The Demolition of the Most Beautiful Library in America

By | August 15, 2016

The old Public library of Cincinnati is the kind of place you only see in a Harry Potter movie -- huge cast-iron book alcoves, spiral staircases that went several stories high, and checker board marble floors. The place was truly a magnificent maze of books that is now lost forever.


In 1955, the old library was demolished to give way to a more sizeable and modern building just a few blocks down Vine Street.


Today, an office building and a parking lot stand in its place.

Below, the old Public library of Cincinnati during demolition, 1955.

The heads of William Shakespeare, John Milton and Benjamin Franklin stood guard over the main entrance at 629 Vine St. downtown Cincinnati. The building was originally intended to be an opera house and was completed in 1874, before the project went bankrupt.

The exterior of the building did not do justice to the magnitude and beauty of its interior designed by architect J.W. McLaughlin.

Built at a cost of $383,594.53 (around $7 million today) and with a capacity for holding up to 300,000 books in its collection, 629 Vine Street was considered as “the most magnificent public library in the country”. So why this building demolished?

When the demolition topic came up, there was no resistance, no protests were organised, not even a letter to the board.

Talks for a new library building had already begun 30 years earlier when the book collection had started to outgrow the building. Books were stacked out of reach, the 19th century ventilation system was already failing and the paint was peeling.

A series of legal and financial issues, post-war inflation and discussions over a new location, bought the Old Main building some time. However as the plans for the new site dragged on, the building suffered from overcrowding and neglect during its final years.






This photo was taken in the last year before the library was demolished.

The movers in progress of emptying the old library which took about 3 weeks.


In January of 1955, a new contemporary library opened at 800 Vine Street. The old building was sold to Leyman Corp for about $100,000 today, and by June that year, the magnificent library was lost forever. The three heads that once guarded the main entrance of the library were the only original features of the building that were saved and placed in the new library’s garden.

H/T Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton Country