On Sunday, April 17, 1966, residents of Renton celebrate the opening and dedication of the city's new Renton Public Library, also known as the Cedar River Library. The new 20,000-square-foot building is an architectural marvel. It spans the Cedar River that flows through the city, the only library in Washington built over a river. Located at 100 Mill Ave S just south of Bronson Way and adjacent to Liberty Park, the new library replaces the Renton Carnegie Library that has served the city since 1914. The $327,560 facility is funded by a $150,000 city bond issue and federal matching funds. The Renton Library will become part of the King County Library System (KCLS) in 2010.
Renton Library History
Erasmus M. Smithers (1830-1900) platted the Town of Renton in 1875. The name honored Captain William Renton (1818-1891), a pioneer lumber and shipping merchant who owned and operated the largest coal mines around Renton during the mid to late 1800s. The town incorporated on September 6, 1901.
The earliest known library in Renton, a small book collection from community donors, was established in 1903 by the Renton Coal Miners Association. In 1907, the association handed the collection over to the Renton High School library. Beginning in 1911, Neva Bostwick Douglas (1874-1973) headed a committee that spent two years researching, preparing, and gathering detailed information to support an application by Renton for a library grant offered by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
In 1913 the Carnegie Corporation granted the city $10,000 to build a new library. The Renton Carnegie Library opened at 1201 Bronson Way on April 11, 1914. Throughout the 1940s, during and after World War II, Renton's population increased significantly, due in large part to the influx of workers following the 1941 opening of the Boeing Company's Renton plant. The increasingly cramped and creaky library faced the need to expand to keep up with demand.
City voters defeated three proposed library bond measures before approving a $150,000 bond issue in November 1964, making possible the construction of a new library. The success of the 1964 bond-measure campaign, which was promoted by the Greater Renton Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters, was due in large part to its supporters' unique vision for replacing the Carnegie Library with a library built across the Cedar River.
A "Bridge" Across the Cedar
The new one-story, 20,000-square-foot Renton Public Library cost $327,560 and could hold 100,000 books. Designed by David A. Johnston and the architecture firm Johnston-Campanella & Company, the library was constructed by contractor Alton V. Phillips of Seattle. The building featured a stunning 80-foot central span stretching across the Cedar River. The brochure for the opening dedication ceremony described the building:
"Designed as a 'bridge' across the Cedar River running through the heart of the City of Renton, the library is the first ... building of the proposed Renton Civic Center. The library has been designed using the most up-to-date materials and techniques made possible by modern technology. Much consideration had to be given to water velocities, flood control, sub-river ground conditions and the requirements of various state, county and municipal agencies having jurisdiction over the river. Structurally the building rests on twelve giant columns whose foundation extends to the bottom of the river. Floor construction is concrete girders with precast concrete tees which in turn support the finish floor" (Renton Public Library dedication brochure).
A no-step main entrance made the library easily accessible for all patrons. Materials for adults were to the right of the entrance; the children's area on the left featured a mobile by Jane W. Jenks (1900-1976). A quiet reading area furnished with colorful informal chairs and couches overlooked the river. The circulation area displayed an art screen by Marvin T. Herard that cost $2,000 and was donated to the library by Allied Arts of Renton. The workroom was located directly behind the circulation desk and behind that was a multi-purpose room seating 60 people that, with its many-windowed wall and facilities for for serving light refreshments, provided a prime location for community meetings.
Opening and Dedication Ceremony
The Renton Public Library opened on Sunday, April 17, 1966, a mild spring day with flowers blooming all around. City residents had waited a long time for this special occasion and the new library was greeted by more than 1,000 visitors. Many were already lining the ramp above the river when the doors opened at 1:30 p.m.
Louis Barei, past Library Board of Trustees president, served as master of ceremonies and introduced Ethel Leona Hanis, who gave a welcoming address. Hanis paid tribute to members of Explorer Scout Troop 493 and Boy Scout Troop 400, who jointly contributed nearly 200 hours of work moving 50,000 books, by hand and in library carts, from the old location to the new library. The invocation was given by Reverend Bernard Jonientz of St. Anthony's Catholic Church. Frank R. Vaise of V.F.W. Post No. 1263 and Auxiliary led a Presentation of the Colors ceremony.
Architect David A. Johnston and three members of the Johnston-Campanella & Company team who were responsible for the unique design presented a golden key to the building to Renton mayor Donald Ward Custer (1935-2015). Custer spoke and presented a certificate to head librarian Marcella Hillgen (1902-1983). In front of flashing cameras, the gold ribbon held by Mayor Custer was cut by eight-year-old Laurie Renton, a great-grandniece of town namesake Captain William Renton.
The benediction was delivered by Reverend Louis F. Brunner of the Cross and Crown Lutheran Church. Honored guests at the ceremony included Winifred Daniels (1886-1972), who had served as librarian from 1927 to 1954, and Florence Guitteau Storey (1885-1976), the holder of the first library card issued at the Renton Carnegie Library when it opened in 1914.
Refreshments were served throughout the afternoon from the library's multi-purpose room by the Soroptimist Women's Organization of Renton. Gold and orange flowers were used by Hazel O'Harra (1894-1982) in a decorative setting on the serving table. Volunteers conducted tours of the building and answered questions. Henry Moses (1900-1969) of the Duwamish Indian Tribe, a great-grandnephew of Chief Seattle, and his wife Christina Moses (?-1973) gave the library two woven baskets, one of which was several hundred years old, as well as a cedar dugout canoe. Library Board members Heidi M. Beckley, James Hurner, Donald Jacobson, William Monahan, and Jay Ford expressed appreciation to the library staff, residents, and various organizations for their cooperation and support in making the new building possible.
Two years after the new library opened, in April 1968, the Renton Carnegie Library was torn down. The Renton Public Library was extensively renovated in 1986 and 1987. In 2010, Renton voters approved the annexation of the Renton Public Library (and the city's other library, Renton Highlands) to the King County Library System. In August 2015, KCLS and the city completed another extensive renovation of the Renton Library.