In 1998, Seattle voters approved the $196.4 million Libraries for All levy, which provided for remodeling all 22 of the city’s branches, a new central library, and five new branches. Douglass-Truth, originally built in 1914 as the Yesler Branch at 23rd Avenue E and E Yesler Way, was slated to double in size to more than 16,000 square feet and 67,000 books and other items.
The firm of Schacht-Aslani Architects prepared a design with additions to both sides of the original Renaissance-Revival structure. Neighborhood residents and The Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees expressed concern that the proposed additions dwarfed the former Henry Yesler Library, a designated historic landmark. To accommodate the need for expanded space, the architects decided to excavate a large sunken chamber.
The second design placed the new addition entirely on the east side with the reading room below grade level and meeting rooms above. At night, the copper-clad light monitor serves symbolically as a lantern. The old east wall became part of the stairway down to the new main reading room.
The solution did not satisfy all critics, but Lawrence Cheek observed in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “the seven-ton curving steel staircase radiates so much presence that it practically qualifies as sculpture, and the bright, open reading space under the light well -- the ceiling soars 24 to 29 feet high -- makes the library feel much larger than it is. There's no sensation of being buried, as in almost every other subterranean library addition" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).
The old reading room became the children’s room. To reproduce exactly the 1914-era beige paint, Architect Walter Schecht retained a paint archaeologist from Vancouver, B.C., to find a match.