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MPL Branch History: Washington Park

By Paul Wellington on Feb 1, 2022 12:00 AM

The first Milwaukee Public Library branch to serve the Washington Park neighborhood opened in 1911, located at the pre-1930 address of 3414 W. Lisbon Ave. In less than a decade, the Lisbon Branch became the city’s fifth-largest library. By 1921 the library had no choice but to relocate, moving its collection to the second story of the newly opened Parkway Theatre building (3427A W. Lisbon Ave.).

The new space accommodated more materials for increased circulation, as well as a dedicated section for children's story times.

By the 1950s the library’s popularity prompted the need for a dedicated facility. The firm of Grassold & Johnson was awarded a contract to design a standalone branch, which would become the city’s first built library in 38 years. As the location predated the city’s ten-year library redevelopment plan of the 1960s, its design became standard for future libraries.

 

Dedicated in 1953, the new Frederick N. Finney Library (named after a former railroad executive and construction engineer) was a one-story, low-profile building, designed to fit seamlessly into the Washington Park neighborhood. Located at 4243 W. North Ave. at a cost of $225,000, Finney Library was deemed by the Milwaukee Journal to be “one of the most modern library branches in the country.” Featuring ribbon windows and exterior display cases, passersby were afforded a glimpse of the building’s 20,000 books. The library was designed to include space for adults, children, and teens, and featured a 110-person meeting room, which could be divided to create small meeting rooms. An exterior courtyard in the back welcomed visitors to a “reading garden,” and provided a relaxing atmosphere away from the library’s intersection.

As with most library facilities built in the 1950s and 1960s, Finney Library became outdated and was in need of significant upgrades. In 2003, the new Washington Park Library opened on a vacant patch of land across from Washington Park, which housed the Boulevard Inn before it burned in 1993. The site is at the crossroads of the bustling Sherman and Lisbon intersection and enjoys a commanding presence. Architect Joy Peot-Shields and HGA designed a 20,000 square foot, two-story building to emphasize the corner’s importance, which was MPL’s first two-story standalone branch. At a cost of $4.2 million, the library perfectly frames the Frederick William von Steuben statue in the boulevard and creates a gateway to Washington Park and surrounding neighborhoods.

The library is composed of brick, block, and glass, and allows an abundance of natural light into the space. Its sweeping roof covers a partial second-story space, composed of the Finney community room and staff areas. The main floors house material collections, study rooms, a computer lab, and additional staff spaces. Located in the atrium is the “Megaphor” - a sculpture of blown-glass balls, created by artist Steve Feren. The sculpture is a nod to a megaphone, which emphasizes how libraries amplify information. While Washington Park Library’s contemporary design has stood firm for nearly twenty years, it was the last branch library constructed before mixed-use buildings became standard in the 2010s.



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