TEENAGER KIM TURNER was an anxious tour guide the day the modern $4.5 million downtown Seattle library opened in 1960. It featured sparse lines, the spartan plastic furniture of today's retro shops, and the carefree country's first library escalator. The spindly bookshelves were for looks. When you ordered something to read, the material was hoisted up a basement dumbwaiter.
Turner, now 58, attended the same building's closing events last Friday, having just celebrated his 40th anniversary as an employee of the History and Tech Services departments. He swapped stories, shook hands, and checked out historical displays. "Here's the library when it opened," said spokesperson Andra Addison as Turner viewed a black-and-white video of the '60s interiors. "These people are seated in the smoking area."
At 6:10 p.m. that evening—after Seattle law-firm worker Andre Duval, 40, became the last customer to check out a book, the sci-fi thriller The Big Eye—the doors were locked and Turner joined fellow workers for a barbecue on the fifth-floor loading deck. This week he and 75 others will begin moving 550,000 of the library's 900,000 volumes to a temporary library and the remainder to storage. They'll cart away 17,460 shelves, 300 computers, and thousands of chairs, tables, work stations, and file cabinets while loading and unloading 30,000 boxes.
For the first time in decades, a city renowned for its bookworms will have no downtown library. "It's only a few weeks," says an old-timer named Rascal. "I can read at my doctor's office."
Third in line behind City Hall and the County Administration building as an example of soul-deadening government architecture, the reliable old library will be turned to dust in August. A temporary library, housed in a 130,000-square-foot space in the state Convention Center (the eventual home of the Museum of History and Industry), opens July 7.
The temporary move from Fourth to Eighth Street costs $10 million. In late 2003 they'll do it again, backward. Awaiting them will be the hyperbolic Rem Koolhaas-designed $159 million glass library and fun house (alas, without the once-planned slide into the children's books area). The spiraling 355,000-square-foot four-story design will contain a half million more volumes than the current library. Planners promise a daring, artful, clean, well-lighted place.
Reprising his duties of 41 years ago, Turner says he'll be a proud tour guide on the next opening day, too. "This is the last free university," he says. "This is your access to the world."
People's memories of the old library were jotted down by staff members: One woman's "highlights" included having a seizure on the second floor and riding out an earthquake on the first, and an earnest deadbeat confessed to owing a $60 book fine.
What Turner remembered best was—surprise!--Opening Day, March 26, 1960. "Democrats were in the White House," he wrote, "and a library with an escalator? Wow!"
Rick Anderson email@example.com