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Verbal Doodles of The Crittenden Automotive Library

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Opinions expressed by Bill Crittenden are not official policies or positions of The Crittenden Automotive Library. You can read more about the Library's goals, mission, policies, and operations on the About Us page.

Verbal Doodles of The Crittenden Automotive Library

Bill Crittenden
August 6, 2014

As I try and build this Library into something bigger and greater, I'm often daydreaming of "what if..."  What if I had the money to make this a major operation.  What if I had could turn this from a hobby into a major media company?

I've got a good friend in the same point in her endeavor to make the world a little better, although she is more interested in aquaponics than old car books.  She mentioned doodling her dream nursery based on a vacant garden center, and I recalled the days when I first moved out and used to doodle my dream house, with a massive home library included.

Well, my drawings are embarrassing, but I can write fairly decently, so here's what's in my mind when I let my thought drift off to dreaming these days...

First off, I'm a modest person.  I don't need - or want - a massive custom edifice with my personal logo splashed across a major metropolitan skyline like Tony Stark.  I'm looking for something affordable, built like a tank, with tons of open space, out in the country where property is more affordable.

I'd be beyond happy with a closed-down high school building.

My high school, Hoffman Estates High School, was a classic late-60's/early 70's 3-floor concrete bunker with slim little windows and modular classroom walls that could be removed for wide open spaces.  That's the starting point for my inspiration, because it's the building I know best.  Or knew, it's had a lot of major renovations since I left in 1998, but all high schools have most of the same major elements.

The Stack Hall & Offices

The heart of the Library, the best display of the Library's collection, preferably with a third dimension to the display by being in a multi-floor atrium with an actual car or three parked on the bottom floor center (there will be a museum aspect to the Library).  This would be placed where the main block of classrooms, school offices, and small school library were formerly.

Part of the private area, this will house the valuable books and materials the Library employees use to build the online resources.  The bottom floor, where the heaviest materials would be stored, would include a hall of powered mobile shelving.  This is a unit whereby there are just one or two open spaces between rows of storage, and the shelves move to put the open space where it is needed at any given time.  This condenses storage by eliminating most of the open space between rows that isn't being used frequently.  Plus, it's really cool to watch them move!

Magazines, boxes of collectible cards, binders of materials, as well as the types of books that aren't great for displaying, could all could be in these shelves.  The U.S. Army Museum Support Center at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, is my model for this area.  Yes, they have the movable storage, too.

The main floor would have the division between public and employee-only areas, the division line being at the atrium, where visitors could walk past a handful of cars on display and look out over one side of the atrium.  A glass partition wall at either side of the atrium would be the end of the visitor side and the beginning of the main office area.  Here there would be an emphasis on display, with old automotive artifacts, art, model cars, and rare books in cases lining the walls of the public room and in even more bookcases on the employee side of the partition.

More office space, either on a third floor or behind the offices on the second, would house the data center, containing the onsite work files of the team and onsite copy of the Library archives, and also away from public view would be photography setups, book scanners, and other equipment used to convert just about anything into a digital format that can be preserved and shared with the world.

Auto Shop & Cars on Display

Outside of the main classroom areas, there is of course an auto shop, which would be handy for restoring old cars for display.  The wide open cafeteria would be a good place to put many of them, as well as throughout the overly wide hallways of the buildings where they can be fit in.

My inspiration here is the Kenosha dinosaur museum, which is a little public museum with free admission. It doesn't have much, and a lot of what it has are replicas, but no pressure when it comes to disappointing visitors with not getting their money's worth...it's free.  The basement also includes an open window where visitors can view an actual paleontology lab onsite, part of the inspiration for a glass partition to the office area.

The public areas of the Library would be free, and visitors could see old cars from every era of automobiling on display or being worked on.  Not quite a museum, per se, but then we wouldn't charge admission.


Most schools have a stadium-seating auditorium for the performance arts, and putting in a screen would make this an excellent place to screen automotive films, or to host watch parties for major racing events.  How does a Daytona 500 party with 250 friends sound?


I imagine the locker rooms and weight rooms to be fairly useless and could be stripped out and used for storage.  The gyms, many schools having one large one and other smaller ones, would be excellent exposition spaces for events.  Swap meets, conventions, model car shows.  I know so many people and clubs that would love to host an event but find the cost of an event space prohibitive.  I'd host events on the cost of insurance and electricity just to make the Library building a destination for area "car guys."

Parking Lot

The Library, especially with the data center, is going to use a lot of electricity and attract an employee base that appreciates their cars and wants to protect them.  Solar panel canopies would be installed through part of the parking lot, enough to accommodate regular employees and a few daily visitors.  This would help make the Library a little greener and protect the cars from northern Illinois weather that can include blazing 100-degree sun, hail, freezing rain, and feet upon feet of snow.

The rest of the parking lot could be left open and used for a cruise night, and a car show could use the parking lot and overflow onto any sports fields the school had on the property.  Again, holding events at cost so that 1.) "car guys" have a place to hold events and 2.) the Library becomes a destination place for them.

Gift Shop

Of course, the costs of all of this would be borne by Library sponsors and advertisers, who would have their names and products prominently displayed throughout the building.  Some of the costs of the Library building's operating costs could be recovered through a nice little gift shop, like any good museum has.  Except with a sponsor, the gift shop would also be an outlet store for the sponsor's products.

Although selling books out of the collection would be counterproductive, if wholesale deals could be reached with current publishers (Veloce Publishing or Krause Publications, for example) the gift shop could also be a local automotive bookstore with in-print book titles and magazines.

Football Field

What would someone do with a football field if the school still had one?  Well, most are surrounded by an oval track...

Now, before the obvious answer comes to mind, remember that the track is narrow and there often isn't a lot of space for walls between that and the spectators, so full-size race cars are out.  Plus proximity to neighbors usually puts the kibosh on any V8's with open headers.  But go-karts and minicup stock cars could run on the oval, and the field could be gutted for a motocross course.  A promoter could handle the maintenance and keep the profits, again, using this as marketing for the main project: the Library.

Other Spots

It already seems like an amusement park for anything on wheels, but I've still got plenty of ideas left to go!

Extra space could also be leased out to automotive-related businesses looking for the specific type of walk-in customer that fits the description of the average Library visitor.  For example, Volo Auto Museum has collectibles shops selling die cast cars and model kits, and Mecum Auctions always attract vendor displays.  This would not only help pay for the building maintenance but also help pack even more reasons to make the Library a destination for car guys.  Artist studios, hobby shops, classic car insurance offices, and other automotive media could also make use of these spaces.  They could take advantage of not only Library visitors but also attendees for all of the cruise nights, car shows, and racing events the grounds would host.

There could be a "car corral," like many larger car shows have.  For those who haven't seen one, it's a section of a car show displaying cars for sale, usually part of or adjacent to the swap meet area.  Parking spaces up front by the road would be numbered off and rented out to anyone who wants to sell a car: dealerships, private owners, collectors, restorers.  This would ensure that there are at least some old cars out by the road at all times in the summer to attract attention to the property and be another source of income for the whole operation.

I could run a water line out to a part of the parking lot near a storm drain and offer the spot to groups of people to run fundraiser car washes on Saturday mornings.  Heck, I could supply buckets and soap, too, because I'm sure the community goodwill would come in handy at some point.  Cub Scout packs, high school clubs, whoever would run a clean, family-friendly car wash would be welcome.

For busy days when there are events on the property, the cafeteria kitchen could be open, serving snacks, drinks, and burgers to the crowd, as well as making popcorn for the auditorium theater.  Without nearly as many people to feed all at the same time, the excess cafeteria seating space (as mentioned before) would be a great spot for old cars, and now those having lunch are really just a dozen feet away from cars on display.  Having cars with a food theme would be fun here, such as a Mello Yello NASCAR car, or a classic old ice cream truck.

Being rural, I don't anticipate drawing many, but as I'm interested in all things on wheels and I watch a lot of Food Network I've got a soft spot for gourmet food trucks.  If I could attract one or more, they'd definitely be welcome to events, and I'd make sure they had good places to park.

And speaking of food, somewhere on the roof, one of Jenni's aquaponics setups.  Seasonal fresh fruit in the offices would be a nice employee perk.

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