Letter: Preserve Original Library Building and Donor-Supported ‘Salant Room’

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Editor, New Canaanite

The modernist design for the new library is impressive, but can we not save the core of the original 1913 library in the interest of preserving one of New Canaan’s iconic historic buildings?  New Canaan Library Executive Director Lisa Oldham has stated that it is simply too expensive to restore the 1913 building, and that the library has no use for it. Honestly, 1913 is really not that old. Most of the buildings on Main Street pre-date 1900. Waveny Mansion was built in 1912. Bringing old buildings up to code and into the “modern age” is done every day across America to preserve community character.

Demolition of the 1913 library will destroy the Richard Salant Reading Room. New Canaan resident Richard S. Salant was the president of CBS news for many years. The plaque at the entrance to this room, dedicated in 1994, reads like a Who’s Who of broadcast journalism. Donors include Charles Kuralt, Walter Cronkite, Roger Mudd, Charles Osgood, Morley Safer, Lesley Stahl, Mike Wallace and Brian Williams. Is the library board okay with grinding their generosity to dust after less than 30 years?  Have they consulted with the broadcast donors and/or their estates? Are the Salant family and the other New Canaan families who contributed okay with the Salant Room’s destruction?  Would they like to see it preserved?

I hope that New Canaanites will rally to support saving the 1913 library as a standalone building on its present site. The Salant Room can be maintained and honor its mission and the many prominent donors who made it possible. The current art gallery space could be used as the headquarters for the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce and the organization recently formed to promote New Canaan tourism. Perhaps the Glass House could also office there. It is not that difficult to install utilities in the basement, and there is plenty of room for new bathrooms. ADA access is possible from the level back side that will face the new library. The iconic column and stone façade of the 1913 library will be saved.

A green space will be created around the 1913 building when the post 1913 library additions are demolished. The town must insist that in return for its capital contribution of $5 million to $10 million dollars toward the new construction, that the library create a deed restriction that will preserve the green space in perpetuity for the enjoyment of the citizens of New Canaan.

Yours sincerely,

Skip Hobbs

9 thoughts on “Letter: Preserve Original Library Building and Donor-Supported ‘Salant Room’

  1. I agree with Skip Hobbs. Let’s at least hear the facts, see the plans for the 1913 building. The library project will be moving forward as quickly as ever, but rather than spending taxpayer funds (my understanding is that at least 66-70% of the library’s operating funds have come from taxpayers) to tear down a lovely existing building with dry, intact foundation and walls, let’s hear what plans are for it. Come to Town Hall tomorrow night Wednesday Feb 26, 7pm and follow @friendsofour1913library on Facebook and Instagram.

  2. Mr. Hobbs is right that the 1913 part of the Library is “not that old.” It’s not the Parthenon; it’s just an old building that was built in a style that was popular in the early 20th Century. It was supposed to LOOK like it had been there for centuries. It looks like a thousand banks built around the same time that were designed to make people feel secure about where they put there money; but it’s just a style. It does not warrant veneration. And his incendiary language about grinding the Salant Room into the dust is nonsense. I’m sure they can put the Salant plaque into a new space to preserve the memories of TV news broadcasters who people of a certain age remember fondly. The Library Board has considered, for a LONG TIME, all of the issues raised by the opponents, and they have come up with a spectacular plan for the future. Embrace it!

    • I’ve been a card-carrying New Canaan Library user since 1965. For decades, the library used an image of its 1913 portico as its iconic branding — on library cards, on tote bags, on its own website, and on fundrasing appeals. Yes, it was a building of its time, and it actually HAS been “venerated” by New Canaanites for over 100 years. I’m not sure why its style should suddenly be denigrated now as somehow inauthentic — while the current library president is touting the new plan as “an iconic mid-century glass and stone building.” Mid-century means mid-20th century, not mid-21st. I like the new plan, but I do not like the way the library is so quick to dismiss all residents and taxpayers who would like to preserve the 1913 core as “nostalgic” “opponents” who are “hijacking” the transition to something different. You don’t have to destroy the village in order to save it.

      • The proposed multi-storied (?) glass wall on South Ave., will, I’m sure, become as iconic as the Stamford towers that are quickly being torn down.

  3. You’re right Mr. Bilus, the 1913 Greek Revival library is not the Parthenon, but it is ours. And it seems to mean quite a lot to New Canaanites as it was prominently included in our Plan of Conservation and Development, approved just 4 years ago, “… to illustrate the types of things people feel contribute to the overall character of New Canaan.”
    There is an agreement that a new, free-standing library is in order. But keeping our 1913 library building as a free-standing building is an option as well.
    You can check out the relevant pages of the Plan of Conservation and Development here: https://newcanaanpreservationalliance.org/1282-2/

  4. Once again the opinion of Skip Hobbs and those of the Michael, Scott and Ian Hobbs families are opposed. One need only look at the juxtaposition of the last addition on to the original structure to see how inappropriate it would be to repeat that architecturally unfortunate choice. The original building has had its day. If someone has a plan to move it off site and repurpose it at their expense I believe many people in town would approve. To let it compromise the proposed design, which it clearly would, would be both an economic and architectural mistake.

    Mike Hobbs

  5. If the last addition to the Library has been criticized as inappropriate and dysfunctional, perhaps it was because it suffered the passions of the moment and a rush to judgement. We have need for an expanded and updated multi-functional library, and we have a need to preserve the ‘image’ of our village. Let’s take our time and learn to grow and preserve together.

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