A Library, and So Much More

By Michael McLeod
Sir David Adjaye, in collaboration with Orlando-based HuntonBrady Architects, will design the most significant public building in Winter Park’s recent history. Among Adjaye’s most notable recent projects was the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Miss Evaline Lamson’s front porch is long gone. So is Miss Lamson. So are the eight other “well-educated, capable, energetic, and affluent” women who decided, in 1885, that Winter Park needed a library.

The front porch of Miss Lamson’s cottage on Interlachen Avenue served as the library’s first home. A year later, progress and good fortune provided another.

Owners of a fledgling company that operated a new, mule-drawn streetcar line offered a vacant room in their Park Avenue offices for the “Winter Park Circulation Library Association.”

Members only. Dues: $1 a year.

It’s not much of a journey from where Miss Lamson’s porch once stood to the future home of the community resource she helped pioneer. Just a mile west down Morse Boulevard, on the northwest corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Park, a $30 million library and events center is scheduled to open in 2020.

Though its impact will be considerably more dramatic than keeping the association’s treasured copies of Silas Marner and The Scarlet Letter out of the weather, it all began with a “shhhhh!”

Members of the Winter Park Library Facility Task Force had that familiar finger-to-lips imperative in the back of their minds three years ago, when they were charged with investigating whether or not Winter Park needed a new library.

“When we started, most of us had the idea in our heads of a library as a place where people go, ‘Shhhhh!’” says Sam Stark, the committee’s chair and the associate vice president of strategic partnerships at Rollins College.

Maybe in the 19th and the better part of the 20th centuries it was. It’s not that simple these days. In an age of insularity and information overload, a public library is a lively throwback, a stubbornly democratic town square where people of all ages, ethnicities and tax brackets still gather on an equal footing for a curated window on the world. It’s free in more than one sense of that word — with no agendas or pop-ups ads.

The current library on New England Avenue, built in 1979, was crowded and outdated. For every new book in the children’s section, another had to go. Expanding digital needs would have required taking the building down to the bones.

But this was about heart and soul as much as bricks and mortar.

Choosing to build a new library and events center — and choosing to build it on the west side — was a test of character for a place that calls itself the city of arts and culture.

In its visioning document, Winter Park vows to “build and embrace our local institutions for lifelong learning and future generations.” This project gives weight to those lofty words.

So does the project’s designer. That’s Sir David Adjaye, working in tandem with HuntonBrady Architects, a local firm.

Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world, the U.K.-based Adjaye was born in Tanzania and recently knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

He’s best known in this country for designing one of the most significant monuments in its history: The Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened last year on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The museum’s architecture begins to tell a story even before you walk inside.

From the Metro station exit on the far side of the mall, it’s a long, long walk past white marble neoclassical buildings before the museum looms into view: an angular, metallic silhouette, both magnificent and vaguely foreboding.

Shadows and light play over a decorative grillwork pattern on the building; Adjaye formulated it based on ornamental metal castings once forged by slaves.

Much of Winter Park’s mystique comes from the influence of great visual artists such as art nouveau master Louis Comfort Tiffany, sculptor Albin Polasek and architect James Gamble Rogers II. Adjaye will soon take his place on that roster.

He’s a knighted man of color who designed a place of communal enlightenment for our country. Now he’s doing the same for our city.

This world-class facility will be located in a part of town that was once segregated housing for poor black people, many of whom worked for employers across the tracks.

Perhaps Evaline Lamson was among them. Perhaps she would appreciate seeing progress and good fortune overtake her enterprise once again.

Michael McLeod is a contributing writer for Winter Park Magazine and an adjunct instructor in the English department at Rollins College.

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