Art & Architecture

Art & Architecture at the Central Library in Copley Square

Boston Public Library opened its first location in a former two-room schoolhouse in 1854 and relocated to its first purpose-built location in 1858 on the east end of Boylston Street. In subsequent decades, the library’s growing services and the city’s burgeoning population demanded an even larger central location. In response, the city granted a new parcel of land, created by Boston’s Back Bay infill project, for the construction of the third and current Central Library.

At the cornerstone-laying ceremony of the Boston Public Library’s Central Library in 1888, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes proclaimed before the gathered crowd that “This palace is the people’s own.” In designing the new building, architect Charles Follen McKim and library trustees sought to create a veritable “palace” to inspire and elevate its public. BPL’s McKim building, opened in 1895, is considered one of the finest examples of 19th-century architecture in America; the adjoining Johnson building, opened in 1972, is newly renovated to provide leading offerings in 21st-century library services.