You are here

Cambridge Public Library

-A A +A
1887–1888, 1894, 1901, Van Brunt and Howe; 1967 addition, Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott. 449 Broadway.
  • Cambridge Public Library (Keith Morgan)

Van Brunt and Howe won the competition for the Cambridge Public Library one year after obtaining the commission for the library in Dedham (DH6). As in Dedham, the Cambridge Public Library clearly reveals the influence of H. H. Richardson, especially the combination of light quarry-faced granite for the walls and dark sandstone for the trim and such details as French Renaissance–style dormers. Each element of the building is clearly expressed—double arcaded entrance, circular stair tower with conical roof, large arched reading rooms, and clerestory-lighted book stacks. Henry Van Brunt's expertise in the functional aspects of library design, however, surpassed Richardson's, as shown by his 1877 system of iron book stacks for Harvard's Gore Hall library and his 1885 work on the library for the University of Michigan. He made firewalls and iron stacks an original feature of the Cambridge library, helping to win the commission over both McKim, Mead and White and Peabody and Stearns.

In 1894 Van Brunt and Howe designed a two-story addition for a children's room and meeting spaces; a 1901 addition doubled the space allocated for book stacks. Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott departed from the Romanesque for their 1967 addition, which retains sympathetic scale and materials. The City of Cambridge selected William Rawn and Ann Beha in 2002 to design a major addition to the east of the building.

Writing Credits

Keith N. Morgan



  • 1887

  • 1894

  • 1901

  • 1967


What's Nearby


Keith N. Morgan, "Cambridge Public Library", [Cambridge, Massachusetts], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Massachusetts

Buildings of Massachusetts: Metropolitan Boston, Keith N. Morgan, with Richard M. Candee, Naomi Miller, Roger G. Reed, and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009, 300-300.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.

, ,