You can dine and dance till dawn ... and no one will say “Shhhhh.” All across the country, couples are celebrating their weddings at venues as unique as their own love stories: libraries! At the historic James J. Hill Reference Library in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, event coordinator Beth O’Connor has been helping brides and grooms see the library in a different light for more than a decade. “I think the sexy part of having your wedding at the library is that it just seems wrong in a way ... being loud in the library ... dancing in the library.” She laughs. “It’s kind of naughty!”
O’Connor says the Hill Library often attracts couples who are booklovers or have spent a long time in school. But couples from all walks of life fall in love with its stunning Beaux Arts architecture—magnificent sandstone columns, marble floors, gorgeous windows, and stacks of colorful volumes rising several stories high. Another plus: the library is in the heart of downtown, near shopping, dining, and museums to entertain out-of-town guests.
The James J. Hill Reference Library opened in 1921 as a non-circulating business reference library, a gift to the city of St. Paul from railroad magnate Hill. When it became available for rental in 1999, the intended audience was corporate clients. “But the wedding business just fell in our lap,” says O’Connor. Today, the Library hosts about 70 weddings per year. “Brides and grooms like the fact that we’re a nonprofit, and they enjoy giving back to a unique, historic place,” she says.
In the 2008 film “Sex in the City,” character Carrie Bradshaw (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) chose the The New York Public Library (NYPL) for her nuptials. (Never mind that the groom didn’t show up; the wedding was every fashionista’s dream.) NYPL special events manager Jaime Kaufman reports that her phone rang off the hook after the film was released—but all of the interest didn’t generate much business. Kaufman is candid: “We’re very expensive, so the majority of people who called couldn’t afford to have their wedding here.”
For those who can foot the bill—$30,000 per night for one space; $50,000 for two; $80,000 for the entire building—The New York Public Library is the crème de la crème. The Celeste Bartos Forum has a 30-foot glass and cast-iron dome; the McGraw Rotunda showcases a ceiling mural of Prometheus bringing fire to mankind. Every surface in the Astor Hall is white marble, and you can seat your guests at a banquet table that runs the length of two city blocks.
“We’re an iconic space in New York City, and we’re a big draw for people with money in Manhattan because they want to be different from everybody else,” says Kaufman. “Every person doing the walk-through asks: ‘How many weddings do you do a year?’ And when I say only six or seven, they say, ‘Oh good!’ ”
Libraries capture the distinctive character of their surroundings in ways that many ballrooms and banquet halls cannot. When Northwestern University medical student Kirsten Anderson was planning her wedding, she discovered the elegant Winter Garden Room at the Chicago Public Library.
“Kirsten’s always been a reader and a good student, but she didn’t choose the library to party in the stacks,” says mother-of the-bride Cindy Anderson with a laugh. “She chose it because of its grand effect—and because it’s unique to Chicago.” Located on the 9th floor of the Harold Washington Library Center, the Winter Garden Room is an open atrium featuring live trees, a 52-foot glass-paneled dome, and huge windows overlooking the city.
Six hundred miles east, in Baltimore, the George Peabody Library is an historic landmark owned by Johns Hopkins University. “There are very few places in Baltimore with this kind of grandeur,” says private events office manager Judy Moskowitz. “I greet people in the exhibition gallery, and we enter the reading room through a small door. Once inside, they literally stop walking. It takes a minute for your eyes to focus on what you’re seeing. When you first look across the room, the expanse of books plays a trick on your mind; they almost look like wallpaper. The light streams through the skylight in the curved ceiling. You can’t keep walking. You have to stop to take it all in. It’s SO beautiful.”
So beautiful, in fact, that little or no decorating is needed. Moskowitz says couples decorate with flowers, or use colorful stacks of books for centerpieces. When Beth O’Connor’s daughter Trisha was married at the James J. Hill library, she decorated the long wooden tables with simple greenery and lanterns. “It’s such an elegant space, but you really can make it fit your personal style,” she says. “And you save money because the space speaks for itself.”
While urban libraries have the big city sparkling outside their doors, libraries in rural settings have a charm all their own. Hagley Museum and Library occupies 235 acres along the Brandywine River in Wilmington, Delaware. Hagley is the site of the gunpowder works founded by E. I. du Pont in 1802, and includes the restored mills, ancestral home and French heirloom gardens of the du Pont family. Weddings and receptions are held in the gardens or in the historic 1888 Soda House, which now also houses a portion of the library collection and was originally used to store sodium nitrate for black powder.
“The wonderful thing about Hagley is that it offers not only historic buildings with a lot of depth and character, but also a beautiful setting,” says Heather Bohler, Special Events Assistant. “Most couples choose Hagley for its history.” Bohler recalls one bride who also showcased history of her own, decorating the mantel and deep windowsills with framed wedding photographs of her ancestors.
Lovers of history on the opposite coast can tie the knot and have their reception at the expansive Richard Nixon Presidential Library, located on nine acres in President Nixon’s birthplace, Yorba Linda. CA. “What sets us apart is our banquet space, which is an exact replica of the East Room of the White House,” says vice president of sales Carrie Biddle. “There’s no place like it except for the actual East Room of the White House!”
Guests who arrive before 5 p.m. can enjoy the venue’s other unique features, including the largest rose garden in Orange County and the extensive museum showcasing the President’s helicopter, limo, and his daughters’ wedding gowns. Says Biddle: “Sometimes brides and grooms do a presidential theme, naming their tables after presidents or serving the president’s favorite foods. We attract couples who are history buffs, or really into politics, or in the military. But really the main reason couples choose our Library is because it’s unique. Today, more than any time before, couples want to do something entirely different.”
Find a library in your area that fits your style. Check your city’s official website or your local board of tourism for suggestions.
Consider the needs for your event.
- How many guests will attend?
- Is it available on your date?
- What are the accessible areas?
- Can you hire your own caterer?
- Do they have a liquor license?
Check the library’s website for details on rental policies or give them a call and ask to speak to their event coordinator.