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Copy of a copy didn't diminish quality: Sycamore library, 103 E. State St., has a commanding presence

The Sycamore Historic District: Location 7B

By Steve Bigolin

Noted Bloomington architect Paul O. Moratz was retained to design the Sycamore Public Library in 1905. Between 1902 and 1907, he drew plans for 19 Illinois public libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, including Sycamore's. The exteriors of his buildings at Paxton, completed in May 1904, and Greenville, 1905, are virtually identical to Sycamore's. Both are written up in the book &#8220The Carnegie Library in Illinois.” Records indicate that the Paxton Carnegie Library was the actual model for the Sycamore Public Library, while the model for the Paxton library was the Dominey Memorial Library in Fairbury. General contractor J.F. Rees of Bloomington was awarded the contract to erect the Sycamore Public Library, with a bid of $11,700, according to a Nov. 11, 1986, Daily Chronicle article. Since this was $1,700 more than the Carnegie Foundation's grant, additional funds became necessary. Mrs. David Syme, of 420 Somonauk St. in Sycamore, stepped forward with a $1,000 gift, and another $2,000 followed from Carnegie as the final cost of the building rose to $13,000. (The Paxton library was erected with a single $10,000 grant, Greenville's cost $11,000 and Sycamore's was the most expensive of the three.) Although not centered in the middle of a public square like the courthouse, the architecture of the library, coupled with the way it hugs its corner lot, makes the building stand out. The two street façades are tied together by the rotunda, which straddles the corner; the entire exterior is rendered in Lake Superior red sandstone. The original main entrance is reached via a tall flight of steps leading to the doorway, which is flanked by two-story high red-painted stone pilasters. A simple entablature supports a bracketed pediment containing the date 1905 and the words &#8220PUBLIC LIBRARY.” These details give the structure a classical flavor. The rotunda is topped by a red tiled dome, capped with a decorative white metal crown. A stone stringcourse wraps around the building, delineating where the basement ends and the first floor begins. The main-floor windows rest on stone sills with smooth stone lintels overhead. In the case of the rotunda windows, a continuous smooth stone lintel curves around the wall above them. Windows in the foundation walls, providing natural light to the basement, were later filled in with glass blocks. More space According to an October 1972 Daily Chronicle article written by C.R. &#8220Luke” McLagen, the city council chambers were in the library's basement from 1905-58. (McLagen wrote the 1960 book &#8220Nostalgia and Glee in Sycamore, Illinois.” His second book, &#8220Sycamore According to Luke,” was published posthumously in 1994 by the DeKalb County Historical Genealogical Society.) In McLagen's 1972 Chronicle column, he mentioned the fact that discussions were already then under way about expanding the approximately 6,600-square-foot Sycamore Public Library. The project was envisioned to take 10 to 15 years to complete, however, and once it reached fruition, the 1905 structure would be converted into a museum - as eventually happened to the Mendota Graves Public Library, also designed by Moratz. The property on East State Street adjacent to the library was intended to provide the site for expansion. Long occupied by a large livery stable known as the &#8220Townsend Stables” - after civic leader and library benefactor Frederick B. Townsend - it had once served the horses of the guests next door at the Mansion House hotel. A series of adaptive reuses followed, including - but not limited to - becoming the site of the old Sycamore Mid-Winter Fairs that began around 1912. For a while also, it was where Sycamore High School basketball games were played. Other uses were as a skating rink, dance hall and the National Guard Armory from 1923-38. DeKalb Ag Research, later DeKalb Genetics Corp., subsequently acquired the structure, utilizing the building as its poultry research center, among other purposes. The library expansion project, looked forward to in 1972, did not occur for another 25 years, nearly a decade longer than was originally envisioned. It added 21,000 square feet to the historic Carnegie facility, however, and was opened on Jan. 29, 1997. Designed on the exterior in an architectural style and materials to harmonize with the 1905 structure, it has a very commanding presence on East State Street. --- Steve Bigolin is a DeKalb County history expert

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