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Capitol Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library
HistoryLink.org Essay 8174
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The Capitol Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library, opened at 425 Harvard Avenue E on May 31, 2003. The site was formerly home to the Susan J. Henry Branch, The Seattle Public Library. The Henry Branch served the Capitol Hill community from 1954 until November 2001, when it was demolished to make way for the new facility. Library services in the Capitol Hill neighborhood have developed over nearly a century from a tiny deposit station in the Mission Pharmacy to the $5.7 million Capitol Hill Branch. The Capitol Hill Branch was funded by the $196.4 million "Libraries For All" bond issue approved by Seattle voters in 1998. "Libraries For All" provided for replacement or renovation of existing branches, several new branches, and a new main library.
Horace C. Henry (1844-1928) and his wife Susan J. Henry (1854-1921) were great philanthropists in the first decades of the twentieth century. Among other gifts, they provided land north of Seattle where the Anti-tuberculosis League of King County built a municipal sanatorium, and gave close to a half-million dollars worth of art to the University of Washington. In 1934, their sons, Langdon C. Henry and Paul M. Henry donated to the library the old Henry home at 1117 Harvard Avenue N (now E) and 12 lots at the northwest corner of Harvard Avenue N and Prospect Street in an area of the neighborhood dominated by stately homes and mansions. The gift was named for their mother. This property was later sold to pay for property more central to the Capitol Hill business district.
In 1953, the Seattle City Council dipped into general city reserves and was able to find $492,000 for three new branches -- North East, Greenwood, and Susan Henry. The Library Board deemed the land donated by the Henry family unsuitable for library use and sold the property, with the proceeds going to buy a site on the corner of Harvard Avenue E and E Republican Street. At the time the site was chosen, it contained a large home that had fallen into disrepair as the neighborhood surrounding it became increasingly commercialized. This house, formerly owned by the family of Emma Baillargeon Stimson (1887-1963), had been converted into apartments. It was demolished to make way for the library branch.
In 1933, the Great Depression and chronic lack of city funds had caused the shutdown of the Mission Pharmacy deposit station (at 901 19th Avenue), which had served the area since 1913. The Henry family had intended their gift to be utilized immediately, but the library board lacked funds to modify the home for library use. In 1944, another deposit station opened at Pilgrim Congregational Church at 509 10th Avenue E. It operated until 1954. Construction of a permanent Capitol Hill branch was included in 1950 and 1952 bond issues, but voters rejected both proposals. (The Aloha Branch, housed in a former storefront at 1911 E Aloha, operated from 1948 to 1961).
Just before the former Baillargeon house was torn down, Emma Baillargeon Stimson requested, and was allowed to have removed, some of the wall paneling from the first floor area. A small sample of this now (2009) is displayed in the Capitol Hill Branch, along with information on the history of the site and branch.
Architects Naramore, Bain, Brady, and Johanson (NBBJ) designed the building at 425 Harvard Avenue E, and it opened on January 20, 1954. In addition to a neighborhood library, the building's lower level served for many years as a home for Seattle's Library for the Blind and as a base for the Bookmobile program. The Bookmobiles moved out in 1957. The Library for the Blind got a new home in 1973 and later became the Washington Talking Book and Braille Library.
In 1998, Seattle voters approved the $196.4 million "Libraries For All" bond issue, which provided for replacement or renovation of existing branches, several new branches, and a new main library. The Library Board considered several proposals for siting the Capitol Hill Branch and decided to stick with the site of the existing branch.
The Henry Branch lent its last book on November 3, 2001, and the existing building was demolished. The renamed Capitol Hill Branch opened on May 31, 2003. (On February 23, 1999, the Library Board adopted a policy limiting the use of personal names to areas within libraries, rather than to libraries themselves. This policy impacted all new, rebuilt, or relocated branches. With the exception of the Douglass-Truth Branch and the Madrona-Sally Goldmark Branch, The Seattle Public Library's branch names indicate the neighborhoods in which they are built). The 11,215-square-foot building was designed by Johnston Architects and Cutler Architects. The new building is more than twice the size of the old one and can hold 40,000 books. It features large windows with wide window seats, community meeting rooms, and a large central reading room under a soaring ceiling with skylights, and a glass book tower.
Edith Cleaves, 1954-1960
Phoebe Harris, 1961-1962
Chloe Sivertz, 1963-1965
Ching-yen Hsiao, 1966-1967
Ryo Tsai, 1968-1977
Regional Management, 1977-1990
Rae Charlton, 1990-2006
Brian Bannon, 2003-2006
Nancy Slote, 2006-present
Susan Boyle et al., Draft "Landmark Nomination of the Susan J. Henry Library" (Seattle: BOLA Architecture + Planning, October 2000); Andra Addison, Communications Director, Seattle Public Library, to www.historylink.org, April 15, 2003. Building data based on Seattle Public Library records; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Capitol Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library, opens on May 31, 2003," (by David Wilma), and "Henry Branch, The Seattle Public Library, and its Neighborhood," (by Alan Stein)," and "Mobile Services, The Seattle Public Library -- The Bookmobile," (by David Wilma)," and Washington Talking Book and Braille Library"(by David Wilma), http://www.HistoryLink.org, (accessed June 7, 2007); "Capitol Hill Branch: Libraries for All Construction Fact Sheet," The Seattle Public Library website accessed on June 7, 2007 (http://www.spl.org/); 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; 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; Deborah Carlton Harrell, "New $5 million Capitol Hill Library is One for the Books," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 31, 2003, p. B-1; letter from B. L. Lambuth to Seattle Public Library, January 15, 1953, folder "Henry Library Site Selection," Seattle Public Library Archives, Box 12 Henry Branch, High Point Branch, High Point Station, HollyPark Branch, Indian Library, International District Branch, Seattle Room, Central Branch, The Seattle Public Library, Seattle; Karen Spiel email to Paula Becker, February 14, 2009, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington; Jodee Fenton email to Paula Becker, February 19, 2009, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington; "Donor Recognition in Library Buildings," Seattle Public Library Policy, adopted February 23, 1999, Series 1, Policies folder, Box 1, Board of Trustees Library Archives, Seattle Room, Central Branch, The 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 extensively revised and expanded on April 5, 2009.
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Capitol Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library (Johnston Architects and Cutler Architects, 2003), 2003
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Capitol Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library, 425 Harvard Avenue E, Seattle, September 12, 2008
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Interior of Capitol Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library, 425 Harvard Avenue E, Seattle, September 12, 2008
HistoryLink.org photo by Paula Becker
Window seat, Capitol Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library, 425 Harvard Avenue E, Seattle, September 12, 2008
HistoryLink.org photo by Paula Becker