Former Lives of Libraries: From Funeral Home to Library Branch
By: S. Rebecca Lubin, Head of Branches, Albany Public Library
“I remember coming to my Uncleʼs funeral here.” Not something one expects to hear in a library, but it is heard in the Delaware Branch of the Albany Public Library in Albany, NY. That is because before the renovated 9,500 square foot branch opened in 2009 the building housed Chicorelliʼs funeral home for over 40 years.
The building, a Prairie style (think Frank Lloyd Wright) was constructed in 1964. It was purchased by the Albany Public Library as part of a $29.1 million branch improvement project and opened to the public in December, 2009. The exterior of the building remains largely the same as when it was a funeral home, with deep cantilevered overhanging eaves, low horizontal lines and ribbon windows. The real transformation happened to the interior (See before and after photos). While the structural integrity of the building was maintained, the building was transformed from small viewing rooms off a central hallway to an open-space plan modern library including circulation, reference, adults, teen and childrenʼs spaces. (Fun fact: the teen space used to be the embalming room) Offices in the front of the building became a program and community meeting room. An apartment (Yes, apartment) upstairs became staff offices and a break room. The Prairie style architecture is reflected in the earth tone color scheme and simple furniture style of the interior.
While the libraryʼs former life as a funeral home gives some the chills while fascinating others, the opening sentence, “I remember coming to my Uncleʼs funeral here.” Is most often followed by, “It looks very different now.” (Note: The building received the 2010 Outstanding Public Library Award from the New York Library Association)