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Carnegie Library - Wychwood

Address: 1431 Bathurst Street, northeast corner of Melgund Road
Grant Date: 8 May 1908 (promised); 6 February 1915 (regranted)
Recipient: Toronto Public Library Board
Architect: Eden Smith & Sons
Opened: 15 April 1916

Wychwood Branch opened on 15 April 1916, and was the prototype of three identical libraries that the Toronto Public Library constructed with a $50,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The design, an adaptation of the Tudor Gothic style, was "a decided revolt in style from the traditional library architecture," Chief Librarian George H. Locke proclaimed in January 1917, "and it is pleasant to record that the success of the Wychwood Branch is now being realized in the High Park Branch and in the Beaches Branch, both of which are of the same design."1

Locke enclosed a sketch of his proposed plan for the three new branches in his initial letter to James Bertram, secretary of the Carnegie Corporation, written on 22 June 1914. He noted that it had "been made to bring to the minds of the people of the outlying districts some recollection of their Scottish and English village type of architecture. These Suburbs are largely working classes from the countries mentioned."2

Locke reiterated his vision in a letter to Bertram, written on 13 March 1915:

May I point out to you that it is an almost entire departure from the traditional library building, but as I mentioned in a former letter to you, I am doing this as a result of my experience in having regard to the kinds of people who are living in this locality. These are people from the Old Country, accustomed to see in their country village's architecture of the 17th Century, and I am proposing to reproduce some of the Collegiate Grammar School architecture of the time of Edward 6th, and adapted to modern requirements.3

He went on to note, "I am fortunate in having for this purpose an architect whose work is distinguished on this Continent for its adaptation of English architecture to American requirements."4 Eden Smith and Sons, Architects had been hired by the library board, and Locke's March 1915 letter included the firm's "Description of a Branch Library Building", offering a rationale for the design:

An adaptation of English 17 Century collegiate style of Architecture was chosen for this building because the plan of its requirements and the material, brick and stone, found most convenient to use in erecting it are not at all appropriate for a monumental type of building of Greek or Roman origin.5

The architects also outlined the materials that they planned to use:

The basement is to be faced outside with grey stone to the height of the main floor. The external walls above this will be tapestry brick. The detail work, doors and windows, transoms, and mullions of gray stone like the basement. The roof is to be covered with gray green slate. The casements are to be glass with clear glass in lead bars.6

In 1926, Locke recalled he encountered some scepticism from local citizens about the architectural style:

When I was planning the Wychwood Branch I was reproached by a gentleman in this city who said, "It doesn't look like a library." I asked him what a Library looked like. He said he didn't know but he thought it ought to have columns in front. I found out that he had seen the so-called Library of the Early-Carnegie days with columns in front, rooms on either hand and a stack room in the back centre. Indeed it was an architect who told me a Branch Library, indeed any library, should be classical in style. I couldn't find out from him whether it was Greek or Neo-Greek he favoured.7

Major Alterations

1978 Renovation and addition by Phillip H. Carter, Architect.
1995 Retrofit by Robin Tharin Architects. Closed 18 November - March 25, 1996.
2014 Planning starts on branch renovation and expansion project: Shoalts and Zaback, project architects; Phillip Goldsmith, heritage architect. Construction will start in 2017.

Heritage Status

1976 Listed on Inventory of Heritage Properties, adopted by Toronto City Council, August 18.

Notes

1Toronto Public Library, Annual Report, 1916, 11.

22Carnegie Corporation of New York, Carnegie Library Correspondence, Toronto, reel no. 32 (CLC), Locke to Bertram, 22 June 1914. (Hard copy in Toronto Public Library Archives)

3Ibid., Locke to Bertram, 13 March 1915.

4Ibid.

5Ibid., Eden Smith & Sons, "Description of a Branch Library Building".

6Ibid.

7George H. Locke, "The Toronto Public Libraries," The Journal. Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, 3 (May-June, 1926): 87.