Credit: Morgan Baskin

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On April 4, staff at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library will open its doors tarps to paying visitors who want to check in on the progress of the building. It’s one year into a nearly $210 million renovation that administrators say will turn it into one of the most functional and impressive public facilities in the District.

Last week, in advance of its semi-public opening, City Paper walked through the demo zone, which, in truth, looks a lot like a series of immense concrete boxes stacked on each other. (The library will, after all, occupy about 450,000 square feet of space.)

Credit: Morgan Baskin
Credit: Morgan Baskin

It is admittedly difficult to envision anything beyond the cavernous cement walls and plywood flooring. But somewhere around the third level of the steep and precarious metal stairs erected inside the main hall—a spot that boasts a handy view of a cross-section of the library’s belly—there’s a certain thrill to the emptiness. 

Replacing the dimly lit and scarcely visible staircases in the library’s first iteration are plans for new sets behind wide panels of glass. In addition to a ground-level café, the new library will boast a reimagined children’s wing (complete with a large slide), technology and creative space (with 3-D printers), a double-height reading room, more robust temperature control to preserve special collections, an auditorium, and a roof terrace.

Credit: Morgan Baskin

Standing on top of the building with a near-panoramic view of Chinatown and Penn Quarter, D.C. Public Library spokesman George Williams points to a swath of the gravel at our feet. “That,” he said, “will be gone.” In two years, it’ll be carved out, empty space above stadium seating for the library’s auditorium. 

In its final form, Williams says the building will be the “crown jewel” of D.C.’s public library system.

Credit: Morgan Baskin