Alden B. Dow was selected to design a new central library for the city of Ann Arbor following his success as the architect of the Midland Public Library (1953) and the library that was part of the Phoenix Civic Center (1949). The first drawings for the Ann Arbor library are dated March 21, 1956.
The general construction contract was awarded to a local firm, the Kurtz Building Company, with work to begin October 8, 1956 and be substantially completed by August 2, 1957. The amount budgeted for construction alone was $340,286. Subcontracted building trades plus furnishings, book stacks, and landscaping brought the total cost to $569,917.
The 38,400 square foot building sits at the busy downtown intersection of S. Fifth Avenue and William Street. A long covered walkway runs the length of the two-story brown brick structure. The visual impact of the exterior is enhanced by striking blue-green porcelain panels that cover the fascia above the walkway and extend its entire length. Along the top of the walkway is a planting box to create a leafy, natural contrast to the flat brick walls.
Broad windows facing the street and tall ceilings greet one upon entering the main reading room. The first floor includes a separate children’s reading room in addition to stack areas and circulation and reference desks. Floorplans for the second or mezzanine level show more book stacks, offices and staff work areas, a language speaking room, and a visual aid room. Two meeting rooms, book stacks, and a school reference room are located in the basement.
The library dedication took place on October 13, 1957. The director of the University of Michigan’s Clements Library, the dedication speaker, noted that many houses are built without a library room for quiet thought and reading, and called the new library “an extra room added to each of our houses.” Mr. Dow also attended to present the building and added that the library needed “creative care and love to bring it to completeness.”