Montlake Branch, The Seattle Public Library

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 11/27/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4027
The Montlake Branch of The Seattle Public Library began in 1944 as Montlake Station. It began as a cooperative effort between a community library committee and the library itself. The committee rented and fixed up a former grocery store at 2304 24th Avenue N (later 24th Avenue E) for $35 a month and the library provided a librarian and books. In 1947 the library took over the lease and operation of the station. In 1979 the station moved into an old drugstore next door. In 1998, Seattle voters approved $196.4 million in "Libraries for All" bonds, and on August 12, 2006, a new Montlake Branch opened at 2401 24th Avenue E.

Why Not Us?

Previously a small private Montlake Lending Library had operated across the street at 2303 24th Avenue N (24th Avenue E). This private library was staffed by one Tillie Schultz, and shared space with dressmaker Esther Mitchener.

During World War II, the Seattle Public Library opened a number of small stations to service war workers living in temporary housing projects. The residents of the more established Montlake neighborhood at the foot of Capitol Hill wanted a free public library too.

There had been a deposit station at the Royal Drug Co., but only for the return of books. Readers and students who wanted to check out books or do research had to travel to the main branch downtown, which cost carfare or rationed gasoline. In 1943, the Montlake Community Club asked the library board for a branch, but the board had to decline because of lack of funds. But if the community club could come up with space, the library would supply staff and books.

Guiding the Children

The community club under the leadership of Elmer F. Curtiss, and the Montlake Parent Teacher Association launched a campaign to raise money. A flyer went out to the neighborhood proclaiming:

"THERE IS NO JUVENILE DELINQUENCY in our district. We shall see to it that such a situation never exists. It seems to us very vital that this library go through as THIS IS ONE MORE STEP TO INSURE OUR CHILDREN BEING GUIDED IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION" (Miscellaneous Papers).

Within six months, 808 residents and businesses contributed $2,151.32. The Montlake Library Committee was organized, with Martha R. Parker as chair, to find and lease space. The old Montlake Price-Rite grocery and meat market at 2304 24th Avenue N (later 24th Avenue E) was rented for $35 a month. Utilities and custodial services came to $61 a month. Volunteers fixed up the old store. The library board held up its end of the bargain and provided a librarian and 1,500 books.

Montlake Station opened on September 1, 1944, with Helen Moyer as librarian. Neighborhood resident Jim Devin served as a volunteer assistant. In the first four months, 7,956 volumes circulated. Every month, the library committee reported its financial situation to the library board. The expense of rent was defrayed by renting the station to the City for $5 as a polling place.

On January 1, 1947, the Seattle Public Library formally took over the lease on the station and the library committee tendered $77.11 in surplus funds to the library system. Ruth P. Rogers took over as librarian and she tended the counter for the next 15 years.

In the 1950s, librarian Rogers noted that the advent of television actually helped patronage. When something appeared on TV, there would be an increased interest in books on that topic. Rogers' main complaint was that the station lacked a proper card catalog. Her catalog was limited to an author and title index. Only because she and other staff were very familiar with the small collection were they able to assist many users.

Changes and More Changes

Rogers' annual reports reflect wider changes in the Montlake neighborhood. In 1950, her patrons were all white. Ten years later, she noticed Asians and African Americans using the library. Although population growth was slow in the 1950s, she logged a 39 percent increase in circulation.

Rogers lamented that many of the houses demolished for the SR 520 freeway in the early 1960s and for the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge had been homes to loyal patrons and she worried that the area would fill up with apartments. Other community changes impacted the library too. Small businesses in the 2300 block of 24th Avenue E closed and the vacant storefronts left the Montlake Station's front door dark at night. This resulted in a drop in visitors. Students still relied on the library for help with their homework. One small benefit of the closing of Royal Drug Co. next door was the paperback book rack, which the library acquired. Montlake charged out more than 250 paperbacks a month, once they were properly displayed.

A New Home Not Far Away

In 1979, the station received a valuable improvement when it moved into the 1,574-square-feet of the Royal Drug Co. at 2300 24th Avenue E. The new space retained the old drug store wood soda fountain and the mirror behind the main counter.

In February 1991, the station closed so that the landlord, Gerald Pierce, could make some upgrades to the 1926-era building. He wanted to resolve the sag in the middle of the structure. As with most remodels, the job entailed more than was planned and plumbing and wiring deficiencies surfaced. The neighborhood had to do without a library for 2½ years. On July 21, 1993, the station finally reopened.

In 1998, Seattle voters approved $196.4 million in "Libraries for All" bonds to replace the central library and renovate all 22 branches and to build three new branches. On August 12, 2006, the new Montlake Branch opened at 2401 24th Avenue E. Weinstein Architects + Urban Designers prepared a design and Seattle artist Rebecca Cummins created a colored glass sundial/skylight. Graham Contracting Ltd. built the structure, which at 5,652 square feet provided more than three times the space of the old facility. The $5.24 million branch holds more than 18,000 books and other items.

Branch Librarians

  • Helen Moyer, 1944-1945
  • Elizabeth Woodley, 1945-1947
  • Ruth P. Rogers, 1947-1962
  • Janice Parchen, 1962-1971
  • (Unavailable), 1972-1976
  • Regional Management, 1977-1990
  • Rae Bass, 1993
  • (Unavailable), 1994-2001
  • Miriam Driss, 2002
  • Brian Bannon, 2003-2006
  • Nancy Slote, 2006-present

Sources: Polk's Seattle City Directory, 1938; Helen E. Jung, "Montlake Residents Dubious, But Library Should Open Soon," The Seattle Times, July 16, 1993, p. B-3; undated anonymous typescript, "Montlake History," folder, Montlake Branch Library; "Montlake Library Is Now Open To Public," University District Herald, September 2, 1944, newsclipping, Ibid.; "Public Opening Set at Montlake Library," University District Herald, August 31, 1944, newsclipping, Ibid.; "Annual Report 1979," typescript, Ibid.; "Montlake Library -- Annual Reports," folder, Seattle Public Library Archives; "Montlake Library -- Miscellaneous Papers," folder, Ibid; HistoryLink.org the online encyclopedia of Washington State History, "New Montlake Branch of The Seattle Public Library opens on August 12, 2006," (by David Wilma), http://www.HistoryLink.org (accessed June 7, 2007); Seattle Public Library uncataloged archival materials, Box 4, "Personnel Staff Day," folders "Staff Directory 1950," and "Staff Directory 1956," and "Staff Directory 1960-1969," and unmarked folder containing staff directories 1970-1977, Seattle, Washington; Library Board of Seattle, Minutes of Proceedings, Vols 5 (1934-1944), 6 (1945-1951), 7(1952-1957), 8 (1958-1961), 9 (1962-1966), 10 (1967-1970), 11 (1971-1973), 12 (1974-1976), 13 ( 1977-1978), Seattle Room, Central Branch, Seattle Public Library, Seattle; Brian Bannon (San Francisco Public Library) email to Paula Becker, March 27, 2009, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was updated on June 28, 2007, and again on May 21, 2009.

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