Glasgow - City of Sculpture
By Gary Nisbet
William B Whitie
(d. 1946)
Springburn Public Halls, Millarbank Street, Glasgow.
An assistant to A B McDonald , the City Engineer, in the late 1890s, he made his name in 1899 with his competition-winning design for Springburn Public Halls, 11 Millarbank Street (1899-1902), and in 1900, appears in the PODs on his own for the first time.

A frequent winner in subsequent competitions, he usually exhibited his designs at the RGIFA . In 1901 he exhibited the design for another Springburn project, St. Mungo Boarding House (Cat no. 742), and in 1902, his Premiated Design for Woodside District Halls (Cat no. 536). This was followed in 1904, by Springburn District Library, a bijou Baroque palace at 179 Atlas Street, which was designed and built between 1902-6, and Springburn's Kenmuir Masonic Lodge, Atlas Square (c. 1906).

Whitie's competition drawings for Springburn Public Halls were exhibited at the RGIFA in 1900 (Cat. no. 527), and published in Academy Architecture (1900, vol. 1, pp. 110-111).

Relocating his office to 219 St Vincent Street, c. 1905, he crowned his competition work with his narrowly won Mitchell Library in 1905, having been originally selected as joint winner with John Arthur, whose 'freer and lighter' Renaissance design was actually preferred by the assessors A B McDonald and John Keppie, to Whitie's severer (and at that time, domeless) design.

The fact that Whitie was a former assistant to A B McDonald would not have gone unnoticed by those who questioned the regularity with which his former assistants won city sponsored competitions.

His chef d'oeuvre, the Mitchell Library eventually asserted itself in the streetscape with the addition of its colossal dome and T J Clapperton's bronze, finial figure of Literature. It is also one of Glasgow's best known and loved buildings. As the repository of Europe's largest reference library and the treasure troves of the City archives and the Glasgow Room, its contents are the food and fodder for local and international researchers, and a virtual home for generations of students and bookworms.

Elevated to the position of one of the most impressive 'city-scape' buildings by the sinking of the M8 Motorway in front of it and the demolition of much of its surroundings in the 1970s, its studious Baroque is the West End counterpoint to the vulgarity of the 'pick 'n mix' Renaissance of the City Chambers in the east, and forms a splendid landmark at the approaches to the city's great seats of learning at Gilmorehill and Kelvingrove.

After this, he did little of significance and the rest of his life and work appears to have gone unnoticed by the contemporary press and subsequent historians. His only other noted work being his alterations to a Victorian warehouse as the Grand Central Cinema, 18-22 Jamaica Street, into which he inserted an incongruous, arched entrance (1915). His name is listed continuously in the PODs until 1940.

Whitie's Springburn Public Halls were demolished in December 2012, its statues representing Locomotive Building and Engineering having been rescued from its facade.

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Works in our Database:
1: Ayr Street (Springburn),
Springburn Public Library and Museum, 179 Ayr Street
Ornamental Carving (1902-6)
Sculptor: unknown; Architect: WB Whitie
#224 2: Millarbank Street (Springburn),
Former Springburn Public Halls, 11 Millarbank Street
Two Allegorical Figures and Related Decorative Carving (1902)
Sculptor: JM Sherriff;
Architect: WB Whitie
#395 3: North Street (Anderston),
Mitchell Library, 201 North Street - Exterior work
Allegorical Figures of Literature and Wisdom,
Keystone Head and Putti (c.1909)

Sculptors: TJ Clapperton, J Keller and W Vickers;
Architect: WB Whitie; Masons: P&W Anderson Ltd
 
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