Source: The Bergen Record, September 1, 1978 

Bringing Home Paris

By John Koster, Staff Writer

Jack Beyer loves Paris.  So he's bringing a bit of it back to his boyhood home -- Teaneck.

Beyer's plan to renovate the library with the constraints of an $837,000 federal public works grant probably has saved a project that looked stone dead.  The town had to drop plans to build a new $2.2-million library when it discovered its building fund had been padded with fictitious pledges.

Jack BeyerBut in a town where any five people usually express at least sic opinions, almost every opinion expressed was favorable to Beyer's plan to enclose the library's courtyards with skylight-style roofs and fill previously unused space with book shelves.

He did it all, he says, with a touch of Paris.

"The Teaneck library is my attempt to bring a concept to Teaneck, and, in fact, to Bergen County for the first time,"  says Beyer, 44, who graduated from Teaneck High School in 1950.  "The unfortunate tendency has been to tear down everything that's old and build something new.  My concept, what I hope to achieve, is to combine to the old and the new in a way that enhances both."

His inspiration, in this particular project, is the work of French architect Henri LaBrouste, how built the Librairie de Ste. Genevieve in Paris of the 1850's.  LaBroust'e work, seizing on the recent availability of cast-iron in large quantities, featured a building with traditional masonry walls, but with iron-supported galleries insides and a skylight across the length of the roof.  The style was later incorporated into a number of other libraries, department stores, and even into railroad stations.

"I go to Paris as often as I can, I can't get enough of it," Beyer says.  "I also enjoy the London architecture of the same period."

The new library -- completion is expected before 1980 if the federal government approves use of the grant -- won't be Beyer's first innovation in town.  He was the architect responsible for the East Cedar Lane project, which will offer senior-citizen housing not in a monolithic multistory structure, but in 27 buildings that look like large one-family houses from the outside.  Inside, each building will contain four or eight one-bedroom units.

"He said he had a special offering for the community," says Mrs. Gloria Brett, who worked with Beyer as a member of the volunteer Teaneck Senior Citizen Housing Association.  "He said he wanted to do something special for Teaneck because it was his hometown."

"It was quite a coup," says Mrs. Brett of the State Housing Finance Agency.  "This will be something different and unique.  Jack keeps some of the old charm in whatever he does."

Beyer's firm, Beyer Blinder Belle, based in New York City, also has participated in an advisory capacity in a project to renovate 100 acres of downtown Hackensack, and on the Paterson shopping mall.

His arrival in Teaneck to save the library plans came about when Township Administrator Werner Schmid, remembering how satisfied the administration had been with his accurate specification, recommended Beyer as one of two architects whose work had been particularly excellent in the past.  The former resident was asked to do some quick rethinking of the new library within the rigid guidelines of the federal grant.

Specifically, Beyer's plans call for:

  • Enclosing the two courtyards inside the building -- areas left open in the wake of past expansions -- and covering them with skylights.  These two new rooms will be used for shelf and service space.

  • Creating a new major entrance facing the west parking lot.

  • Linking all public areas with ramps and elevators to facilitate the handicapped.

  • Enlarging shelf space in the central entrance hall off Teaneck road by creating a mezzanine of shelf space and administrative area.

  • Moving the periodical stacks from the basement auditorium, thus opening use of the 140-seat auditorium to the public for the first time in years.

Construction must begin within 90 days of the federal approval, and be finished within one year.

Beyer, who now has an apartment in Greenwich Village and a house on Long Island, lived in Teaneck throughout his boyhood..  He joined the Army shortly after graduating from high school.

"It was an entirely unheroic tour of duty," Beyer said.  "But it was in the Army that I first became interested in architecture.  For the first time I had a chance to read, and read deeply, into the subject that interested me, and not just the subjects I was taught."

Beyer's architectural hero became Frank Lloyd Wright -- an ironic choice at first glance, considering that the forms Beyer likes best are often the ones Wright reacted against.  But just as Wright favored considering the natural setting of a building.  Beyer favored preserving the milieu of existing buildings, modernizing their function rather than their appearance.

Beyer, a Harvard graduate, founded the firm of Beyer Blinder Belle with Richard Blinder and John Belle in 1968.

He and his wife have six children, ranging in age from 8 to 18.  The youngest daughter, obviously a chip of the old block, is studying in Paris.

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