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Monday, May 24, 2004 - Page updated at 09:11 A.M.

Patrons flock to Central Library grand opening

By Monica Soto Ouchi
Seattle Times staff reporter

Lisa Cohen looks up from the escalator leading to the 10th floor, where she was headed to tour the reading room of the new Seattle Central Library, which opened to the public yesterday.
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Kengo Skorick of Fremont woke up at 6 a.m. yesterday to worship. He'd waited two years for this day.

While others eased into church pews across Seattle, Skorick stood in line at the Seattle Central Library, reading a Japanese comic book for inspiration. He had dreamed of riding the shocking-yellow escalators. He had yearned to take in the sweeping views. "Sometimes events in your life can seem more significant when you treat them specially," said Skorick, 24, a budding architect who reveres Rem Koolhaas, the library's architect.

"Like climbing Mount Fuji to see the sunrise — if you go in the afternoon, you won't see it the same."

Skorick was third in line yesterday morning for the grand opening. The $165.5 million marriage of glass and steel saw 9,000 visitors ushered through its doors in just two hours. Attendance swelled to 24,013 by 5 p.m.

By 6:10 p.m. attendance had climbed above 26,000, and Seattle City Librarian Deborah Jacobs said the final tally was about 28,000 when the building closed its doors at 7 p.m.

"Pretty incredible," she said.

Jacobs initially anticipated an opening-day crowd of 20,000, but event planners had told her to expect more like 30,000.

If much of the advance fanfare had centered on the renowned Dutch architect and his bold design, yesterday was about the regular folks who'll be using the library.

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Mayor Greg Nickels said as much in his opening remarks, noting that Seattle residents check out more books per capita than people in any other city. More important, at least to some: Patrons could bring drinks inside as long as they had a lid.

"Is that a Seattle library or what?" Nickels said. "Never again will Seattleites be parted from their lattes."

Ed Wirkala, 60, a devout library patron from Shoreline, checked out the first book. Perhaps a sign of the times, it was a book-on-tape.

Wirkala, who produces legal documents for a downtown Seattle law firm, borrowed the audio versions of "The Road to Wellville" by T. Coraghessan Boyle and "The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen. (Eyestrain from the computer, he explained.)

Wirkala said he didn't intend to be first; he had to check out the books fast so he could get on to work. But his mother, Virginia Wirkala, 81, said it was no surprise.

"He kept me out of church to see this," she said.

Each floor carried buzz and anticipation. On one, a woman sat on a Nerf-like chair and flipped through a book about reproduction while others walked by with stacks of books in their arms. In another corner, others sat engrossed, watching a library video with topics such as, "What does the future hold for the card catalog?"

Amina Saleh, right, of Seattle, carries books down a stairwell. Elevators and escalators were clogged with people.
For each patron, yesterday's opening brought a different — but no less personal — experience.

Irina Ratner, 93, of Lake City Way, uses the library's mobile service to borrow books. She was named one of the winners of the grand opening's "I Love My Library" contest.

Leszek Chudzinski, a Slavic-languages librarian, said Ratner wrote in her essay that one cannot have a better friend than a book: "The old age is not much of a threat if you have with you a wise and loyal friend — a book."

Ratner's favorite author is Leo Tolstoy. Her favorite American author is John Steinbeck.

For her winning entry, Ratner was among the first allowed inside yesterday. "I'm happy," she said through an interpreter, hand over her heart.

Skorick, the third patron in line, was born and raised in Tokyo. He attended international schools and moved to the U.S. to earn an architecture degree from the University of Illinois.

At 1:30 p.m. yesterday, more than two hours after the library opened its doors, people continue to stream in.
When the Central Library was in its initial design phase, he interned at LMN Architects of Seattle, the joint architect for the project along with the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in the Netherlands.

During that time, Skorick would often go to the section handling the library and sneak peaks as the models were being built. After a year at LMN, he worked for six months at another Seattle architectural firm. He decided he needed more hands-on experience, so he got a construction job.

Yesterday, he traced his hand along the library's walls. He sketched drawings and jotted ideas in a black journal. He said he admires Koolhaas for not relying on precedent or formality.

"I like how they accented things that can be accented," he said, noting the carpet on the top floor. "It's kind of like wearing bright socks underneath a suit. That's how they maintain the grace. They're always at the edge, but they don't cross."

The new facility and the library staff handled the large crowds flawlessly, said librarian Jacobs.

"Its so easy for things to break with so much turnover over such a short period of time," she said. "Everything worked fine."

On the top floor, Skorick sat on a desk and took in the scenery. In the end, he surmised that being third in line wasn't as important as being here.

"I'd still enjoy the view," he said. "Isn't this what's important?"

David Bowermaster contributed to this report. Monica Soto Ouchi: 206-515-5632 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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