Patrons say final farewell to St. Paul Street library Struggle to save it ends with branch shutdown

September 20, 1997|By JAMIE STIEHM | JAMIE STIEHM,SUN STAFF

Two months short of its 101st birthday, the small public library on St. Paul Street that Enoch Pratt himself saw being built was closed yesterday afternoon, to the dismay of 50 Charles Villagers adorned with black armbands who gathered to mourn the

occasion.

"Taps" was played at 5 p.m., the official closing time, although the library actually closed four hours earlier. An Emily Dickinson poem was read. A moment of silence was observed. And a few tears were shed at what some said felt like a funeral for a friend.

Yesterday's closing was tinged with bitterness after a community group's legal appeal failed to keep the library open.

On Tuesday, a Baltimore judge directed library and community representatives to find another use for the building with a "Pratt presence."

Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat, said the building might become a community learning center. "The community will have to decide," he said, "and speak with one voice." The building is owned by the city.

A meeting between library officials and community activists to discuss how the building will be used is scheduled for Oct. 8 at the Charles Village Community Benefits District office, 14 E. 25th St.

Pratt, the patron of the city's library system, died at 88 on Sept. 17, 1896, just two months before the St. Paul Street branch, known as No. 6, opened on Nov. 14, 1896. Pratt took an interest in the building of the St. Paul Street branch and in the garden in the back.

Of the first six branches built, only one -- in Canton, built in 1886 -- is still open.

"It's not a stuffy structure," said Jane Shipley, the plaintiff in the St. Paul Street lawsuit. Referring to the quaint red-brick building, she said, "It's a welcoming space. The architecture has survived."

Some were sorry they missed one last look at the library. "I came here from work to spend a little private time and sit quietly," said Karen Cook, 55. But the library was already locked up.

Sylvia Hoke, 37, said she went to the library for a reading program. "I still can't read," she said. "The libraries were helping us to read. It's not fair to us. Where am I going to go now?"

Library board Chairwoman Virginia Adams said yesterday that the library's closing was a sad result of budget cuts. "Any way the [city] funds could have been allocated differently would have saved everyone a great deal of anguish," she said.

Pub Date: 9/20/97

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