Cass Gilbert Society


Ives Memorial Library, New Haven, CT

Main façade of the Ives Memorial Library

Image ©2007 Nick Marcucci

Ives Memorial Library

Other Names:
New Haven Free Public Library
133 Elm Street, New Haven, Connecticut
Design & Construction:
1907-1911[1908-1911 Irish-1999; 1907-1911 Christen-2001]
Cass Gilbert 

The Ives Memorial Library, the main branch of the New Haven Free Public Library system, occupies a prominent corner location facing the New Haven Green. Working with New Haven civic leader George Dudley Seymour, Gilbert and Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. had developed a detailed study of the city and a plan for public buildings along the green. As part of the plan, Gilbert was commissioned in late 1907 to design a new public library on the property of the early nineteenth-century Judge William Bristol House. The library was funded by Mary E. Ives in memory of her husband. It was designed in a neo-Georgian style that echoed the character of the early nineteenth-century houses that stood along the green and was in harmony with the United (North) Church, located diagonally across the green. Gilbert wrote to library commission member George D. Watrous that he hoped his design would “express the refinement and purity of style to which its purpose, its location, and its importance entitle it.” He wanted to make the building “distinctive and monumental and at the same time . . . preserve the proportions of spirit of the fine old architecture of New Haven.” [Christen-2001 p 182 quotes from Gilbert's correspondence.]

The library building is faced with red brick accented with white marble detail that includes a raised basement, engaged pilasters and columns, a projecting modillioned cornice, and balustraded roof parapet. Tall arched window openings with multi-pane sash light the first floor. The design of the main entrance with its columns supporting a projecting pediment was inspired by the doorway from the demolished Bristol House. The entrance opens into an oval hallway with curving staircases. The murals in the lunettes of the reading room were painted by Bancel Lafarge as part of a WPA arts project.

Between 1987 and 1990 the library was restored, rehabilitated, and expanded with the addition of a wing designed by architects Hardy, Holtzman, Pfeiffer of New York.

See Also