Description of Historic Place
The Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Library is located at 305 Queens Avenue, on the south side of Queens Avenue, between Wellington Street to the west and Waterloo Street to the east, in the downtown area, of the City of London. The two-storey limestone library was constructed between 1939 and 1940 with a large addition added in 1967.
The property was designated, by the City of London, in 2001, for its historic or architectural value or interest, under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act (By-law L.S.P.-3324-44).
The Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Library is one of only three Queenston limestone buildings in the City of London. Queenston limestone is an uncommon construction material for London. The architectural styling and use of Queenston limestone make the Memorial Library, together with the Dominion Public Building and the Bell Canada building, a unique part of the built form of the City's downtown core.
The Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Library was the fourth library building that was constructed in the City of London, replacing the neighbouring main library. It was built between 1939 and 1940 using funds left by Elsie Perrin Williams, a prominent Londoner, who also willed the Elsie Perrin Williams Estate to the city. Engraved between the top decorative bands of the library façade are the words, “London Public Library Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Art Gallery and Museum”. The Memorial Library is unique in that it was designed not only as a library in the traditional sense, of providing access to books, but also to provide extensive educational opportunities for its citizens, especially youth. It incorporated an auditorium and an art gallery and featured a children's library with a Club Room, as well as an outdoor reading garden.
The Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Library is one of London's few examples of Art Deco architecture. It was designed by London architects Thornton McBride and L. Gordon Bridgman, in consultation with Richard Crouch, the Chief Librarian. The Queenston limestone building reflects the Greek ideal of freedom gained through rational thought. The unique form of the Memorial Library is austerely classical in which beauty, dignity and simplicity are combined.
Typical of the Art Deco style, combined with the Greek influence, the Memorial Library features a projecting front door frame, decorated with carved Greek designs and a mask of Socrates over the door. The double doors are surmounted by a large transom, which doubles the height of the doors. Also of note are the exterior window spandrels, made from black Virginia serpentine marble, which are separated by fluted stone pilasters.
The Memorial Library was viewed as “a definite and successful contribution to the library architecture” by the American Library Association, in 1942, and further stating that “this clean-cut, inviting building…is one of the finest examples of what a modern public library should look like”.
Sources: City of London, By-law L.S.P.-3324-44; London Free Press, Library to be rezoned for highrise, Joe Belanger, January 30, 2006.
Character defining elements that contribute to the historic value of the Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Library include its:
- date stone, on which is engraved 1939, located on the west end of the façade
- engraving on façade between two top decorative bands, on which is inscribed, “London Public Library Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial Art Gallery and Museum”
- Queenston limestone construction
- symmetry and balance of features and proportions as reflected in the design
- projecting front door frame decorated with carved Greek designs
- Socrates mask above the front door
- double entrance doors, heightened by a large light transom
- large terrace in front of a projecting frame, flanked by stone parapets decorated on the front faces with carved allegorical designs
- exterior window spandrels made from black Virginia serpentine marble, separated by fluted stone pilasters
- foyer wall finish described as “jaune amber French marble”
- patterned terrazzo foyer floor
- stairway leading up and down from the foyer
- two original light fixtures hanging in the foyer and vestibule
- wooden doors between foyer and the central hall
- flanked by ribbed pilasters openings off the central hall
- clock over the front door