Here’s the dedication plaque located outside the door. It sits atop the raised flower bed right next to the ramp that’s choked with strollers parked by Filipina nannies (inter alia) every weekday:
Beaches Branch, Toronto Public Library, 1916
Designed in 17th-century English Collegiate style, Beaches Branch by Kew Gardens replaced a storefront library opened in 1914 at the corner of Queen St. East and Hambly Ave. The new building was one of three nearly identical libraries (together with Wychwood and High Park) built with a $50,000 grant to the Toronto Public Library from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
George Locke, the chief librarian, wanted the three buildings to “bring to the minds of the people of the outlying districts some recollection of their Scottish and English village type of architecture.”
The Toronto architectural firm Eden Smith and Sons completed the design, “a decided revolt” from the Classical styling of earlier Carnegie libraries. The brick-and-stone building features an upper floor modelled on a Tudor Gothic great hall. It boasts a soaring hammer-beamed ceiling, a plain stone fireplace, lead-glass casement windows, and a minstrel gallery. The west wing, built when the library was renovated and restored in 2005, replaces a 1980 addition.
City of Toronto Inventory of Heritage Properties
Let’s head on over to Wychood, then. It’s supposed to be functionally identical to Beaches, but don’t get your hopes up.
Wychwood branch (WY) is on Bathurst just south of St. Clair. I might be the only person who regularly visits Beaches in the morning and Wychwood in early evening (merely a function of my travels), so I can give you a firsthand comparison.
First of all, this thing has a rotunda! (Beaches doesn’t.)
You almost can’t tell this rotunda exists because the branch has a terrible layout. Walk in – you may have struggled to find the automatic-door switches – and what you’re confronted with is the checkout desk at left, a scrunched little area to the right, some kind of alcove way ahead, and a staircase. You feel you have no choice but to head right upstairs.
That means you pass right by the small set of DVDs (on the wrong side of a freestanding shelf). You don’t even turn around to see the rotunda from the inside. On your way out, you might notice that it branches off the children’s area and, at ground level, includes a dismal “activity room” whose far edge is lined with curved steps, as though you’re expected to sit there. But the same implied flow that propelled you up the stairs propels you right out the door, so you probably aren’t going to go exploring.
Upstairs is where the action is. The original hardware and fittings are tremendous – way better than Beaches branch’s. Check the decorative steel railings. (I don’t think they’re wrought iron, but I stand to be corrected.) They have a modern/machine-age feel.
They’ve got the same hammered beams holding up the ceiling, but there’s a lot of other infrastructure at work.
Also machine age? Or like a truss propping up something from Expo 67?
But the carpet. Gag. It’s straight out of an accountant’s office in Etobicoke.
It’s dismal, it’s gruesome, and it completely covers every bit of the activity room downstairs that isn’t wall, ceiling, or window.
But look closely at the rotunda from outside and you see a nearly miraculous feature: A balcony! Wrapped around a turret! It’s like being in a castle.
But this is Toronto and we can’t be trusted to have nice things because God forbid some young boy act like he loves life and tosses a Smartie off the edge or something. (Which would then land harmlessly on the lawn, but it’s the principle, isn’t it?) So of course we’re absolutely forbidden to go out there. Because some theoretical person might possibly get hurt. (Won’t somebody think of the children?)
Press your nose against the glass like a sad puppy and this is all you see:
It needs lighting, it needs a better floor, and it needs a few seats. But really: Wouldn’t that be a great place to sit and read? (Or sit and poke your friends on Facebook?) Or just stare at the houses across the street and the cars racing up Bathurst? Wouldn’t any use you can think of be better than what we’re using it for now, which is nothing?
I’m not saying Wychwood needs a full reno job. I’m not saying it doesn’t, either. There aren’t a whole lot of branches nearby; taking Wychwood out of commission for 18 months or two years would be a pain in the ass. But the downstairs layout could be fiddled with, the door switches relabelled, and, by God, the balcony opened. Summer’s coming, after all, and who says a library isn’t a place to enjoy it?
UPDATE (2009.06.25): Apparently the Juliet balcony at Wychwood can’t be used because the building code changed and the railings are too low. Still, they hope to get the same architect who did over Beaches proper (Carter) to reno that branch.