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Bronzeville’s Art Deco public library opens after renovation

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The Chicago Bee building’s terracotta facade was repaired and a two-floor gut rehab was completed

TonyTheTiger at English Wikipedia

The Chicago Bee library branch re-opened on Tuesday after an extensive $2.32 million project funded by the Chicago Housing Authority aimed at renovating and improving library services for the landmark Bronzeville building.

The rehab included a massive overhaul of two floors of three-story building at 3647 S. State Street which added a an early learning play space, media area, and new furniture and equipment. The terracotta Art Deco exterior was refinished and the exterior storefront was replaced to match the original building.

Library services such as book clubs, educational programming, digital literacy for seniors, and job search help for adults and seniors will continue. As part of the re-opening the library will launch newer offerings such as reading and development resources for families, teachers for homework help, teen career mentors, and programs to spark interest in art, tech, gaming and music.

The building, one of nine in Bronzeville’s Historic District, became a landmark in 1996 because of its Art Deco style and history as the headquarters for the African-American newspaper, the Chicago Bee. In the 1930s an editor at the paper, James Gentry, popularized the term “Bronzeville,” which he used to describe the thriving black business and culture at the center of the South Side neighborhood.

Archival photo of the Chicago Bee building.
City of Chicago

It originally housed apartments as well as the offices of the Douglass National Bank and the Overton Hygienic Company at that time. In the mid-1990s the structure was taken on by the city and reused as a branch of the Chicago Public Library system.

“Chicago Bee is a community anchor in our community, and I am thrilled to see how these renovations will spark growth in residents across Bronzeville,” said Alderman Pat Dowell, 3rd Ward in a statement. “Over the last week, children have been peering into the window excited about the new changes the library will bring. I want to thank Mayor Emanuel, Commissioner Bannon, and CHA for working with me to invest in a facility so integral to the success of our future generations.”

The investment is part of a larger initiative from the Chicago Public Library focused on modernizing its facilities across the city, according to the mayor’s office. Since 2011 six new libraries have been built as part of this push and significant updates have been made at 14 branches totaling to a $250 million investment. By next year, the city plans to add five new libraries and renovations at four libraries will be complete.