It’s only appropriate that the place with more than half a million stories contained therein has a fascinating story behind it, itself. San Antonio’s big Central Library downtown and its backstory are as quirky as its architecture.
In 1991 after several years of planning, a bond issue and site selection, there was a juried competition to determine who would build it. Three of the four entries were fairly conventional. Then there was the fourth.
“This one was totally different!” Nelson Wolff laughed.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff was mayor back then and knows the library history well. He chose the late Marie Swartz to run its board, and they both had an idea about what they were looking for.
“And we both wanted to do something strikingly different that had not been seen in San Antonio,” Wolff said.
Downtown San Antonio was, more than not, limestone and brick, largely built on European traditions imported by German immigrants.
“Nothing wrong with that, but quite frankly, over the years, the city had become more and more Hispanic,” he said.
Wolff felt that reality should be reflected in new architecture. So the library board was presented with four visuals to choose from. Again, three fairly conventional ones.
“But then there was the plan by Legoretta, and it would knock your socks off,” said Nancy Gandara.
Gandara was the Assistant Director for the city’s library system back then and had a front row seat for the process. Ricardo Legoretta was the winning architect, and Gandara said she really liked the design.
“It was going to be red with yellow and purple accents. And six stories tall. With terraces, and it was just very, very striking,” she said. “And very controversial, I might say.”