The Larimer Arts Center
The Legacy of Henry John Klutho
On March 12, 2008, the Larimer was added to the National Registry of Historic Places-the Nation's official list of cultural resources worthy of preservation. Located in the heart of Palatka on Reid and Third Streets, the building began its existence in 1929 as the Larimer Memorial Library.
James R. Mellon, member of the prominent industrial family, wintered in Palatka’s South Historic District. As an act of philanthropic largess, he commissioned Henry J. Klutho of Jacksonville to design a library. Donated to the city in 1930, the structure was named for his wife, Rachel Hughey Larimer.
Thousands attended the opening of one of the most modern libraries in the South. Housing over 50,000 volumes, the building functioned in that capacity for 62 years. In 1992, with Mellon’s permission, the library became the Larimer Arts Center and the home of the Arts Council of Greater Palatka.
In August 2006, Robert Broward, AIA Jacksonville, presented a program at the Larimer on the Legacy of Henry John Klutho. Broward, noted authority and friend of the architect, has said: “His buildings are the best examples of Prairie School left in the country.” Broward called the Larimer Klutho’s “little jewel.”
Largely developed in Chicago, the Prairie Style was an important modernist movement, which flourished from 1900-1920. The most notable examples were by Frank Lloyd Wright. In seeking a unity of place and structure, the features radically departed from the ornamented Victorian style.
The Larimer fuses Prairie School with Art Deco Style elements. Klutho believed architecture should harmonize with its environment. He stated, “A project should be so designed as to indicate its function. A church, a school, a hospital, a public building or an office building should each be recognizable as such.”
The Larimer is a stately limestone structure with elegant arched windows and entryway. The façade is symmetrical and incised across the top are the phrases “Ignorance Breeds Crime” and “Knowledge is Power.” Two decorative lampposts flank the stone steps that lead to the recessed portico.
The interior maintains the original floor plan. Significant features include suspended globe lights, terrazzo floors, a segmented skylight and Art Deco details. The main floor houses exhibition spaces, an administrative office and the Scarlett-Hill Theater. Art classes and workshops are held in the basement.
The Larimer is undergoing important renovations. The City is dedicated to preserving this excellent example of Prairie School architecture by one of Florida’s most prominent architects Henry John Klutho. The building, an essential part of Palatka’s heritage, stands as a monument to the public trust.
This account owes much to the application for National Register status prepared by Janice Berlepsch, Palatka Parks Department, and Jeff Norton Head.
An important resource for further study is Robert C. Broward’s book The Architecture of Henry John Klutho: The Prairie School in Jacksonville, University of North Florida Press, Jacksonville, Florida, 1990.