For 50 years, the Seminary Co-op Bookstore could be found through the doors of the Chicago Theological Seminary:
You went down a steep flight of stone stairs, from whence you emerged into a labyrinth of bookshelves, small rooms darting off the main ones unexpectedly, nooks and crannies, wherein you might trip over a fellow book lover, luring you to your wallet's doom. If you were tall and unaware, you might whack your head on a low-hanging pipe. And yet for 50 years, the store, with all its flaws, was beloved. Indeed, for many, those flaws were a large part of its charm.
But then the Chicago school of economics, mother of many a Nobel laureate, reared its (to many, ugly) head, and the Becker Friedman Institute for Research in Economics was born, took over CTS' building, CTS moved to a brand new facility, and Seminary Co-op's days in the building which gave it its name were numbered.
This being Hyde Park, neither the creation of the Friedman Institute, nor the building of the new CTS, nor Seminary Co-op's move, went without opposition. Friedman, ever controversial, ought not to have his name in academic lights. The University ought not to use their land, which had been lent for a community garden, to stage the building of the new theological seminary. And Seminary Co-op? Above ground? With natural light? What of those niches where one might hunker down and lose oneself in some esoteric tome? What would happen to the ambience?
Not to worry. Hire this guy:
Stanley Tigerman is not merely a major American architect; for decades, he has been a member of Seminary Co-op (as is the President of the United States). So he knew what to do. And he did it. The new store, in renovated space at McGiffert House, next door to Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, retains the feel of the old stand. You may sometimes still feel the need for Ariadne's ball of twine, or trip over a student ensconced in a pile of books. The exposed pipes are still there, though high enough that one must be very tall indeed to whack one's head. But there is light now, and space. The claustrophobic bibliophile need no longer fight the battle between fear of small spaces and love of book browsing and buying. And, by no means the least improvement, the person with disabilities is no longer required to call and be escorted down a freight elevator. One of the delightful new touches are the bookcase "windows". As one browses a shelf, one can peer through to shelves and temptations beyond:
Tigerman has married Gothic ambience with 21st-century practicality, and it's a match made in heaven.
Of course, the move could not be made without some slight fanfare. One of my favorite things about Seminary Co-op is the Front Table, home to recent scholarly titles. To have your book on the Front Table (the virtual edition of which can be found here) has been described by one person as "The Pinnacle of Academic Achievement". The new store would not be complete without one. So two days before the actual opening, there was a parade! Authors of books on the Front Table were invited to come to the doors of the old location and carry their books to the new one. And many did, led by a bagpiper:
Short speeches were then made, cookies eaten and hot drinks imbibed, and tours given of the new space. I browsed taking note of a few titles for my return trip when they would be officially open and ready to take my credit card. I did, in fact, trip over a student in one of those nooks. And I shared a chuckle over some of the signage:
Blake, I couldn't agree more:
Please visit The Seminary Co-Op Documentary Project.