The Library and Research Center Is 25!
By the mid-1980s every available nook and cranny of the Jefferson Memorial Building (JMB) was occupied with some manner of collections storage, gallery, or office space. It was clear to the Missouri History Museum’s leadership that if the institution intended to keep acquiring artifacts for its collections that the only alternatives were to build an addition or find another location.
Relief appeared in the form of a building both adequate for expansion and exceptional in its history and beauty. The United Hebrew Congregation temple at 225 S. Skinker, just a short mile from the Museum, was being vacated by the congregation. They too were looking for a new space, and their former home seemed a perfect fit for the Museum’s needs. In the fall of 1989 the History Museum Subdistrict of the Metropolitan Zoological Park and Museum District (ZMD) finalized negotiations with the United Hebrew Congregation’s representatives to take possession of the building
With a groundbreaking on September 27, 1989, an ambitious renovation project began to repurpose the 63-year-old building. The interior of the temple was completely remodeled and renovated to include library and archives stacks, office spaces, and a multipurpose room. The Sunday school located on the property was replaced by a new annex building designed to hold the Museum’s objects collections plus a conservation lab. The whole project expanded the institution’s collections storage space from a tightly packed 13,000 square feet to a more comfortable 30,000 square feet—more than twice the size of what was available at the JMB.
With the completion of construction on the Museum’s new Library and Research Center (LRC) in 1991 came the second phase of the project: moving all of the collections from the JMB to the new storage rooms at the LRC. It was a tremendous challenge to move tens of thousands of books, boxes, and objects from the JMB, but it was also rewarding knowing that the collections were being moved into a modern, climate-controlled, museum-quality storage facility. Nevertheless, a number of obstacles had to be overcome—including the JMB’s lack of a freight elevator. To remedy this, cranes were brought in to move stacks of boxes and objects off the second floor via the open windows.
When the move was finished, MHM president Robert Archibald opened the LRC with a formal dedication ceremony on December 2, 1991. A total of 200 MHM members, staff, subdistrict commissioners, trustees, and dignitaries attended to mark the beginning of a new era for the Missouri History Museum as it took big steps toward employing museum best practices and joining the ranks of the country’s major historical institutions.
Today the Museum’s library and collections staff, curators, photo and media archivists, and publications team all call the LRC home. It’s an exceptional place to work where each day we’re surrounded by more than 250 years of history.
Twenty-five years have passed since the doors of the LRC opened to the public. In that time thousands of researchers, schoolchildren, and patrons have visited and learned; the fully restored domed ceiling of the Margaret Blanke Grigg Reading Room has inspired those who’ve gazed upon it; and the stacks and storerooms have once again grown tight as the collections have expanded to include many thousands of new and significant pieces of history. Yet, even after all these years, many St. Louisans—including some MHM members—are still unaware of the LRC’s existence or have never visited the building. Perhaps they’ll find the time in the next 25 years. Happy birthday, LRC!
—Christopher Gordon, Director of Library and Collections