the Trustees of the Public Library was made to give all control to the Trustees in March of 1887.
One of their members, Samuel Appleton Browne Abbott, was a fan of the New York City firm McKim, Mead, and White. Abbott and McKim talked for four hours on Saturday, March 19, 1897, and the meeting went so well Abbott invited him to meet with the President of the trustee board. A month later, President William W. Greenough and Charles McKim were signing a contract to start drawing plans. McKim’s design was quoted at $1,165,955. Surprisingly, on May 7th, the City Council approved the trustees to go ahead with that amount. Little did they know that by the end of 1890, the total cost was projected to be $2,218,865. It took fifteen years after the Massachusetts Legislature granted the City of Boston the small parcel on the corner of Boylston and Dartmouth Streets that the public was given a beautiful library on March 11, 1895.
With an addition in 1972 by Architect Philip Johnson the Library can keep up with overwhelming demand and in 2016 alone, there were 3.7 million visitors.