The Lake Forest Park Library opened in the newly built Forest Park Center mall on June 20, 1965, four years after the city incorporated. Created in 1910 as one of King County's first planned residential communities, Lake Forest Park, located on the north end of Lake Washington, has retained the beauty of its natural woodland and waterfront setting. In 1956 citizens strongly opposed a county rezoning plan to allow commercial development, primarily a mall. When residents lost the battle in 1961, they voted to incorporate the town in hopes of having a voice in decisions regarding further development. Lake Forest Park Library was the first King County Library System (KCLS) library to open in a mall and while it has had four different locations -- the most recent opened in 2012 -- it has always remained in what is currently known as Town Center at Lake Forest Park. Over the years Town Center has become an important community place, with Third Place Books and other businesses partnering with the Lake Forest Park Library, Third Place Commons, and a branch of Shoreline Community College. In 2015 the Lake Forest Park Library celebrated 50 years of service.
A Planned Community
Early settlers began arriving in the area that would become Lake Forest Park in the 1880s. The arrival of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway in 1888 brought development along a route that is the present Burke-Gilman Trail following the west and north shores of Lake Washington. In 1901 logger John Fish built a logging camp and a logging railroad that ran up Lyon Creek northward to the Snohomish County line. Rail cars brought logs to Fish's Landing where they were floated in booms to mills on Lake Washington and Lake Union. A community formed near the landing, a steamboat operator naming the place Lake Forest Park because it reminded him of Lake Forest Park, Illinois.
The Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE) brought world attention to the Seattle area in 1909 at a time when the nation's population was growing with the arrival of immigrants. Many wished to settle in the Pacific Northwest and investors began buying land and building homes. Real estate developer (and later Seattle mayor) Ole Hanson (1874-1940) joined with a partner to form the North Seattle Improvement Company. They chose the area around Lake Forest Park for a park-like residential development and hired commercial photographer Asahel Curtis (1874-1941) to take a dozen pictures of the lake and proposed site for a promotional brochure. The company brochure stated:
"Wealth will not be the passport, but a natural love of beauty, of home, of Mother nature to its residents. ... All natural beauty must be preserved ... no tree must unwittingly be cut down ... the streams, springs, lakefront and all of the flora and fauna with which Nature blessed the lake shore must not be defied by the hand of man" ("Lake Forest Park Library ... Community Study").
Eight architect-designed homes were built in this development between 1910 and 1914 in Tudor, Bungalow, and Neo-Colonial styles and these served as showcases for potential buyers. Made of quality materials, these homes, still standing in 2016, set a standard for the community, newer homes following of similar design and quality. The completion of Bothell Boulevard in 1912 encouraged development, with more homes built in the area during the prosperous 1920s.
Shopping Center and Incorporation
Although growth slowed during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the years following World War II brought major development, which began threatening the residential community. Lake Forest Park residents strongly wished to preserve the community's character and hoped to keep commercial development primarily confined to its major roads and highways.
In 1956 King County sought to rezone Lake Forest Park from a strictly residential community to allow commercial development, primarily for the purpose of granting a developer the right to build a shopping complex on a 17-acre marsh at the corner of Bothell Way and Ballinger Way. Citizens opposed the rezone and fought the mall development, but they finally lost in 1961. Hoping to gain a voice in future development plans in a rapidly growing metropolitan ring, citizens that year voted to incorporate Lake Forest Park.
Local feelings were so strong against building the mall that the incorporated town's boundaries were first drawn to exclude the new shopping center, but residents soon changed their minds and the land area of the future mall was annexed in 1962, the first of more than 50 annexations that would more than double the town's area over the next four decades. Forest Park Center, as the mall was initially named, opened in 1964 with 200,000 square feet of retail space, 30 tenants, and the potential for 70 more.
First KCLS Library in a Mall
Following incorporation, the Town of Lake Forest Park (it would become a city in 1966) contracted with the King County Library System to establish a library, which opened on the lower floor of the Forest Park Center mall on June 20, 1965, in a spot that the library's annual report that year described as "hard to find" ("Lake Forest Park Library ... Community Study"). This was KCLS's first library to be located in a mall and, despite being tucked away in hidden quarters, during the library's first full year of service it circulated 73,000 items. The large circulation encouraged the local Library Advisory Council, KCLS, and the City Council to look for a better location and in 1970 the library was moved to a slightly larger, but still somewhat hard to find, space of about 2,700 square feet on the mall's lower floor.
By 1987 circulation had topped 100,000 items, but a major remodel of the mall that year led to closure of the library for four months. The mall, renamed the Lake Forest Park Towne Centre, emerged in Tudor style, blending better with the city's architecture, and by this time it was becoming an important community center.
In 1990, the city drew up a long-range plan to manage future growth, a necessity as the population would triple in the first half of the decade. The city began a major spurt of annexations that continued throughout the 1990s, significantly increasing Lake Forest Park's land area. And the City Council, KCLS, and the Library Advisory Council began talking to mall management about moving the library to a larger and more visible location. They were not immediately successful as prime spaces were reserved for businesses. A Seattle Times reporter described the library's existing circumstances in rather dramatic terms:
"The ... library remains one of the best-kept secrets in town, hidden away from shops and shoppers. Getting there can be difficult for some and scary for others, which is why county and city officials want to move the library to a more conspicuous place in the shopping complex. ...The only way to reach the 2,764-square-foot library is by walking down deserted gray halls that curve through the mall's innermost recesses. To some, that's like taking a stroll through a dark alley" (Aweeka).
The article quoted KCLS librarian Janice Ian:
"Those long halls are alarming, although we never so far have had any kind of a problem. ... I myself, I feel like I'm being taken off to interrogation. That's a long trail to walk down" (Aweeka).
From 1990 to 1995 the city's population grew from 4,031 to 12,426. City services were stretched to the limit. Mall use increased and the Lake Forest Park Library's circulation continued to climb, reaching 147,796 in 1995. With the huge growth, city and KCLS officials came to terms with mall management to move the library to a 3,800-square-foot space on the main floor, near the mall's main entrance. The library reopened there in June 1996.
A Community Place
Third Place Books opened in the Lake Forest Park Towne Centre in November 1998 with the intent not only to sell books but also to create a "third place," a community space where readers could meet with friends and neighbors over breakfast, lunch, or coffee. Leasing much of the mall's top floor, the bookstore owners sublet part of the space to Seattle's popular Honey Bear Bakery and soon found success was more than they could handle on their own. With the help and interest of other visionaries, they developed what they called Third Place Commons. Friends of Third Place Commons formed in the fall of 1999 as a nonprofit group and a Commons area was set up on the upper level of the mall the following year. The Commons offers between 800 and 1,000 programs a year for all ages and interests.
The Lake Forest Park Library became an important partner in the Third Place environment. While an earlier bookstore had sometimes considered the library as unwanted competition, Third Place Books and the Commons saw partnership benefits. The library was an important player in building a reading community but it lacked a meeting room for author readings and events, something that both Third Place Books and the Commons could provide. An additional partner came in 2000 when Shoreline Community College opened a branch adjacent to the Commons. In 2004 the library was remodeled.
By 2008, the Lake Forest Park library held more than 40,000 items and had an annual circulation of nearly 250,000, one of the highest circulation rates of all KCLS libraries of its size. The library's service area, home to more than 20,000 people, extended well beyond the incorporated boundaries of Lake Forest Park, which in 2010 had a population of 12,958. The library's location in the mall at the junction of two major thoroughfares, Bothell Way (SR 522) and Ballinger Way (SR 104), the latter providing direct access to Interstate 5, made it a popular place to pick up and drop off materials.
"The Legacy 100-Year Vision" plan issued by the City of Lake Forest Park in 2008 reaffirmed the city's commitment to keeping its green tradition for generations to come, supporting its greenbelts, streams, and waterfront. The National Arbor Foundation has listed Lake Forest Park as a "Tree City." Lake Forest Park remained a residential community with only four percent of city land in 2009 zoned for commercial use. In 2011 the city of Lake Forest Park celebrated its 50-year anniversary with a history project funded by King County's 4Culture and in partnership with the Shoreline Historical Museum. Eight historical markers were placed telling the city's story before and after incorporation.
Before the Lake Forest Park Library celebrated its own 50th anniversary four years later, it had moved once again, although still within the mall.
The 2012 Library
An expansion of Lake Forest Park Library was included in the proposed projects funded by a $172 million bond issue that King County voters approved in 2004. The original plan called for expanding the library in its 1996 location, but there was not adequate space there. Instead a suitable spot was found on the lower level that allowed for building a 5,841-square-foot library, 60 percent greater in size than the existing space. Architects Hutteball and Oremus and CDK Construction did the work, using many recycled and green materials.
The new Lake Forest Park Library opened on January 7, 2012, with a dedicated Children's Area and a Teen Zone and a much-needed multipurpose room that could be opened or closed to the main library area. Other improvements included new furniture, more public computers, additional seating and study areas, and a larger collection of books and other materials.
Three years later, when the Lake Forest Park Library celebrated 50 years of serving the public, it remained both an essential part of the community center at the mall, which was by then known as Town Center at Lake Forest Park, and an important cultural resource for the small city and the library's entire service area.