Columbia Branch, The Seattle Public Library, reopens after remodeling on August 22, 2004.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/28/2005
  • Essay 7319
On August 22, 2004, the Columbia Branch, The Seattle Public Library, reopens at 4721 Rainier Avenue S after remodeling.  In order to respect and preserve the historic character of the original 1915 building, the new portion is built onto the back of the existing structure.  This is the 12th branch opened as part of "Libraries For All," a $196.4 million bond issue passed by Seattle voters in 1998.

The 1915 building was designed by W. Marbury Somervell (1872-1939) and Harlan Thomas in the Beaux-Arts, Georgian Revival style of architecture and constructed with funds donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.  It was the smallest of The Seattle Public Library’s Carnegie branches.  Located within the Columbia City Landmark District, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The expansion was designed by Cardwell Architects, who chose construction materials to complement the historical building. The new portion of the building extends from the back of the original structure, maintaining the building’s original street presence. The expanded branch has 12,420 square feet, up from 6,825 square feet, and it cost $3,526,178 to complete.  The library’s interior is redesigned for increased efficiency and increased access for people with disabilities.  The ventilation, electrical, mechanical, and computer systems are modernized. 

The renovated Columbia Branch serves the neighborhood’s multicultural community with materials in Spanish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Somali, Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya, and Tagalog, as well as many materials designed to help people learning English as a second language. 

The children’s area, located in the new addition, looks out on Columbia Park next door.  A new staff room, study room, meeting room, and reading room lit by natural light also shared the new addition.

The artwork in the branch consists of 40 photographs of neighborhood residents taken by Chinese immigrant and Vancouver, British Columbia, resident Gu Xiong.  The photographs, large scale and encased in curving Plexiglas, are accompanied by messages written in English and in the subject’s native language.  Many of the photographs were taken at the nearby Refugee Women’s Alliance.

Columbia Branch patrons endured a year without access to their branch during construction.  Columbia Branch patrons are among the most diverse mixture of all incomes and cultures in the Seattle Public Library system.

Sources: Cara Solomon, “Warm Hello For A ‘New’ Neighbor; Columbia City Library Reopens,” The Seattle Times, August 23, 2004; HistoryLink.Org Online Encyclopedia of Washington History, “Columbia Branch, The Seattle Public Library,” (by David Wilma), (accessed May 18, 2005); “About The Columbia Branch,” The Seattle Public Library website accessed May 13, 2005 (; personal observations of author, May 20, 2005.

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