Recap and scenes from the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library 2022 Annual meeting, including views of the most recent revised concept proposal for the renovation and addition intended for the library as they appeared in the feature presentation (Oudens & Ello Architects with Dore + Whittier Architects) Sawyer Free 2025
Mern Sibley, Pres. of the Library Board, greeted the crowd and emceed. Jill Cahill thanked everyone and announced that she was there on behalf of the Mayor who was unable to attend as he was at the SFL Medal Awards. (And Jenny Benedict, Library Director, was here at the SFL Annual Meeting, unable to attend the SFL Medal Awards at GHS. Ditto some corporators, perhaps.) The City and Gloucester School District are working closely together, and thrilled to be partnering. In speaking with the Mayor about what message he hoped to convey, Cahill said their moving conversation spilled over among the City Hall Administration staff and easily turned to reminiscences about how the library impacted their lives. A musician himself and music fan, Mayor Verga told them as a boy he loved checking out the CDs and CD player. Cahill shared how first public outings for her mom, wheelchair bound after a health spell, were easy at the library precisely because everyone there was so friendly, and the library was so accessible.
Benedict stressed how instrumental the library was in bringing the community back together after Covid closures and how that was reflected in the robust attendance and programs. Attendance numbers included school visits, too. She concluded with a big note of gratitude for the 16 staff “library champions” which received the biggest clap of the night.
With a nod to prior remarks, Matt Oudens began by saying thanks and that he “was happy to be reminded of going from libraries of things to libraries that DO.”
Thankfully Gloucester’s library can boast both/and since its inception.
He began by showing the library as it stands now.
“We’ve always noticed how difficult it is to enter the building — the renovation of Saunders is its own project– and the difficult wayfinding problem.”
Since the last time he presented, a construction manager was engaged who recommended modifying the plans (along the side of the Monell building parallel to Middle Street). The “sliver” on that side would be too expensive to build. Instead a “glass “gasket” between the Monell shell and the new addition is planned that will be more economical and a clear signal of where to circulate in & up” the library building(s).
Old concept plan Left | Revised concept plan as of 11/16/2022 Right (note angled “gasket”)
A lower lobby on the Lower Level was expanded. More bathrooms were added. This wing will be available off hours and can be open on its own, separate from the main building. The meeting space on the lower level will open to the outside, to use the outdoor space that runs along the length between the library and Central Grammar (as the children’s library had). *maybe longer then now
DALE AVENUE LEVEL
All adult collection here. The newspaper periodical reading lobby will be open (high ceiling by soaring windows overlooking Rando Memorial gardens and amphitheater). The 1913 pass through stacks (between the Monell and Saunders) is now the Gallery and Cafe area. A gently sloped sidewalk will allow for greater accessibility at this entrance.
Children’s services spaces. Teen spaces.
“Overall, much more light will transform the library into a nice place to be.”
Much of the exterior is being preserved. Oudens was excited that they’ll be removing the HVAC down to floor and increasing glazing by 25%. All the energy upgrades are important to him*. The light colored brick selected for the new addition will match the painted brick of the Monell. (The community pressed for green consideration all along. As of Feb. 2019 the design team emphasized that scope.)
photo block below: Before / After pairings followed by more views of current built environment and questions
TEMPORARY LOCATION ON MAIN STREET IS OPEN
“You can do any and all library things that you do here (at the Dale Ave. location) at the temporary location on Main Street. Go! Please check it out!”
Now thru 2025. The temporary library address is 21 Main Street–above Mystery Train; next to Virgilio’s; across from Tonno, Short & Main, and Caffe Sicilia; down the street from The Bookstore of Gloucester, Pop Gallery, and the Isabel Babson library. Look for “SFL@21Main” for events off site, too!
Questions Asked FROM THE FLOOR
Questions and comments from the audience– followed the budget and architectural plan agenda items:
Question. What is the (financial) arrangement with the city? How does the money/financing work with the city?Joe Grella, Board member, explained first that the Annual Meeting budget report is for the year prior to the year the meeting is taking place. Then he presented the budget. The endowment is below 5 mil and will deplete more. These reserves will need to be built back up at a future date. The questions about the financial arrangement followed his budget report. He explained the debt. (One million had been appropriated for the fundraising/fee.)
Q. What about the fundraising? What happens if it’s not raised? A. Mern Sibley said that’s a perfect segue to introducing John Brennan for the fundraising report. “The City voting to fund the loan for the new building was a game changer,” and they’ve raised 52% of the goal. He appealed for a benefactor like philanthropists over a century ago: “Seeking the Next Samuel Sawyer. The Next Addison…We need to still find donors that will propel the project…(Since ca. 2018) it was a small group of me, Fred, Deb (Lib. Dir. summer 2015-summer 2020), others and NOW with the city’s momentum, we’re picking up speed (fundraising). [Hence another Sawyer Library Foundation and Sawyer Free 2025 Capital campaign.] A postcard was sent to every household in Gloucester…” He credited an audience member with the phrase, “We’re just jazzed.” And thanked the donors: Inst. Savings, Bank Glou, Sudbay, Gorton’s, etc.
Q. This has been mentioned before, but how will children’s services work for programs on the top floor with one elevator?A. Oudens said it has worked at other buildings he’s completed. The elevator will be bigger than the one that’s there now.
Q. Have there been more thought to swapping (floors) / amending designs? A. The distribution hasn’t changed.
Q. Is the atrium height filled in? Yes. The ceiling will be the floor of the top level. (On this floor, height will be opened up above the new Newspapers and Periodical Reading area which is overlooking Rando Memorial )
Q. What is the cafe? A. Oudens repeated the potential location (former stacks connector) and how they’ve worked at other libraries. He replied that that’s undecided.
Q. The new “stacks” space is windows. Where will the art hang (auction and exhibits)? Where are the walls? (several audience members) Oudens suggested free standing display panels, etc., and to check out the space following the meeting to see the general idea of the footprint there and confirm window count.
Q. Has there been consideration of repurposing and/or revising as much as possible of the extant building existing elements? A. Oudens said there’s not a lot to save, mostly because of code compliance reasons. There will be many upgrades. “The plans (now) maintain the exterior. Hopefully the inside will have enough of a refreshed feeling of Monell.”
Q. Where are the bathrooms? A. The plans show more bathrooms than what’s here now, and on each and every level. Oudens mentioned 4 or 5 bathrooms on the School Street | back of the building level, dictated/guided by the size of the meeting room, which is capacity 100. (I believe there were 2 restrooms for women, 1 men, and one all. Maybe they can all be all gender bathrooms, like planes.) *Not sure if they are all accessible
I also wonder about the Matz gallery space, and how to add more gallery space. Also, where are the designated special built sites for major works in the collection (removed–on loan to Cape Ann Museum and storage/Trust). I was asked if the bathrooms can be reconfigured or the stairwell so that there are more elevators if the traffic flow isn’t flipped? Is there ample space for archives and research? Do the plans emphasize or miss a strategy and monies spent for digitization of the enviable archives, accessibility for all? Are there too many meeting spaces especially with other options close by (City Hall, Temple, UU Church, CAM, sites on Main Street, and more)? A cafe option split audience reaction, and prompted great chatter of “I’d love that!” and “No way!” One board member repeated how much he loved the Wenham Library more than this building. In the rendering showing a viewshed from Dale Avenue/City Hall to SFL, is the new addition blocking the view of the UU Church? Feedback over the years asked about the corridor between Central Grammar and the library and views showcasing City Hall.
The history of SFL’s extant buildings and archives (of historical and cultural, local and national significance) are the envy of libraries along the North Shore and –with the City’s, CAM’s –such assets are up there with Boston’s Public Library and major university repositories.
I believe that the custodian services are borne by the City. When the library is open for special events beyond operating hours a custodian is responsible for closing, if not the event breakdown itself. How will this impact the budget for the library and the city?
just a few photos of many beautiful libraries in Massachusetts (Boston, Gloucester, Quincy, Beverly, Middleton)
As do towns! The proposed new building (Dore & Whittier/Matt Oudens) related to the Sawyer Free Library is landing at the tail end of the visioning trend called out in this Atlantic article by Alia Wong:
“College Students Just Want Normal Libraries: Schools have been on a mission to reinvent campus libraries—even though students just want the basics.”
“Yet much of the glitz may be just that—glitz. Survey data and experts suggest that students generally appreciate libraries most for their simple, traditional offerings: a quiet place to study or collaborate on a group project, the ability to print research papers, and access to books.”
“So-called digital natives still crave opportunities to use libraries as libraries, and many actively seek out physical texts—92 percent of the college students surveyed in a 2015 study, for example, said they preferred paper books to electronic versions. (Plus, a growing body of evidence shows that physical books and papers are more conducive to learning than digital formats are.) The dean of learning and technology resources at one of the six campuses of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) recently told me about a student he had met: Upon learning that her campus library had only the e-book version of a text she needed to read, the woman opted to make the trek to another campus a nearly half-hour commute away that had the hard copy. A 2016 survey of students at Webster University in Washington, D.C., also illustrates limited use of digital resources, finding that just 18 percent of students accessed e-books “frequently” or “very frequently,” compared with 42 percent who never used them.
“Duke University’s 2016 survey of its students drew similar conclusions, finding that book delivery was one of the most important services to students; fancy library services such as instant messaging or data-visualization help fell much lower on students’ priority lists. A separate, years-long project on community-college students by the NOVA dean and a team of researchers found that respondents “most often view the library as the service provider they would likely go to” for an array of bread-and-butter needs, such as help gathering research for a paper, registering for classes, or applying for financial aid. Demand for access to devices such as 3-D printers and virtual-reality headsets was relatively low; respondents tended to highlight the need for reliable Wi-Fi instead.
“Many college libraries are reinventing themselves, but perhaps they’re trying to fix an institution that isn’t, in fact, broken…”
This photo chronicle begins with scenes from the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library 2019 Annual meeting, including views of the concept proposal for renovation and addition intended for the library as they appeared in the feature presentation that evening with some brief analysis. The second part of the piece provides background about the American architect, Donald F. Monell, and visual context regarding his designs for the library expansion built in 1973 and largely ignored through this current new build consideration. Links to several reference documents relevant to this process are collected and provided at the end. (This update is part of an ongoing series published on GMG.)
Annual meeting – Arriving/settling in
About 85 people including Trustees with guests, library personnel, and marketing and architectural representatives were present for the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library’s Annual Meeting on May 20, 2019. (click individual photos to see full size)
Mayor Romeo Theken, Library Dir. Deborah Kelsey, and Trustee Chair John Brennan welcomed the public. Brennan thanked several Trustees for long service and welcomed new ones.
Deborah Kelsey presented the Mary Weissblum Smith Volunteer Award to Susan Oleksiw and Christy Park in recognition of their curation and management of the Matz Gallery rotating exhibitions over the past five years and their notable careers. Ironically, in the new concept plans, there is no Matz Gallery and limited art space. Read more about Matz’s philanthropy and work in Gloucester here. The major works from the art collection continue to be off view and similarly unaccounted for in future plans.
Financial Statement YR 2017-18
The library’s treasurer explained that the Annual Meeting financial reports always illustrate the prior year rather than the one just completed. So for this 2019 annual meeting, the report reflects May 2017- May 2018. He explained next year’s will represent the year 2018-19 and will show red and depletion of the 6 million endowment. Former board members asked about expenses to date, related to the new build, and itemization of the Trustee expenses line item, which was not in use when they served. A trustee explained that a title more accurately reflecting those expenses would be helpful. Reports will be shared.
Architect’s renderings / Oudens-Ello (with Dore & Whittier for library and MBLC)
The 25 million+ quoted for the concept plan does not include preservation of the original heart and soul of the library, the Saunders building, or any mention of the library’s fine art. A recent estimate for potential Saunders preservation begins at 3 million– which would be in addition to any work done elsewhere with the library.
Stairs and more stairs
Design inspiration did not come from Saunders or Monell. (I asked.) One of the stated goals was striving to continue to make the library accessible for all, although in my opinion since the first presentation years ago, this design undercuts that aim.
Because of gentle switchback steps, currently there is technically no “accessible for all” direct entry from Dale to the Main Floor, or from Middle Street. The accessibility option from Dale curves around to a side* and back entrance. If that level is not the destination, patrons continue to the elevator.
Increasing all of the buildings’ gateway capacities is a fantastic goal. I do not understand how a concept with such tremendous staircase emphasis will remedy that expression of accessibility for all, or ease patron flow. The monumental scale of the three-story glass central stairwell takes up the transition volume between the original Monell and concept addition, and looms larger than the current Monell atrium. In this concept, children’s and teen spaces will be on the top floor. Crowd flow of all ages will need to access the elevator from the ground floor near the back entrance. Once upon a time the children’s wing was on the top floor of the Saunders building and intentionally moved to a space on the ground level. Currently, children’s services is on the ground floor. Friends and librarians using Reading and Salem libraries are not fans of children’s spaces on the top floor.
*The side entrance was sealed off this year due to safety concerns which can be helped by architecture and staff. The new security officers received the biggest applause of the night.
Glass staircase design statements — stacked cantilevered and floating– are common features in malls, retail, and transportation (airports!) hubs, often with escalator options, and ample budgets for cleaning staff. They’re not super kid friendly or easy to clean. For this concept, the staircase massing can be greatly reduced and favorably impact the footprint, cost and siting. I’ve written about the odd flow of moving the library’s busy children’s services up to the top level in this proposal. Just one of Christy Russo’s daily programs may bring in 20 to 80 kids and their grown-ups!
Moving to elevator and stairs with or without strollers will increase flow inefficiency dramatically, and be a disservice to an evergreen and engaged population. Children’s could be flipped back to the ground floor, with or without a separate teen space on this level. Research and multi use rooms requested for “21st century programming needs” could be dispersed throughout the expanded upper levels. Safety issues and bathrooms can be addressed on any floor. The librarians have been patiently awaiting remodeling and interior update and upgrades on the ground floor since 2012. The build out goal of 2026 or later is too long! They need more space, a functioning and better test kitchen, and major bathroom renovations (yesterday!).
Oudens Concept plan Timeline
ETA library tentative opening 2026
SFL Library atrium, architect Donald F. Monell
Monell building, top floor, no artificial light, no filter: looking across atrium with presentation underway on Main Floor as this space was being described again as an uninviting dark hole.
Design inspiration and high bar – Saunders House and Monell
For nearly 190 years, the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library has played a key role in the cultural life of the city of Gloucester and the Commonwealth. Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library features not one but three iconic buildings. Investment in building projects with such inspiring history, pedigree, assets, materials and form are indeed a rare and enviable opportunity. Any library build should feature both Saunders and Monell. We are so lucky to have them!
There was worry about the Saunders and Monell buildings, the Stacks, and the Rando Memorial garden when the proposed new building first dropped and as this process continued. Thankfully, a Saunders stewardship committee has been reestablished and the Rando Garden will remain. (There was pushback that the “21st century building” left the community with less green space, not more.) It’s only since last week that razing Monell was taken off the table. And it’s only since February 2019 that the architects began to emphasize green design as they had not realized how valued such criteria was in Gloucester. A workshop was held at the library.
Still, no one involved in the new process was discussing Monell, his inspiration, or influence. Regarding the library 2019 green visionaries—Monell may be more important to them than they realize. After all, he was ahead of his time incorporating wind and solar design into public buildings and homes. I’ve been thinking more and more about Monell, his studies and business ventures, his devotion to Gloucester.
Donald F. Monell earned multiple degrees at Bowdoin (BS, 1937) , Royal College of Edinburgh (1938), Tekniska Hogskolan in Stockholm (KTH Royal Institute of Technology), and M.I.T. (MS in city planning,1941 and MS in architecture, 1950). He was a research assistant in City Planning at M.I.T. (1940-41), and a Research Associate in solar energy at M.I.T. from 1949 to 1951. During World War II he served as a Captain with the 333 Engrs. S.S. Regiment in the US Army Corp of Engineers from 1942-46. Prior to setting up his own firm in 1952, he worked as a community planner in Tennessee and for various architectural establishments. His son Alex Monell said that his father declined positions with larger international firms. “He preferred working on a smaller one to one relationship with clients.” Monell’s tenure at M.I.T. coincided with I.M. Pei and Buckminster Fuller; Monell set up his eponymous business two years prior to I.M. Pei. I asked Alex if his father worked with architect Eleanor Raymond. She built her home in Gloucester and had similar interest in sustainable design. She is credited with designing one of the first solar heated houses in 1948 “I know he worked with Maria Telkes (who invented a means to store heat in melted crystals that stored more than water could) on one of their solar homes and now that I looked her up I see the home was designed by Eleanor Raymond! So they knew each other.”
Monell was licensed to practice in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York and was NCARB certified. He was a member of AiA and Boston Society of Architects. He served on Gloucester’s Civic Art Committee beginning in the 1960s. He was a trustee of the Cape Ann Symphony Orchestra, an incorporator of AGH and Cape Ann Savings Bank, and a Vice President of the Cape Ann Museum (then Cape Ann Historical Assoc.). Monell’s office was located in the Brown Building, 11 Pleasant Street. His son remembers visiting his dad on jobs and admiring the hand made scale models. Local residents may recognize the names of Monell hires: Kirk Noyes who preserved Central Grammar and other award winning developments, was a draftsman, and Craig Toftey helped Monell with the Sawyer Free library.
The new building planners describe the need for a 21st century library. What does that mean today? Back in 2012, technology was the big discussion point and the library a possible tandem option for schools. (Elementary school libraries were shuttered and/or volunteer run, and school librarian positions cut.) Since then, libraries in schools became “Learning Commons” with a tech focus. By 2019 Gloucester Public Schools have a 1 to 1 student computer initiative. There was a desire for grounds improvement, since completed and well received with the Rando Memorial. I was asked about helping with a public art comission and how it might work as a play structure, too. Mayor Romeo Theken reminded us of the homes and neighborhood playground where the Monell addition and parking lot were built. Community input suggested opportunities for more outdoor spaces would be welcome, not less. Library design trends recommend co-work and makerspace options so the library is a community center. (Sawyer Free has been a community center since its founding.)
One thought regarding “21st Century” library tech goals: partnerships with M.I.T., Harvard, and Bowdoin could be fruitful and shored up by honoring Monell. Perhaps they’d help facilitate subscriptions to specialized libraries. Coordinating public access to resources like MatLab as one example would enhance “accessibility for all” in a 21st century sort of way.
Monell’s son, Alex, shared a section from M.I.T. President’s Report, 1951, with a reference to his father: “Mr. R. Buckminster Fuller, visiting lecturer, who contributed significantly to this conference, worked this year with the third-year students in architectural design and presented his concept of the “comprehensive designer” in a program emphasizing the relation of structure to design. In August, I950, occurred the five-day symposium on “Solar Energy for Space Heating,” under the auspices of the Godfrey L. Cabot Fund, attended by about 900 persons who were mostly visitors to the Institute. Mr. Donald F. Monell, research associate, was responsible for organization. Speakers included staff members and outside authorities in this field. Professor Lawrence B. Anderson was one of the contributors.”
Don and Lila Monell could be the “Charles and Ray Eames of Gloucester”
Don Monell and Lila Swift should rightly be included on any Massachusetts #MassModernism trail. Monell and Swift, co-founders and collaborators of their own wrought steel furniture design firm in 1950, Swift & Monell, husband and wife, architect and artist, were the Charles and Ray Eames* of Gloucester. Original examples of their woven leather, metal and enamel stools, tables, and bins are rare and placed in collections. The furniture was exhibited at Current Design (now ICA) and Furniture Forum. They operated the business in upstate New York when Monell worked for Sargent Webster Crenshaw & Folley. They built a studio for their business in their home when they moved back to Gloucester in 1952. Initial prototypes and editions were inspired by touring Lawrence Mills with Monell’s brother in law, who worked in the textile industry. Alex clarifies: “I do not know what mill my father’s brother in law was involved in or to what capacity, I just remember my parents toured it and found the source of leather. A Cambridge firm sold them for awhile. And later my parents gifted them as wedding presents to close friends and relatives. Ray Parsons a blacksmith from Rockport often made the frames and later I made some at Modern Heat.”
” Lila Monell print cormorants image used in tribute for Dorothy Adams Brown”
*footnote: Ray Eames was in Gloucester. Before Hans Hofmann settled into teaching in Provincetown, he was invited to teach summer classes at the Thurn School of Art in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1933 and 1934. Thurn was a former Hofmann student. Ray Eames studied painting with Hofmann in Gloucester and was a student of his for years. Decades later (during an interview with Ruth Bowman, who was wonderful, and owned a fabulous Gloucester Hopper) Eames mentioned 1940, a later date, for when she first learned about Hofmann. On an architecture timeline- Charles and Ray Eames were born in 1907 and 1912 respectively, and Monell in 1917. They were married about a decade before Monell & Swift and west coast rather than east. Yet they were contemporaries. Art & Architecture case study homes began in 1945 (Eames house, 1949) Eames lounge chairs were manufactured in 1956 (after years of prototypes). Gropius House in Lincoln , Mass., landmark Bauhaus residence now museum was built in 1938, same year as MoMa Bauhaus exhibition. The Graduate school at Harvard designed by Gropius was a TAC (The Architects Collaborative) build in 1950. TAC was founded in 1945 with the clout addition of Gropius who continued with the firm until his death in 1969. Original 7 founders were Norman Fletcher, Louis McMillen, Robert McMillan, Ben Thompson, Jean Fletcher, Sarah Harkness and John Harkness. Twenty years later, Monell’s Plum Cove elementary school design in 1967 was leveraged by partnering with The Architects Collaborative. Gloucester’s Plum Cove school is a TAC build. Wikipedia lists several commissions. The school could be added.
The Monells were friends with many artists and Gloucester residents. They were best friends with Sarah Fraser Robbins which is another rich “green” connection for Sawyer library. The Monells were married at her house and living there when their first son came home! Eventually they built their dream home in Gloucester designed to maximize its stunning natural setting, all granite and ocean views. Their family and business grew. Lila’s art and home are inspired by wild nature, especially birds and insects, often the subject of her prints and photographs, and even wardrobe embellishments. (More than one person recalled a striking faux brooch or embroidery like adornment that was actually a coiled live centipede.) Domestic animals and wild birds were part of the family. There were always pet crows and birds. “Our mother raised geese and guinea fowl,” Alex continued, “Mainly the birds we had were ones she brought to rescue from oil slicks and other calamaties. She was well known as someone to bring an injured bird to.” Lila wrote an article in the Mass Audubon newsletter about two cormorants which she had a permit to raise. “Sarah (Fraser Robbins) had an old lobster boat, never used as one.” Alex recalled. “They used it for fishing. Our families were quite close. We’d head to Norman’s Woe and bring back seagulls. You know, rescue babies, and help teach them to fly.” He said he got them comfortable being tossed like a glider. “They’d come back again and again ready to launch!” It was easy to imagine some glimpse of his childhood in this idyllic setting. His delight brought to mind My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and Driftwood Captain by Paul Kenyon. Sea and stone. What a playground!
Donald F. Monell Architecture
Monell completed many commissions in Gloucester and elsewhere on the North Shore, New Hampshire and New York. Any renovation and remodel at Sawyer Free is an incredible chance to celebrate his work and honor his legacy. After considering examples of Monell’s architecture it is easy to find his personal design in the work he did at Sawyer Free Library. He was trained as a landscape architect as well which helps to imbue his projects with great sensitivity and gentle passages. Many of his commissions are heavenly sites where buildings serve the surroundings, whether built or natural. His designs are better because of this reverence for context.
(Note on images- double click to enlarge)
Monell architecture – Residences
Monell designed numerous private residences and additions [e.g. Dotty & Lawrence Brown (1957), Laight (1958), Despard (1959), Boyce (1961), Foster, Nydegger, Marietta Lynch, Judy Winslow, Bob and Libby French (1967), Featherstones, John Hays Hammond Jr, and Phil Weld (many)] in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York. Several clients were repeat customers. The Brown home is one example. Alex writes that “the residence was altered by my father in the late 70s to accommodate a library when they moved there year round.” Much of the big collection of books were cookbooks. “Dotty was a great cook and good friends with Julia Child.”
Concord, NH, Early Monell commission had overhead electric radiant heat
windows altered from original design
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
round about drives & lily of the valley clustered at entrancesMonell designs
Within a few short years of moving to Gloucester, Robert and Elizabeth ‘Libby’ French expanded their art collection, he was elected Mayor, and they commissioned Monell to design their home and property in 1967. caption: video shows interior/exterior and was published in 2016. I don’t know when it was filmed. Small lovely moments – note the interior staircase railing, and exterior deck and bridge to glacial boulders. Clearly some modifications since it was designed in 1967 and perhaps since this video.
Monell architecture – Public Buildings
Besides the Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library commission, Monell government and public buildings include the Beverly Newspaper factory and offices, Eastern Point Retreat, Plum Cove School, and the Cape Ann Historical Society. Elements of his signature architecture resonate strongly with the work he did at the library.
Eastern Point Retreat House, Dorm & Dining Halls 1960
For the Gonzaga project, Monell joined two buildings and built a cafeteria and dormitories. Recently his original work at the entrance, connector and dormitories was razed. The historic photos BEFORE illustrate his artistry and display a strong connection with the design Monell established at the front of the library on the stacks building between Saunders and the expansion.
BEFORE / AFTER – dorm, far left (ocean side)
BEFORE / AFTER – dorm (parking side)
Microphone were set up to amplify sounds of the ocean (white noise) within the dormitory
BEFORE /AFTER – cafeteria low glass ceiling (ocean side) remains
Plum Cove Elementary School 1966
Monell subcontracted/collaborated with TAC for build
Beverly Newspaper Offices and Factory (now Salem News)
Gloucester Daily Times (1956)
Cape Ann Museum (formerly Cape Ann Historical Society) 1968
Circa 1967 plans for property by Grant Circle
Cape Ann Savings Bank
Monell’s work at Cape Ann Savings Bank has been altered at least 2x since his commission. Here are a couple of placeholder “before” snapshots until I obtain better examples. Before (courtesy photos)/After example – Note changes like the Monell staircase design vs replacement and office additions vs open floor plan. The arch window motif remains.
Signature elements – arches, contrast in materials, rectangles, winding paths
Monell was concerned with getting it right. You don’t have to know about Monell, his body of work or the history of architecture to be moved or respond. His slow designs are considerate of their surroundings, integrating connections with the natural and built environment. Thanks to his gentle, contemplative approach, it feels as though there’s more than enough space even when there isn’t much space to be had.
Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library
When reviewing Monell’s body of work, it’s clear to see that Gloucester’s landscape, history, art and architecture inform his designs. The library’s connector and entrance are signature Monell motifs and beautiful. It’s no accident that the symmetry of the windows at the back of the building echo the five bays of the firestation,
or that they were inspired and reference City Hall, 1867.
No matter which approach one takes to the library, Monell’s consideration of the building and its surroundings is intentional and graceful.
Special thanks to Alexander Monell for sharing his time, knowledge and inspiring family history. Photos are mine unless noted “courtesy”. Those are extra special as they were culled by Alexander Monell in loving tribute to his father and family that he kindly shared and even granted permission to publish here. More to come!
Read more about philanthropist Samuel Sawyer here. Prudence Fish has written about the Saunders house and her book Antique Houses of Gloucester,2007, is a must read. Also see exhaustive 2005 Fitch report (link below)
2017 – architectural renderings Oudens – see above, in this post, and architect’s website. Thus far is all that is available. For the past two years I have been told that the plans will be shared all in good time by architects, trustees, and library. I’ll link when they are. Some documents and updates used to be on the library website.
2017- A House in the Sun by Daniel A. Barber “about solar house heating in American architecural, engineering, political and economic and coporate contests between WWII and the late 1950’s” references M.I.T. and Monell’s work. “Many houses and heating systems were proposed or built by former students at MIT who had worked with Hottel and Anderson, including those designd by Lof in Colordo. One by Donald F. Monell in Gloucester, Massachusetts, for example, which remained unbuilt, proposed an “orange peel” collector that splayed the solar collection unit across an arc on the roof, and indicated some of the formal varieties of solar collection units that became available later in the decade. Monell also proposed to store the heated water in numerous smaller tanks according to the heating needs of different rooms.”- Barber
2017 – Several round up posts on GMG- search library new building or recent re-post with links
2005 – architectural plans Neshamkin, French Expansion Project – with preliminary suggestions to extend Monell’s architecture out back. There are several ways to approach the addition inspired by Monell* and Saunders. Monell’s handling of the two older structures, front entrance and addition are important examples of his ouevre, not solely the “facade”, a dismissive term negating his work. At this time another generation of the Matz family was interested in assisting with this work. The beloved Matz Gallery is a hallmark of the current design.
2005 – outstanding Finch & Rose Saunders House Preservation report here
2002 – links to Monell obituary, Gloucester Daily Time, Bowdoin, Boston Globe
2001 – architectural plans Finegold, Alexander Expansion Project (here)
1972 – architectural plans Monell (I posted on GMG here) scroll to end of post
1972 – architectural drawing Monell related to plans for Grant Circle Cape Ann Museum expansion, deferred till 2019 (see above)
Matz Gallery example- Mary Rhinelander McCarl solo exhibition
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ON Tuesday March 26, 2019 Library Trustees meeting from 5:30-7:30PM
ON Wednesday March 27, 2019 there is a Library (new) Building Committee meeting from 4pm – 6pm.The monthly meetings sometimes follow the traditional schedule of meeting on the last Wednesday of each month at 4:00 pm, and sometimes they have been/will be combined with Trustee meetings, etc. Do confirm ahead: 01/30/2019, 02/27/2019 02/26/2019, 03/27/2019, 04/24/2019 LOCATION: confirm SFL location if Friend Room or one of two rooms upstairs/downstairs in Saunders. There may be other informal ad hoc meetings.
Note schedule change – architect presentation with new building committee and library trustees is Tuesday February 26.
ON Monday February 25, 2019 Saunders House Stewardship Committee, 10:30AM-noon
ON Tuesday February 26, 2019 there is a Library (new) Building Committee meeting 5:30 PM sharp – 7:30 PM. Please note schedule change, again. The monthly meetings announced were said to follow the traditional schedule of meeting on the last Wednesday of each month at 4:00 pm, but that has not happened as meetings have been combined with Trustee meetings, etc. Do confirm ahead: 01/30/2019, 02/27/2019 02/26/2019, 03/27/2019, 04/24/2019 LOCATION: confirm SFL location if Friend Room or one of two rooms upstairs/downstairs in Saunders. There may be other informal ad hoc meetings.
ON Wednesday February 27, 2019 the fundraising committee for the new building may be meeting but I’m fairly certain it’s not at 4-5am– just a little typo on the events calendar. Maybe it’s 4-5pm
Besides the architectural firm, library staff, and library Trustees (including those serving on the New Building committee and the Saunders House committee) there were just a handful of people present for the January 30, 2019 Sawyer Free Public Library new building presentation. There will be monthly Building Committee (“BC”) progress meetings as follows: 2/27, 3/27, and 4/24.
The architect stated that the current building was horrible and doing nothing for us, that the new building would improve the look, mediate between old and new, and most importantly provide a strong presence on Dale Avenue. Indeed, The driving goal stated by the Trustees and building committee is to make a statement building that claims a greater presence on Dale Avenue.
I feel that Sawyer’s impact via Saunders and from Dale Avenue (and the back) are elegant. Do we need another City Hall? The library already has a strong individual design identity and at different scales. There’s a possibility for enhancement, but I’m less confident with examples presented by this team. They continue to describe the library in negative terms. They did not consider honoring or determining the delirious, exceptional qualities of this library’s already enviable assets, civic center balance, and Gloucester.
New building projected to cost 30 million + and is All staircase / books begone
Preliminary plans Option 3 and Option 4 were touted. Unlike prior reveals, these plans do include and illustrate the cherished historic Saunders House, the beloved Rando Memorial Garden (described as “the random garden could be preserved”), and a setback from the street (Dale Avenue). One allowed preservation of the north side space that’s there and sensitively sited by Monell.
However, the new options continue to put forth a three story building dominated by an unwieldy progressive or processional staircase (“usable bleacher seating”) and the children’s services on the top floor with an “occupiable terrace”– an absurd design flaw roundly dismissed by patrons, corporators and experts since first iterations were presented late 2016. Since they’ve been working on this for years, and options 3 & 4 are only slightly different than what was initially proposed (the “components” were shifted but still there) why aren’t all the plans readied? The earlier plans* had the progressive staircase along the South side of the Monell building. *see below
The efficient Monell building can welcome and disperse 150+ guests for a lecture or presentation on its main floor without any elevator crush. Just as with homes, aged or injured appreciate that the main floor embraces a one level plan. The current entrance steps are few. Existing accessibility options are sufficient for any population. Similarly, bustling children’s services programming — like caregiver laptime– have multiple access options. There is never any stroller traffic jam at the elevator or entrances. We used to line up our strollers outside. As a mother of twins, access to the outdoors (North side and Dale) was a most welcome part of programs and sometimes necessary for “family time” (e.g. swift exit for overtired bawling!) Navigating a rooftop green space terrace and a purposeless overgenerous statement staircase with toddlers and a double stroller would have been my idea of a nightmare. I’m not sure patrons or staff would be excited to bring a group of toddlers on a roof or staircase for serious running around & playtime, but that’s not a problem on the ground floor. Prior to 2014 a couple of Trustees had spoken with me about a climbable public sculpture commission to enhance that outdoor space. It’s funny to hear it being described as dispensable.
Also confounding was the idea behind a glassed in children’s extra room: it would afford adults choices for seating or reading outside the space with the option of observing their charges signed up for some children’s programming. I found that a)creepy because it also underscores welcoming observation by anyone and b)depressing as it misses the point entirely of literacy and building community. I sought library programming to experience with my children and friends and foster connections. (I suppose it could be some type of babysitting amenity??)
Prudence Fish reflects on the meeting
I wondered what others felt about the meeting. Prudence Fish writes:
“The meeting of the building committee last week concentrating on a rebuild plan for the Monell building initially gave the audience a certain amount of confidence and relief that a decision had been made to proceed with a plan that would retain the Monell building and bring it into the 21 century. Our bubble burst when the committee was asked if this meant demolition was off the table and were told that nothing was off the table.
This process has gone on for over two years. It will still be years before they break ground and even more years before a ribbon cutting. This process has become a painful never ending ordeal. Throughout this time the projected costs have escalated. The money spent on plans with no immediate end in sight is increasingly extravagant. It goes without saying that the building should be as green as is possible. However, this is in a local historic district and is also in a National Register District. It is unlikely that the National Trust for Historic Preservation would ever approve or endorse the demolition of an existing 40 year old building in order to build a net zero or green building replacement.
It’s time to cut to the chase and move things along with common sense and a plan that is affordable and meets our needs within the walls of the Monell building.” – Prudence Fish reflecting on the January 30, 2019 meeting
Some Q & A from 1/30/19
*I think the consultants should transcribe the meetings and collect & consolidate prior feedback so as to avoid misstating comments such as no knowledge of the community’s green concerns or that the north side from their understanding is not used. The library Trustees can provide accessible links on the website and print outs for the meetings.
Question– Are nimble renovations, major adaptive reuse, or tear down more green? Is keeping the building the same size more green? Of plan options 3 & 4 which is more green? How about leaving the building pretty much the same? Why is there so much emphasis on more windows if green goals are desired? How can you talk about net zero when you demolish one building to build another? In the effort to meet programmable needs can sustainability needs be met?
Answer- According to the presenters, because the architectural firm is now realizing just how important green building is to the community, they encourage us to join the building committee for a public meeting Tuesday February 5, 2019 to delve into these questions. The architectural firm announced that it had not realized just how concerned Gloucester was with green builds and as such brought on a consulting expert to join their team. Emphasis on green design was a huge concern two years ago during every public meeting. There will be a meeting about the new building and green design Tuesday February 5, 2019. 5:30PM
Question-Does plan 3 have more parking? Can a parking lot be added to the North side? (“North” side is the space between Central Grammar and the library. The few people present said please preserve this green space corridor which is consistent public feedback.) How does designing for more cars line up with green concerns?
Answer – Maybe. “We need to study everything further; The plans are very preliminary.” (Three guests expressed preserving the North side green space.)
Question:What is the size of the new plan?
Answer- 26,000 to 27,000 but again these plans are preliminary. They believe the plans are within what’s allowable, but “no matter municipal amendments overrides zoning.” *known as Municipal Dover amendments
Question:Do the plans require more staff? Do the plans require more janitors?
Answer: staffing will likely be the same operationally. A new building will cost less to run and may require less staff by design. (Wait– more staff has been requested and is there proof to support those claims. More building can cost more…)
Question-Does presentation of plans 3&4 mean that tearing down Monell is off the table?
Answer. No. This process will take 3 or 4 more years and we’ll work with the architectural firm through each option in detail. Furthermore the building committee and architects stressed that a renovation would most likely be more money so the options presented tonight may be a moot point. Approaches of adaptive reuse (like options 3 & 4 presented at this meeting) “may be significantly more money!”
Question- where are deliveries, storage, trash and behind the scenes work accounted for in the plans? (I’d add where are archives, digitization crowd source options, etc).
Answer – the plans aren’t granular at this stage.
Question-Is the feasibility study due in May or June?What exactly are we fundraising for if the plans aren’t decided? What will be the demonstration for donors?
Answer- We do have to begin fundraising. (A fundraising firm has been contracted.) The building is estimated to cost more than 30 million based on the timeline.
Where has the art gone? Can we bring the art back?
How will Saunders House be integrated and featured?
Are there any women on the new building committee? Do any of the members have children under 18 years of age? under 14 years of age? Have any of them had experience with managing an architectural build of this scale, one that’s open to the public and boasts enviable assets including historical properties, archives and collections, green space, and specific security concerns?
Where has the emphasis on books and literacy gone? Have the Trustees, committees and architects seen Once Upon a Contest selections from Cape Ann Reads initiative? Cape Ann Reads was co-founded by Library Director Deborah Kelsey. It’s my understanding that the trustees are driving this new build.
The most frequented and photographed library spaces at the Boston Public Library and New York Public Library continue to be the classic reading rooms. Retired New England patriots player and new children’s book author and program developer Martellus Bennett was inspired by the classic wrap around library as depicted in Beauty in the Beast, and Harry Potter fans of all ages admire its enviable repository environs. Is there something to learn from the Cape Ann Museum proposal for a new building targeting one year and under 5 million? Can a design competition be opened up, requiring build out completion in less than two years and under 5 million? Can immediate expansion and attention to bathrooms, renovation and expansion of children’s services, new staff hires, and maximizing lovely Saunders happen ASAP? What are the possibilities for any beneath ground (or beneath parking lot) solutions or connections as with the underground walkway between the National Gallery buildings?
You can peruse the library new building plan options offered on the architect’s website (when the staircase was on the south side). The architect is keen on pillow seating options on a wide staircase (dated High Line-esque without any presentation spot or view).
Since 2013 How much money has been spent
on the Saunders House
on the main building
on the new building pursuit
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ON Monday Jan 28 there is Saunders House Committee meeting 10:30 AM – 12:00 PM LOCATION: Byers/Davidson Room according to the library’s calendar. Additionally, The Saunders House Stewardship Committee, meets at 10:30 am on the third Monday of every month; confirm locations on the day. January 2019 was moved to January 14th because it would have fallen on Martin Luther King day.
ON Wed Jan 30 there is Library (new) Building Committee meeting 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM Then monthly: 01/30/2019, 02/27/2019, 03/27/2019, 04/24/2019 LOCATION: confirm if Friend Room or one of two rooms upstairs/downstairs in Saunders. There may be other informal ad hoc meetings–there was one scheduled at Dore & Whittier in December.
For your review – summary and scenes from the November 15, 2018 public meeting and recent headlines:
photo caption: Central Grammar apartments (left), City Hall (back), Sawyer Free library (right)
Approximately fifty attendees –including the library board and staff plus eight consultants from the firm, Dore & Whittier Project Management and Architecture— convened on the main floor of Gloucester Lyceum & Sawyer Free Public Library on November 15, 2018. Individuals from the Historical commission, Action Inc, Saunders House, Gloucester Green, a local middle school teacher, a Varian employee, library members and 3 teenagers were present.
I believe the light attendance was due to a feeling of repetition. The public meeting was billed as an opportunity to provide feedback to the library yet again. It turns out that the gathering was a required step in the next phase of the library building plans and as such was presented to be starting from square one. No matter how one tries to paint it, it’s not square one. “This is just a necessary step,” the consultants explained. “”It doesn’t matter.”
Since 2013, the library has facilitated and hired consultants to help with public forums related to the building and future plans. (Public and committee meetings, agendas, minutes, and strategic planning are requirements for grants and funding, not to mention big pursuits like new buildings or restoration). It is disconcerting that years of prior and extensive staff and public feedback are not aggregated and readied by the library board nor contracted consultants–especially as several in attendance were present at the January 11, 2017 meeting attended by 150+ that sent the building plans back to the drawing board.
That contentious January 2017 meeting was preceded by the corporators* meeting two weeks prior where feedback recommended recording and sharing public comments for transparency and efficiency and many of the same concerns were expressed.
*I am a library corporator and can attest that project updates have not been shared (albeit annual meetings) Corporators are a devoted library audience and might help.
In between the timing of that big 2017 meeting and this small 2018 one, the library pursued forums via ThinkGloucester facilitated by Gloucester Conversations for its strategic planning. At those forums, the library indicated that results would be shared in the fall of 2018. I was not the only one expecting those results linked on the homepage and printed out for the November 15th meeting. They weren’t. Following the meeting, a board member kindly shared the findings: Sawyer Free Library thinkGloucester Project Report_final 2018
State funding support for library buildings is guided by the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners ( MBLC). In part because of the state’s toolkit funding process, the November 2018 meeting became a fresh start and first step, Phase 1. I was told that the architects and designers needed to hear feedback “first hand” which is reasonable until you establish that yes in fact most of them had been at that most well attended public meeting to date mentioned above (2017), and have been engaged by the library and worked with the library committees for years. Although that money is disassociated as part of the MBLC toolkit next phase, each purchase order (PO) for marketing/public relations (PR) and phases towards new building plans can affect the library’s bottom line, and take years. When I find them, I will link to the library’s letter of intent, a list of costs for consulting to date (phases or not), building related work, marketing completed since 2013, and for the fine art removed.
In 2013 top concerns included new bathrooms, more staff, the Saunders building, art & archives, and the HVAC systems. Here we are six years later: I can say there has been no change in the bathrooms. The library needs more staff. Voices to preserve the John and Dorothy Rando memorial garden have arisen. The teenagers at the November meeting hoped for new lighting. Perhaps that’s an easy renovation. After six years, the library may have saved some money and developed outreach by conducting a local design competition, fixing the bathroom, and hiring staff. We may have move forward together to MBLC instead of what feels like a never ending “stage one”.
MBLC supports new builds that adhere to a best practice formula and adjusts as no two libraries or communities are exactly the same. For instance, specific additional square footage from a current footprint, varied “programmable” spaces, adequate parking and public input are guidelines. I would suggest that money be spent on clerks/recorders for the public meetings and the library should insist on that from their consultants (whether Dore &Whittier or not). I would hope that new input at every stage continues to be updated and evaluated. Why is the focus on “green” LEED not parsing the MBLC parking spaces requirements? The Boston Public Library did away with them–we should expect no less. Some rural or smaller communities may need larger library builds and new visions to create a statement cultural public gathering spot where there hasn’t been one. (Although I think that’s unlikely in MA.) Our extant library has a variety of gathering spaces. And Gloucester is blessed with an abundance of large, special public spaces that work in concert with the library. City Hall, Cape Ann Museum, Temple Ahavat Achim, the YMCA, and the Gloucester Meetinghouse UU Church are essentially library abutters and can pack hundreds. The Legion, Rose Baker Senior Center and Maritime Gloucester are short blocks away. The library can move events to off-site locations when and if it’s mutually rewarding. Mostly it does OK in house. Gloucester’s population hovers 30,000 which is the same as it was at the time of the last expansion. Does our population require more space? According to sources in the paper and the meeting, the building plans remain many years out. The Massachusetts funding model has decreased and according to the MBLC press release issued Nov 2018, “The longer a community goes without being able to start its project, the higher the construction costs will be.” At what point do the costs outweigh options like renting if building lifespans are warrantied to a few decades expectancy? If the process requires construction this costly, perhaps the state can reimburse communities more money, quicker, and/or develop other models?
The current website does not have a “button” or menu selection for new building plans. You can select from the calendar to see some of the meetings announced. You can select About to explore more about the board committees and some minutes and agendas. Some meetings are linked into the City of Gloucester calendar, too.