In 1967 discussions began for the new construction of a new public library to replace the Carnegie Library that had served the Niagara Falls community for over 70 years. During the 1960s, numerous proposals were tossed around discussing where the new library should be located; locations downtown and Main Street led the ballot. According to the Niagara Falls Comprehensive Plan of 1966 – 1986, a location proximate to City Hall would be extremely more convenient for library visitors and would not add to downtown congestion during peak tourism season. Several sites near the current city hall location were mentioned but concerns arose over the land acquisition costs associated with such a premier location. There were even suggestions that a new City Hall be built as part of a larger civic center. In 1967, Peter Dicamillo proposed that a new City Hall be erected north of Pine Ave, east of Main St, and west of 7th Ave; the old City Hall building could be used as a library. Obviously, no such proposal was ever acted on and the Earl W. Brydges library designed by architect Paul Rudolph opened on March 9, 1974 at 1425 Main Street; a considerable distance from the proposed civic center adjacent to City Hall. Queen Victoria Pa Looking back on these events, would Paul Rudolph’s library made sense being located adjacent to city hall and included in a beautiful civic center on Main Street? Do you think this relocation into a civic center would have created a better sense of community in Niagara Falls? Would it have affected the decline of Main Street? Just imagine the architectural uniqueness of such a civic center and public space in Niagara Falls. The landmark City Hall with its Beaux Arts style embodying Neo-Classical Revival architecture paired together with the French Neoclassical style of the Niagara Falls Post Office would have anchored a magnificent public space on Main Street. Other civic buildings such as the courthouse and the library strategically constructed around a beautiful park or the natural beauty of the Niagara Gorge would’ve given Niagara Falls a truly unique space justly warranted by its location as one of the natural wonders of the world.
Public spaces are incredibly influential in developing a city's identity. Without great public places, there would be no great cities. Take New York City for example where millions of people visit Rockefeller Center to watch the annual lighting of the Christmas Tree or to stand outside NBC studios hoping to be seen on The Today Show. Take a look across the border where our Canadian counterparts in Niagara Falls, Ontario have developed a unique public realm at Queen Victoria Park and Clifton Hill that attract millions of visitors annually. Does Niagara Falls, New York have a place that represents it and gives it an identity other than the Falls? If plans of great public spaces count then absolutely Yes! Just take a look at the 2009 Comprehensive Plan that identifies numerous spaces including the Cultural District in Downtown Niagara Falls that would create an identity for the city. Old Falls Street with its beautiful vistas and its unique location connecting the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel with the entrance of Niagara Falls State Park is an emerging public space capable of giving the city an identity much like Rockefeller Center has for New York City. Will it continue to grow and enhance the identity of our beloved city?
Visit Project for Public Spaces to learn more about the economic, social, and cultural benefits of great civic centers as great public spaces!