Bellevue Library opens in large new building on July 1, 1993.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 12/14/2016
  • Essay 20244

On July 1, 1993, the Bellevue Library moves into its new building in downtown Bellevue. This is the library's eighth home since it was originally formed by the Bellevue Women's Club in 1925. In 1967, following a series of moves from one existing building to another, the library moved into the first building constructed specifically for it. However, by the 1980s a larger building was needed to accommodate Bellevue's rapidly growing population. Built at a cost of $21,071,000, the new 80,000-square-foot Bellevue Library is the largest in the King County Library System (KCLS).

Final Destination

In 1925, the Bellevue Library opened in the back room of a small cafe in the then-small community's business district. It moved from there into a donated building and then an old school before settling in for two decades in the Bellevue Clubhouse. After joining KCLS in 1944, the library moved into the basement of an old bank building, and then into the remodeled former Sacred Heart Church. The Bellevue Library got its first dedicated building in 1967, when a new library was built next to City Hall.

After World War II, Bellevue had become Seattle's fastest-growing suburb, especially after a second floating bridge was built over Lake Washington in the early 1960s. Two decades later came another growth spurt with Microsoft and other high-tech firms transforming the area, and banks and financial firms also moving to the city.

In less than two decades, the 1967 library building had become inadequate for the growing city. Since 1944, the Bellevue Library had contracted with KCLS for services such as books and staff, and in 1985 voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative to annex the Bellevue Library (and the Lake Hills Library) to KCLS. This made available additional revenue for the design and construction of a new, larger Bellevue Library, to accommodate the needs of the ever-increasing population.

Award-Winning Design

The 1967 building was located next to Interstate 405, but was on the east side of the highway, away from downtown. In 1986 the Bellevue City Council voted unanimously to buy the former Ashwood School on Northeast 12th Street in partnership with KCLS, to develop as the site of both the new library and an adjoining city park. The Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership was hired to design the new structure, and groundbreaking ceremonies were held on April 16, 1992.

A site plan was also adopted for Ashwood Park. Work on the park continued until after the library was completed, to better integrate Ashwood Plaza, a component of the park, with the new structure, effectively making it a "front porch" for the new library. The park also included a playfield and parking for the library. (In 2013, a parking garage would be added north of the library, to supplement the building's original underground parking.)

The library opened on July 1, 1993, at a cost of $21,071,000 -- which included site acquisition, construction, street improvements, materials, and furnishings. The large crowd that attended the opening was very impressed with the new building, which went on to win many awards, including the 1994 Associated General Contractors of Washington's Award for Excellence in Construction and the 1995 ALA/AIA National Award of Excellence for Library Architecture.

Spacious and Well Lit

The three-story building was designed with lofty public areas centered on an open stairwell providing views from the ground up. The open space muffled sounds, and there were plenty of cozy nooks and quiet spaces for leisurely readers. Large glass windows and skylights provided a great amount of indirect lighting, in addition to the interior lighting provided by sconces and lamps.

The first floor housed the children's area, adult fiction, and media collections, as well as the check-out and information desks. Non-fiction collections were on the second and third floors, and the second floor was also home to the library's public reference collection, including periodicals, government documents, microfilm readers and more. The new library also had five meeting rooms and seven study rooms.

The new Bellevue Library also featured an impressive amount of public art. Check It Out, an interactive cut-glass window by Ann Troutner and Paul Maroni, greeted visitors near the entrance. The main hallway displayed a series of porcelain enamel portraits by Garth Edwards, and there was also Reynard the Fox, a statue by sculptor Richard Beyer (1925-2012); Golden Boy, a bronze statue of a reclining lion by Leo Osborne; custom lights of twisted glass by Walter White; and, in the restrooms, ceramic tiles by Portland artist Anne Storrs depicting Northwest flora and fauna. One piece of art that many patrons recalled from the 1967 library building was too large to move into the new structure -- a giant stucco-lustro mural created by Viennese artist Sepp Mayrhuber (1904-1989) in honor of Marguerite Groves (1889-1967) -- Bellevue's first librarian. The City of Bellevue instead put the mural on display at the Northwest Arts Center.

At the time of its opening the Bellevue Library had more than 60 public computers available to patrons -- an impressive number during the dawn of the Internet Age. Since then, many more computers have been added, as well as WiFi access. More than 20 years after its current building opened, and more than 90 since it was originally opened in the back room of a cafe, the Bellevue Library continues growing to meet the evolving needs of the community.


Lucille McDonald, Bellevue: Its First 100 Years (Bellevue: Friends of the Bellevue Library, 1984); Alan J. Stein and the HistoryLink Staff, Bellevue Timeline: The Story of Washington's Leading Edge City from Homesteads to High Rises, 1863-2003 (Bellevue: City of Bellevue, 2004); "Groundbreaking for New Library," Bellevue Journal-American, April 17, 1992, p. A-3; Emmett Murray, "Bellevue Library Has Seen Share of Reincarnations," The Seattle Times, July 1, 1993, p. B-1; Steve Johnston, "A Place to Read and Dream -- Welcoming Spaces, Cozy Nooks Grace New Bellevue Library," The Seattle Times, July 1, 1993, p. 1; Katherine Long, "User Friendly, Built on an Explosion of Information, Bellevue Library is Alive and Bustling," The Seattle Times, December 2, 1993, p. 1; further information provided by the Bellevue Library and the Eastside Heritage Center.

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