After 97 years, St. Paul's iconic downtown library is getting a new name: the George Latimer Central Library.

Mayor Chris Coleman announced Thursday that the beaux-arts library will be named next month after Latimer, a hugely popular and accomplished mayor who served from 1976 to 1990.

"His crucial work and legacy will outlive all of us," Coleman said in a statement, "and it is only fitting that one of our most beautiful and historic buildings, committed to the education and enrichment of our residents, bear his name."

Latimer, 78, said he was so moved he was speechless when he learned about the honor from Coleman. "The mayor said, 'I always wondered what it would take to silence Latimer and now I found out,' " said the typically voluble Latimer.

"I'm hard put to think of a function in the city that I would be prouder to be attached to than learning and libraries."

A ceremony will be held June 10 at the library, at which Latimer will speak. The nonprofit Friends of the St. Paul Library, which he once chaired, also will announce a fundraising campaign in his honor.

Latimer, a native of Schenectady, N.Y., was a labor lawyer who moved to St. Paul in 1963 and served on the school board before he was elected mayor in 1976.

In 2002, Latimer chaired a task force that proposed St. Paul separate its library budget and tax levy from other city funds to insulate the library from economic downturns and win more funding. The measure eventually passed.

On Thursday, Latimer reminisced about the wonderful librarians he knew as a boy in Schenectady and praised the splendor of the central library's Rice Park setting. He noted that the reference library next door is named for rail magnate James J. Hill, joking that the central library's new name will therefore link "two fat, bearded men."

Regarding the library's new name, Latimer said he told his son: "I'm kind of embarrassed by it, but on the other hand I think I'll get over it."

Kevin Duchschere • 651-925-5035