Downtown literary oasis may issue fresh water again

Downtown literary oasis may issue fresh water again

Jessie Ball duPont Fund announces plan to acquire Haydon Burns Library

Its modern architecture fit Jacksonville’s vision as a city on the cusp of change. Built in 1965, two years before Jacksonville voters approved the consolidation of city and county governments, the Haydon Burns Library served Northeast Florida as an oasis of literacy. Now, almost 50 years later, the building may help revitalize downtown Jacksonville.
In March, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund announced plans to purchase and modify the Haydon Burns Library for use by nonprofit and philanthropic organizations. “We are very excited about this opportunity,” Sherry Magill, president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, said. “It has the potential to greatly benefit the nonprofit sector, invigorate downtown and enhance the legacy of Jessie Ball duPont, who cared so much about the nonprofit organizations in this community,” she added.

Since non-profit organizations are bone and sinew of their communities, Magill sees the Haydon Burns Library as a place to streamline work in the downtown area. “I hope the building helps people see downtown as a place where the community is centered and not simply as a place to be entertained,” Magill said.

“I hope the building illustrates that lots of different entities can consider repurposing an existing downtown building,” she added.
The Library was named after William Haydon Burns, who served as both mayor of Jacksonville and governor of Florida in the 1950s and 1960s.  It closed in September 2005, and the new Main Library opened across from Hemming Plaza a few months later.

Designed by Jacksonville architect, Taylor Hardwick, the three-level structure welcomed area residents as a brick-and-mortar hub of research and knowledge for four decades. Using a daring color scheme-lime green and lemon yellow-and an open design, the Library helped define Jacksonville’s slogan as the Bold New City of the South. Its airy, plant-filled floor plan allowed patrons to peer onto bustling downtown streets while quietly reading or studying,“I spent many, many nights there using their microfiche researching old newspapers when I was writing my book on Henry John Klutho,” retired Jacksonville architect and St. Nicholas resident, Robert C. Broward, said. The Library’s space would work well for offices and community meetings, he added.  Broward and Hardwick are colleagues and close friends. “It was a joy to be in,” Broward said. “The spaces and furniture went together so beautifully-an excellent design.”

Broward’s book, “The Architecture of Henry John Klutho: The Prairie School in Jacksonville,” is available from the Jacksonville Historical Society.
Years before smartphones and search engines, generations of school children, business people and community members visited the library to consult hardback encyclopedias, check out full-size paintings for office interiors or listen to long-play albums.

Wire fencing now encloses portions of the property. Red and white sale signs hang near the Library’s entrances. The framed ‘READ’ posters featuring celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Sting holding books no longer hang on the walls.

Currently owned by investors, the Haydon Burns Library is undergoing a due diligence review and other analyses which the duPont Fund hopes will be complete by June at the latest, Magill shared.     The Jessie Ball duPont Fund aided in the creation of the Community Service Building in downtown Wilmington, DE in the 1990s. Seventy-three non-profit organizations are now housed there.

Magill is optimistic about additional uses for a converted Haydon Burns Library. “When we brought 37 colleges from around the country together for an energy conservation conference,” she said, “we brought them to Jacksonville. It was a two-day small conference, which we held in different locations. Had this building been developed, we would have held our conference in this building,” she added.

In addition to providing office space for the Jessie Ball duPont Fund and other organizations, the Haydon Burns Library may also provide a downtown home for various community organizations. “The Jacksonville nonprofit and philanthropic sectors collaborate a great deal. We’d like to see these organizations hosting their meetings in this building,” Magill said.

By Nancy Lee Bethea
Resident Community News

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