Source Material | Newberry

Source Material

Newberry Librarian Stanley Pargellis in the stacks, ca. 1959.

Newberry Librarian Stanley Pargellis in the stacks, ca. 1959.

The official Newberry blog exploring the library’s collection and the kernels of mind-blowing knowledge that our users and staff pull from it.

The Time the Newberry’s Exterior Needed an Epic Cleaning

The website knowyourmeme.com defines “glow up” as “a term for gaining confidence, appearance, and style from one time period to another.” In 1998, the Newberry underwent a makeover not so much to gain style but to re-gain it. Either way, we’d certainly call it a glow up.

The Newberry, early 1980s

The Newberry building appears darkened by a thick layer of soot.

The Newberry, early 1980s

For decades, the entire Newberry exterior had been coated in a thick layer of soot.

Earlier in the 20th century, pollution from a nearby coal-fired power plant stained the library’s granite façade—originally a light pink/salmon—beyond recognition. Photographs from as early as 1943 show the Newberry looming ominously over Washington Square Park, resembling a sinister landmark of Gotham City more than a welcoming cultural center of Chicago.

As the years went by, memory of the Newberry’s original hue faded; peopled regarded the coal-darkened exterior as just another part of the architecture.

NL Archives, Building being cleaned 1998-04_o2 (1).jpg

Four people stand on a sidewalk in front of the Newberry. A cherry-picker crane extends out from the left.

Newberry President and Librarian Charles Cullen (left) and Newberry Trustee Charles Haffner (second from left) watch as someone in a cherry-picker power-washes the library.

But Newberry staff and trustees knew that something had to be done. With a generous gift from Trustee Charles Haffner, the Newberry’s exterior was cleaned, thus restoring the building to the architectural glory we all appreciate today.

In the Newberry’s annual report from 1998, President and Librarian Charles Cullen noted the significance of the cleaning: “The exterior cleaning of our magnificent building is fittingly symbolic of our achievements and of the promise they hold for us at this important time in our history.”