Henry Hobson Richardson, the architect of the Howard Memorial Library (now known as the Patrick F. Taylor Library), was a native of New Orleans and one of America’s most significant architects. In 1885, one year before he died, American Architecture and Building News published a survey listing the top ten buildings in America – five of the ten selected were by Richardson. His Trinity church design ranked first.
Richardson achieved legendary stature in an era prior to the emergence of the “star” architect. He was a striking personality who made a lasting impression – fashionable, sociable, gregarious, theatrical in appearance and manner. One of Richardson architectural assistants described him as possessing a combination of Southern grace and Northern energy. And though he is associated with the cultural world of Boston and Brookline, Massachusetts, where he spent the last years of his career, Richardson retained strong ties to the culture of the South, specifically to New Orleans.
During the last decade of his life, Henry Hobson Richardson and his staff designed and built six important public libraries including the Woburn Public Library in Woburn Massachusetts; the Oliver Ames Free Library in North Easton, Massachusetts; the Crane Memorial Library in Quincy, Massachusetts; the Billings Memorial Library in Burlington, Vermont and the Converse Memorial Library in Malden, Massachusetts.
The Howard Memorial Library, the last of these projects and the only one built in the South, was commissioned as a memorial to Charles T. Howard, founder of the Louisiana State Lottery Company. The designs for the building were based upon Richardson’s original concept for the Hoyt Public Library competition in East Saginaw, Michigan, submitted in early 1886. The construction of the significantly expanded design for the Howard Library, nearly doubling the size of the Hoyt Library, was supervised after Richardson’s death, by his successor firm, Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge.
The memorial library project, advanced after Howard’s death by his daughter Anne T. Howard and his son Frank T. Howard, was described in The Library Journal in 1888.
The handsome building… was designed by the late H.H. Richardson, of Boston, a native of New Orleans. The exterior is of brown stone from the Kibbe Quarry, Massachusetts, and the room of Akron red tiles. The entrance opens into a delivery room 19 ft 8 in x 30 ft; on the right is the book room 75 x 40 ft, containing twelve alcoves… Crossing an anteroom 12 ft wide to the left of the entrance, one enters the circular reading room – 41 ft 4 in inside diameter, paneled to the height of 14 ft with quartered white oak… The contract price of the building was $98,000, without the furniture, which will raise the amount to $100,000.
Norcross Brothers, associated with many of Richardson’s major public projects, including Trinity Church, constructed the building in 1887 and 1888. It was reported to have been built upon 350 pilings, driven to a depth of 55 feet. Ongoing progress was closely monitored by New Orleans residents, and citizens learned when a librarian was hired from the Astor Library in New York and books were purchased in New York. A series of finishing exterior details began in December of 1888, when John Evans of the firm Evans and Toombs, of Boston, arrived with his workers to carve the designs in the stones of the library. One of the most intricately carved elements was the seal of the City of New Orleans, located over the entry door.
Following an invitational private ceremony on the evening of March 4, 1889, the Howard Memorial Library opened to the public the next day, on Mardi Gras Day, 1889. It opened as a reference library, with a focus on Louisiana, with a collection of 9,000 volumes. Fifty years later, as noted in New Orleans City Guide, the library collections had broadened significantly.
At present the Howard Library has approximately 86,000 books catalogued and stacked for the use of readers. An interlibrary loan system is carried on throughout Louisiana and the United States… Recently the W.P.A. has made it possible to enlarge the building to make space for large collections formerly stored in [the] basement and attic.
If the library’s fist fifty years were marked by growth and expanded public serve, the next fifty years of the building’s history was marked by a period of decline and closure to public access. Around 1939 the library’s collections were transferred to Tulane University and moved to its main campus. During the 1940s, the building was used during the war as a storages site for “Bundles for Britain”, then suffered extensive damage form a fire, before it was converted to a radio station operated by The Times Picayune. In the following decades, its Great Hall was gutted for office spaces, and its remaining woodwork and interior stonework was painted when a law firm assumed use of the structure.
In 1988, as the library 100th anniversary approached, its reversal was halted and an important period of restoration was launched when Patrick F. Taylor and Phyllis Taylor purchased the building. They commissioned the New Orleans firm of Barron and Toups to plan and supervise the library’s restoration. Inside, the Reading Room was restored, including the stripping and refinishing of all painted wooden surfaces, along with the related stripping of pain and the re-installation of the fireplace in the Reading Room. All exterior stone surfaces were restored and repaired, along with related roof and interior ceiling restoration and repair. The library was rededicated, as the Patrick F. Taylor Library, on June 21, 1989.
A second phase in the restoration of the library, and the beginning of its return to public use, began in 1994, when the Patrick F. Taylor Library and related parcels around Lee Circle were acquired from the Taylor Energy Company by the University of New Orleans Foundation to be dedicated to use as The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, University of New Orleans. This acquisition accompanied the promised donation of the prominent Roger Houston Ogden Collection of Southern Art, owned by Roger Houston Ogden of New Orleans, to the University of New Orleans Foundation for this purpose.
The firm of Barron and Toups was retained to design a complete museum complex, including the library’s remaining restoration and conversion to use as a museum structure. In 2002 and 2003, as construction of the related Stephen Goldring Hall evolved nearby, restoration advance on the Taylor Library and on the construction of its annex, the Clementine Hunter Educational Wing. On August 23, 2003, Stephen Goldring Hall, Phase One of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, was dedicated in a major public ceremony.
With the completion of the Taylor Library’s exterior and structural restoration, and the construction of the Clementine Hunter Education Wing, both in 2003, project funding was advanced by the awarding of a major Challenge Grant from the national Endowment for the Humanities, in 2004. A final Library campaign was planned and prepared to launch when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast on August 29, 2005. After surviving the initial stages of hurricane recovery and cultural rebuilding actives, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art initiated a series of preview opened of the Patrick F. Taylor Library, from March 15-19, 2007.
Currently the Library is used for various events hosted by the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, such as annual Magnolia Ball and annual O What A Night Gala!, occasional performances from the Ogden’s weekly entertainment series Ogden After Hours are hosted in the space, and the Library is available to be rented as a venue space to the public.Host Your Event at the Patrick F. Taylor Library