Evolution of the McKim Project
A planning grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission in 1980 enabled the Trustees of the Boston Public Library to undertake an initial feasibility study for the restoration and renovation of the historic McKim Building. For this purpose, the Trustees engaged the services of Stull Associates, Inc. The Stull report - A Restoration Program for the McKim Building of the Boston Public Library and A Handbook to the Art and Architecture of the Boston Public Library - was completed and presented to the
Trustees in August 1981. The report outlined the scope of work needed primarily for
restoration of historical spaces, but did not address the extensive need for functional
renovation. The report served as a basis for the Trustees to undertake additional
feasibility analysis and to seek initial funding.
By 1983, the Trustees were successful in obtaining Mayoral and City Council approval of a
loan order under the City's capital budget to support the renovation and restoration of
the McKim Building.
Soon after this benchmark was reached, the Trustees appointed an architectural selection
committee, drawing upon the volunteer services of several noted architects,
conservationists, and engineers. The firm of Shepley
Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott was retained in 1985 to work closely with the Library's
administration, staff, and governing board in reviewing functional needs in addition to
the historical design considerations. It was recognized that the magnitude of the project
would require implementation in stages; however, it was deemed important that the
architects develop conceptual and design outlines for the entire project before phasing
was determined. Click here to view the phasing
plan. Approvals were given to total project conceptual and design work in 1987, and to
Phase I working drawings and bid specifications two years later in 1989.
Project, Phase I
Work commenced on Phase I of the project in September of 1991. This phase entailed, under
the general construction contract, the installation of new heating, ventilating, air
conditioning, electrical and telecommunication systems, and the renovation and expansion
of public service areas in the basement and first floor of the McKim building. The
renovated basement spaces now house the Government Information Department, exhibit cases,
and new public restrooms. This space was damaged during a flood
in August 1998 and is currently undergoing restoration. Renovated spaces on the first
floor will eventually provide for a tea room, a new centralized information station, and a
new lecture hall; at the present time, these spaces are serving as temporary quarters for
public service departments displaced by the flood and other
During the Phase I construction period, a first step in McKim Building fine arts
restoration work was undertaken. Based upon a condition analysis and treatment proposal,
the Center for Conservation and Technical Studies of the Harvard Art Museums completed the
restoration of the Puvis de Chavannes murals in the Venetian Lobby surrounding the grand
Under separate contract, another simultaneous project was undertaken for the restoration
of the exterior granite platform. The majority of this platform covers interior spaces
which house research materials so that a primary objective of the work was to provide the
best possible waterproofing system. To enable the work, brick pavers and monumental
granite pavers were lifted from their setting beds and the granite pavers were saw-cut to
reduce their thickness before resetting. Great care was taken in the handling and
reinstallation of the historic original granite pavers to exactly match the layout in
which they were found, and to mitigate complications due to possible accumulated setting
Phase I was officially completed in August 1996.
Project, Phase IIa
Phase IIa of the McKim project included historic restoration work which focused on Bates
Hall, the Catalogue Information Room, and the Elliot Room, with the intent of returning
these spaces as close as possible to their original appearance. Electrical and mechanical
systems were upgraded to support the public service function of these spaces, but in ways
which preserved the priority of historic restoration of the existing building fabric.
Bates Hall, named after the first great
benefactor of the Library, serves as the main reading room and is one of the most
historically significant spaces of the McKim Building. It commands the full width of
Copley Square, running 218 feet long, 42 feet wide, and 50 feet high. In addition to the
restoration of this entire space, at the north and south ends of Bates Hall, behind the
existing screens of original carved oak, new woodwork was introduced to accommodate the
requirements of public service in the departments of Social Sciences to the north, and
Humanities to the south. The new woodwork is detailed to appear discrete from, yet
sympathetic with the original, and is of commensurate materials and craftsmanship. Bates
Hall was reopened on November 3, 1997.
The Catalogue Information Room, adjacent to Bates Hall, north of the Grand Stair,
continues to serve as the primary access point to the Research Library Collection.
Completed in March 1999, the space houses the Library catalog of holdings accessed via a
network of computers that replaced the card catalog which served patrons for more than one
hundred years. The existing casework and balcony were among the primary elements restored;
new casework, service desk, and lighting were introduced.
The Elliott Room will be a public reading room. Existing woodwork, wall coverings,
and lighting were restored, and the ceiling mural, The
Triumph of Time by John Elliott, was conserved by fine art specialists.
Non-historic renovation work focused on the Northwest Corridor, the Newspaper Reading
Room, and the Microtext Room, as well as administrative office and stack areas. In all
cases, the intent is to refurbish the spaces and improve their functionality while
retaining, where possible, any unique elements of historic character.
The Northwest Corridor design attempts to provide a more clear, direct connection
between the Johnson Building and the McKim Building at both main floor levels by removing
a significant portion of the existing construction that is non-historic and dysfunctional.
The creation of a newly placed northwest stair and public hall attempts to make clear the
primary circulation paths -- both horizontal and vertical. The closely related departments
of Microtext, Newspapers, and Periodicals now serve Library users in direct proximity with
each other. Such interdepartmental adjacencies were not been feasible in the past.
The Newspaper Reading Room was rehabilitated and furnished with a combination of
new and restored furniture. Adjustments to the layout included relocating of the service
desk; replacement of large amounts of casework, furniture, and lighting to better support
departmental service needs.
The Microtext Room serves the public from a new location literally carved out of a
portion of the existing non-historic stack areas of the building directly adjacent to the
new Northwest Corridor. All aspects of this space are new, and details are reserved so as
not to compete with any of the original ornate detailing by McKim. This area was
opened for public service in January 2000.
Building Conservation Associates completed an Historic Structure Report dated
December 1998 for the landmark building designed by Charles McKim. A new master plan
for the BPL's central library was completed in September 1999 by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer
Associates. The plan included both the McKim building and the 1972 addition designed
by Philip Johnson.
Project, Phase IIb
The Phase IIb contruction restored the interior Courtyard to its original
design by McKim. In addition to landscaping, painting, restoring the fountain, cleaning
and repairing the courtyard masonry, the area was made handicapped accessible. The roof of
the McKim building was also extensively repaired. The Bacchante and Infant Faun statue by Frederick MacMonnies was reinstalled, the arcade roof was replaced, and a
promenade atop the arcade was rehabilitated. This work was completed in November 2000.
McKim Project, Phase IIc
Phase IIc renovations and restorations for the Book Delivery Room known
as the Edwin Austin Abbey Room, the old Trustees Room, the John
Singer Sargent Gallery, and the Cheverus Room began in late 2002. The firm of Shepley Bulfinch
Richardson and Abbott has been recommissioned for this phase of the
project and Lee Kennedy, Inc. is the project contractor.