Hill History: Parker Hill Library has ‘church-like’ feel

February 7, 2014
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The Parker Hill Branch of the Boston Public Library (BPL) is housed in a historic building that gives off a vibe similar to its neighbor, the Mission Church.

Parker Hill refers to the name of the hill that most of the Mission Hill neighborhood sits on. People began calling the neighborhood Mission Hill in the 20th century, associating the area with Mission Church, according to a spokesperson for the Friends of Historic Mission Hill.

“I enjoy the church-like feel of the building,” said Parker Hill Branch librarian Rebecca Manos, who noted that many other people have remarked the same sentiment about the library building located at 1497 Tremont St.

She said there is always an abundance of sunshine inside because of the numerous windows and that she likes the building’s high ceiling, which gives it an open feeling. The building does not have floor to ceiling walls, but rather wooden partitions with glass windows that allows visitors to look across the entire building.

When the Gazette visited the building, this reporter felt he had been transported in a time machine, as an aura of history struck him. Old, sturdy oak tables—Manos said they are from the opening of the building—were lined around the building and the large, open interior gave off the ambience of entering a statehouse or courtroom.

The Gazette saw a small group had gathered. They were listening to Indian music and eating Indian food, while other people were reading books in other areas of the library.

Manos said the Parker Hill Branch began in 1907 as a small reading room at a storefront at 1518 Tremont St. It became an official BPL branch in 1924 and moved to its present location at 1497 Tremont St. when Mayor James Michael Curley opened the building in 1931.

The 10,200-square-foot, two-story Gothic building was designed by the famed architect Ralph Adams Cram, according to Manos. She said Cram was heralded as Boston foremost architect and appeared on the cover of Time magazine. She said Cram designed many buildings and churches in the city, including All Saints’ Church in Dorchester and the John W. McCormack U.S. Post Office and Courthouse downtown.

Manos said the outside of the building has “lovely details,” including a carved seal of the Boston Public Library above the front door. Carved seals of Massachusetts and the city of Boston are on the sides of the building.

She also said that artwork of African masks done by Jessica Finch were installed in 2003 in the children’s room and a garden was planted in front of the building in 2007. The garden was named in memory of Dolly DeSimone, who was the children’s librarian at the Parker Hill Branch for 20 years.

Manos said that the library was closed for a year in 2005 to undergo a renovation, including installing a ramp and elevator, to make the building handicap accessible. A few years before that, the Friends of Historic Mission Hill filed a petition with the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) to landmark the building, according to a spokesperson for the group.

The BLC voted unanimously to accept the petition, which is still pending. The spokesperson for the Friends of Historic Mission Hill said the petition will remain pending unless an economic or other factor regarding the building arises. But with the petition pending, the BLC has to review any changes to the building’s exterior, as was the case for the aforementioned renovation.

The Parker Hill Branch of the Boston Public Library earlier this week. (Gazette Photo by Peter Shanley)

The Parker Hill Branch of the Boston Public Library earlier this week. (Gazette Photo by Peter Shanley)

The Parker Hill Branch of the Boston Public Library in 1939. (Photo Courtesy Boston Public Library)

The Parker Hill Branch of the Boston Public Library in 1939. (Photo Courtesy Boston Public Library)

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