Native Floridians know all about snowbirds, but not many know that Captain Charles Albertson (b.1856, d. 1932), a snowbird from New York, was largely responsible for creating the City Beautiful’s first public library.
Albertson was an inspector with the New York City Police Department and a self-described book lover and collector who spent the winters in Orlando. In November 1921, Albertson donated his personal library of nearly 12,000 books to the City of Orlando.
Captain Charles L. Albertson circa 1905. Originally published in the January 19, 1906, edition of The Waverly Free Press. Photo source: Orlando Memory
Albertson’s collection, which contained rare books and was largely devoted to historical subjects, was worth $75,000 in 1921 dollars–nearly $1.3 million in 2022. In exchange for his donation, Albertson required the city to construct a suitable building to house the collection. Before Albertson’s contribution, the first lending library in Orlando was run by the Sorosis Club of Orlando on the second floor of a building on East Pine Street.
The Albertson Public Library, located on Central Blvd and Rosalind Ave, opened on November 8, 1923. The Evening Reporter-Star described the Albertson Public Library as an “architectural gem and notable asset to [the] City.” The Neoclassical building was made of limestone with Greek Doric columns, 11 steps leading to the main entrance, and large windows and a rotunda to let in natural light.
Image: Postcard of the Albertson Public Library. Photo source: Orlando Memory
In 1954, the library board of directors called for an expansion. Since its construction, the Albertson Public Library had gone from supporting a population of 17,000 to nearly 60,000. Likewise, the collection had expanded from 27,000 to 96,000.
The Albertson Public Library building was demolished in 1964, and a new 55,000-square-foot building was dedicated as the Orlando Public Library (OPL) on August 7, 1966, in the same location. The building was constructed in the Brutalist style, with geometric patterns and exposed concrete. The architect, John M. Johansen, was an “A-list architect from Connecticut,” according to the Orlando Sentinel, who described his design as a “composition in monolithic concrete.” An Orlando Public Library report for the library’s 50th anniversary stated that exposed concrete “is ideal from a maintenance standpoint. It simply needs no cleaning, painting, or refinishing whatsoever, and that’s a real tax-saver for this public institution.”
The Orlando Public Library in 1966. Photo source: Orlando Memory
Orlando Sentinel insert on the Orlando Public Library’s grand opening in 1966. Photo source: Orlando Memory
In 1978, the Orlando City Council acquired the entire block (Rosalind Ave, Central Blvd, Wall St, and Magnolia Ave) to continue the library’s expansion. The expanded, 290,000-square-foot library opened on April 8, 1985. Orlando environmental design group Schweizer Associates Incorporated designed the expansion, maintaining Johansen’s Brutalist look.
The Orlando Public Library celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016. This year, the Orange County Library System (of which OPL is a part) is celebrating 100 years. Throughout 2023, the Orange County Library System will be hosting special events and programs showcasing the library’s history and illuminating its present. Events include concerts, fiber arts projects, virtual reality experiences, and signature author series. Click here for more information.
City District board member, Sara Reynolds, in front of the Orlando Public Library in January 2023
Are you a self-described book lover like Albertson? Were you around for the 1960s construction or the 1980s expansion? Do you have memories of going to the Orlando Public Library? Share your photos or a story about the Orlando Public Library and its impact on your life with City District. Send us an email or tag us on Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn.
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