Federal Way 320th Library, King County Library System

  • By Linda Holden Givens
  • Posted 6/07/2017
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 20376
See Additional Media

The Federal Way 320th Library traces its origins to Federal Way's first library, which was opened in 1944 in the old Steel Lake Elementary School building. In 1948 the library moved to Machlett's Variety Store, where it was called the Federal Way Library. In 1956, the library moved to the new Federal Shopping Way mall on Highway 99 between S 312th and S 316th Streets. At first the library occupied one of several historic log cabins that had been installed at the mall. Then, in 1962, it moved to a donated former bank building that was moved to the mall for that purpose. On April 5, 1970, the modern new 10,000-square-foot Federal Way 320th Library was opened at 848 S 320th Street. In 1975, an arson fire destroyed the library. It was rebuilt and reopened in 1976. That building was demolished in 2012 to make way for a new 15,000-square-foot Federal Way 320th Library, which opened on the same site in 2013.

Steel Lake Library

The City of Federal Way is located in southwest King County. The first non-Indian settlers in the heavily timbered area were loggers who arrived in the late nineteenth century. By the start of World War II, a number of small communities were thriving in the area that had become known as Federal Way. North Edgewood, established in 1884, was the first. Some of the communities were located near the Puget Sound shore, including Adelaide and Buena, both first settled in 1887. Others grew up around lakes such as Star Lake and Steel Lake. The larger area encompassing these communities did not have an official name in the early years. However, on May 22, 1929, several small school districts were consolidated into one larger one, which was designated Federal Way School District 210. The district derived its name from the Federal Way School, which in turn was named for its location on U.S. Highway 99, sometimes referred to as "the Federal Way."

In 1944, soon after the King County Library System (KCLS) was created, residents in the Federal Way area expressed interest in having a library in their community. On June 24, 1944, the first library in the area was opened in the historic Steel Lake Elementary School building, built in 1893 on the east side of 28th Ave S at 312th Street. The Steel Lake Library, staffed by volunteers, was open two days a week for a total of six hours. It began with a collection of 147 books, which grew in a year to 500. Nearly 2,000 items were checked out that first year, about half by children and half by adults, and 80 people received library cards.

The library was heated by an old oil stove and there were times that oil was not available. Over the years visitors often found the building to be cold and drafty. At night, the windows were closed to help retain heat from the stove. The library cupola held a long-silent school bell that had announced the start of the school day. Librarians at the Steel Lake Library included Mrs. John Houidina, Marquita Rayl, Mrs. George W. Wicks, and Margaret R. Duckett.

From Variety Store to Mall

On October 18, 1948, the library moved from Steel Lake Elementary School to Machlett's Variety Store in what was considered downtown Federal Way -- roughly the area along the route of Highway 99 (Pacific Highway S) from about S 308th Street to S 320th Street. The library was renamed the Federal Way Library. In addition to Machlett's Variety Store, the downtown area included a real-estate office, a hardware store, Marckx's Farm Store, a grocery market, a beauty shop, a gas station, and a lumber store.

Harold M. (1905-1958) and Catherine M. (1917-1969) Machlett owned the variety store, which was one of Federal Way's earliest businesses. Catherine Machlett was instrumental in making it possible for the library to operate in the store. Trained as a librarian at the University of Washington, she became the librarian and managed the library with little or no assistance. In addition to working at the variety store, Machlett performed bookkeeping for several early Federal Way firms.

The Federal Way PTA provided shelves for books in the store, and books that did not fit on the shelves were kept in packing boxes stored under the store's counters. Despite sharing space with the store, the Federal Way Library was able to grow. By 1949 the collection had increased to 1,713 items, the number of borrowers had risen to 296, and circulation had grown to 5,740 items. In response the library was first given a corner of the store for its bookshelves, and then a separate, partitioned space in the back was provided for the library.

Federal Way continued to grow and, in 1955, the Federal Shopping Way opened for business as the first mall in the area. It was located on the west side of Highway 99 between S 312th and S 316th. In November 1955, the library board began considering moving to another location because the Machletts were planning to sell the variety store. By 1956, library circulation had increased to a point that Machlett felt the library needed more room. After much discussion by the library board, it was decided to move the library to the new Federal Shopping Way. In May 1956, Friends of the Federal Way Library was organized to support the library. On June 1, 1956, the library moved from Machlett's Variety Store to a new home at the Federal Shopping Way mall. The library occupied one of the historic log cabins in the mall's "Old Line Historic Park," a collection of old buildings and artifacts.

Dedication ceremonies were held two weeks after the move, on June 15, 1956. Hundreds of residents attended the opening of the new library. Representing KCLS were Ruth H. Gershevsky (1909-1996), field director of branch libraries; Betty Jo Van Hoose (1923-1996), adult services librarian; Noelle Corbin (1911-2006), community services librarian; and Jerry Nelson, an office staff member. Ilene Marckx (1911-1999), a member of the library board, served punch to the visitors. Machlett continued as librarian in the new location.

Soon it became apparent that additional funds were needed to maintain the building and to pay rent and utilities. The library board organized a fundraising drive and and also an Arts and Crafts Festival that both helped raise money and increased community awareness of the library and its services. Helen Stevenson (1919-2010) joined the library staff. In 1957, the number of books in the collection was 6,527. Total circulation was 21,166, and library hours were extended to accommodate the influx of students. In October 1957, a 172-square-foot addition to the building expanded the library's space. By 1958, the collection had increased to 8,000 and circulation 30,000. Kay Jackson was hired in May 1958 as an assistant to Stevenson. In the summer a Story Hour program was offered for children. Volunteers assisted in carpooling to transport children who otherwise would not be able to attend the program. Periodically, local Camp Fire Girls volunteered to keep the building clean.

In December 1958, Catherine Machlett's husband Harold died unexpectedly and she decided to move to California after more than 10 years of dedicated service during which she was at the forefront of library planning, fundraising campaigns, and many other activities. Six decades later, Machlett was still remembered for her work on behalf of the library and the Federal Way community.

Still Growing Fast

Federal Way kept growing fast. The Boeing Company was expanding its work force and housing was built to accommodate the increasing number of workers and their families. The number of local businesses increased, new schools were built, and demand for community services of all kinds was high. The library board struggled to keep up with the need for additional funding for the building, furnishings, and utilities. Algie Martinson (1921-2014) organized a fund drive that brought in enough money to ease the financial burden for a time.

Around 1961, the first commercial bank in Federal Way, a branch of Peoples National Bank of Washington (later U.S. Bank), moved into a new building, leaving its old building vacant. The library board members reached out to Peoples National Bank, and the bank donated the 28-by-38-foot building to the library board. The donated building was moved to the southwest corner of the Federal Shopping Way. That site was offered to the library by John R. Cissna (1908-1986), an insurance company owner and attorney who had developed the mall and was chairman of its board of directors.

In the fall of 1961, a host of volunteers did most of the work of moving the former bank and installing it at the mall. On October 5, 1961, a fundraising drive was held at the Federal Shopping Way to raise money for the new library. KCLS approved plans for the interior. On December 6, 1961, the library moved into its building. An open house celebration was held on February 3, 1962, for an enthusiastic crowd.

Despite the move, by February 1963 the library board was once again discussing a new, larger home for the library. On November 8, 1966, King County voters approved a library bond issue that made funds available for many new libraries, including one in Federal Way. The next four years were devoted to planning and building the new library.

Federal Way 320th Library

The new 10,000-square-foot brick library was built at 848 S 320th Street, a few blocks southwest of the Federal Shopping Way location. It had the capacity to hold 40,000 volumes. The total cost of the construction was $440,000, with $325,000 coming from the county bond issue and the remainder from federal matching funds. On Sunday, April 5, 1970, Helen Stevenson and her staff presented the Federal Way 320th Library to the public. The opening ceremony was planned by Muriel Haegle and Elsie E. Honebrink (1924-1999).

A new head librarian, Meredith Hopkins (later Wallace), succeeded Stevenson. A children's librarian and five staff members were added. By January 1, 1971, there were 35,000 volumes in the collection. Three more librarians and five clerks were added to the staff. Over the next four years, the library thrived. The Library Arts Commission organized in March 1971 and sponsored or co-sponsored various arts festivals. The Garden Club, managed by Virginia Scarff (1924-2011), assisted in maintaining the landscaping around the building.

Rebuilding after Arson

On March 29, 1975, the library suffered a devastating blow. Two 14-year-old Sacajawea Junior High School students dropped a lighted box of matches into the bookdrop shortly after midnight. The book bin was made of wood and located near magazine racks that immediately burst into flames. The fire spread quickly and the damage to the building and its contents was estimated at between $1.2 million and $1.5 million, including $750,000 worth of books that were uninsured. Nearly 40,000 volumes were destroyed. Some 12,000 books that had been loaned out at the time of the fire remained. The circulation records, preserved intact in a steel box, were not lost. The two juveniles were charged with second-degree arson.

About 25 percent of the destroyed building was salvageable. All the washrooms in the library were unharmed as their doors had been closed. Every morning for several months following the fire, a mobile unit was brought into the parking lot in the back to provide library services. Then on June 1, 1975, the remaining volumes that had been in circulation at the time of the fire were relocated temporarily to the Federal Way High School Library.

Dee DuBois became head librarian, replacing Meredith Hopkins Wallace. The community rallied to begin fundraising projects for building a new library. An $88,000 grant from the Washington State Library aided the effort. Little more than a year after the arson, on May 3, 1976, the Federal Way 320th Library was reopened and rededicated. The event was part of Federal Way's celebration of the Bicentennial of American independence, which was being commemorated around the country that year. To prevent a repeat of the arson, a new bookdrop located outside the building was installed. Later, in October 1978, a multi-purpose room was completed. Karen Edwards led the way in raising funds for the $40,000 project from Weyerhaeuser and the city of Federal Way.

Annexation to KCLS

The Library Arts Commission, which had formed in 1971, continued to promote and sponsor fundraisers and programs for the library for nine years, until it was dissolved in February 1980. On March 10, 1982, the Federal Way 320th Library was connected to a computer network that could calculate patrons' fines and fees, view circulation of books, and access other library computers to see if a book was available. On April 1, 1983, the library began using a new KCLS barcode system for checking out and returning books. All library cards and books had barcodes affixed. In the 1990s, Dynix, an integrated online library catalog system, was selected to replace the paper-based card catalog.

After rejecting proposals to incorporate as a city in 1917, 1981, and 1985, area voters in March 1989 overwhelmingly approved incorporating the city of Federal Way with a margin of two to one in favor. The incorporation presented its residents with another choice: whether to have the new city take on full responsibility for operating and maintaining the library or to join the King County Library System. Even before the incorporation became effective on February 28, 1990, voters in the future city made their choice: On February 6, 1990, they approved annexation to KCLS with 75 percent of the votes in favor.

Into the Twenty-first Century

Soon after the incorporation and annexation votes, in December 1991, a second library opened in the city, known initially as the Federal Way Regional Library and later as the Federal Way Library. The Federal Way 320th Library continued to serve the community in the building originally constructed in 1970 and restored in 1976 following the fire. By the second decade of the twenty-first century a new building was needed.

Funded by a $172 million library capital bond measure that county voters approved in 2004, which supported the construction or renovation of many KCLS libraries, an entirely new 15,000-square-foot Federal Way 320th Library was built at the site of the existing library at a cost of $7.8 million. The old building was demolished in the summer of 2012, and on September 28, 2013, the Federal Way 320th Library reopened in its new building, which was 4,000 square feet larger than the one it replaced. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to celebrate the reopening; it included refreshments, Latin American music by Los Flacos, and a magic show.

Like many new KCLS libraries, the building had ample windows to maximize natural lighting in the interior. Other green-design features included radiant heating and low-flow fixtures for the interior, and a detention pond and rain garden outside the building to help manage stormwater runoff. An entry plaza featured benches, bike racks, and a winding path lined with sculptured trees created by artist Leo Saul Berk.

In its first nine decades, the Federal Way 320th Library has grown and transformed in ways its founders probably never imagined. What began in 1944 as a collection of just 147 books maintained by volunteers in a rural schoolhouse became, in less than 90 years, a metropolitan, high-tech learning hub with digital collections, wireless Internet services, and online access to e-books, audiobooks, research databases, and archives. And that is in addition to a collection of nearly 60,000 physical items available on the library shelves and access to many thousands more held in other KCLS libraries.


"About Federal Way 320th Library," King County Library System (KCLS) website accessed January 23, 2017 (https://kcls.org/about-federal-way-320th-library/); "History," KCLS website accessed January 26, 2017 (http://kcls.org/history/); "Delivering on a Promise to Voters: KCLS Capital Improvement Plan 11 Year Report, September 2015," KCLS website accessed February 2, 2017 (https://w3.kcls.org/pdf/11_year_report.pdf); "Engage: Federal Way Libraries 2006 Community Study," KCLS website accessed February 3, 2017 (https://w3.kcls.org/community_studies/Federal%20Way%20Libraries%20Community%20Study.pdf); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Federal Way -- Thumbnail History" (by Alan J. Stein), "King County -- Thumbnail History" (by Priscilla Long), "King County Library System" (by Paula Becker), and "City of Federal Way incorporates on February 28, 1990" (by Kit Oldham) http://www.historylink.org (accessed January 12, 2017); "$6 Million Library Bond Pulls Through," The Seattle Times, November 24, 1966, p. 78; Cari Carter, "King County Library System: Young and Vigorous," The Seattle Times, February 1, 1970, Sunday magazine pp. 12-13; "Home Sweet Tome -- Temporarily," The Seattle Times, May 6, 1975, p. B-2; Ranny Green, "Federal Way Library: It's A Community Center," The Seattle Times, December 3, 1972, Pictorial, pp. 11-14; "Federal Way Library," The Seattle Times, December 3, 1972, p. 178; "History of Library Program Topic," The Federal Way News, May 18, 1977, p. B-2; "New Library Has Grand Opening at Federal Way," The Auburn Globe-News, June 7, 1956, p. 1; "Death of Former Federal Way Woman Recalls Her Many Community Efforts," The News, February 5, 1969, p. 4; "Public Library Dedicated Before 550 Grateful Citizens," The Federal Way News, April 8, 1970, p. 1; "Leads Checked in Library Arson Fire," The Federal Way News," April 2, 1975, p. 1; "Federal Way Library -- In 10 years, It's Touched the Minds of Thousands," The News, March 9, 1980, p A-3; "Library Plans Depend on Voters," The Federal Way Mirror, August 25, 2004, p A-1; Andy Hobbs, "Check Out the New Federal Way 320th Library," The Federal Way Mirror, September 27, 2013, p. 12; "Historical Society of Federal Way Time Line," Historical Society of Federal Way website accessed January 22, 2017 (http://federalwayhistory.org/powercms/files/TimeLineNov142015.pdf); Dick Caster, "Federal Shopping Way," Historical Society of Federal Way website accessed January 28, 2017 (http://www.federalwayhistory.org/pdf/FShoppingW.pdf); H. Verone Heinsen, "History of Federal Way Library, 1944-1988," typescript dated 1988, and "King County Library System Bond Issue Fact Sheet -- Federal Way," April 1988, in Folder 2, Federal Way Library History, Box 1, Library 320, Historical Society of Federal Way, Federal Way, Washington; Federal Way 320th Library dedication brochure, April 5, 1970, "Federal Way Libraries Service Needs Assessment," November 1996, and Federal Way 320th Library program, September 28, 2013, in Folder 1, Box 1, Federal Way Library (320th), Federal Way 320th Library, Federal Way, Washington; Ruth Gershevsky, "History of Federal Way Branch Library -- Steel Lake," typescript dated September 1958, and Ilene Marckx, "History of the Federal Way Branch Library 1948 - 1958," typescript dated May 28, 1977, in Folder 2, Box 1, Federal Way Library History, Federal Way 320th Library; Federal Way (Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia Publishing, 2008), 7-9, 37, 41, 88-89, 91; Catherine Lord (KCLS), email to Linda Holden Givens, February 22, 2017, in possession of Linda Holden Givens, Auburn, Washington; Karen Meador (Federal Way Historical Society), email to Linda Holden Givens, January 19 - February 16, 2017, in possession of Linda Holden Givens; Donna McMillen (Federal Way Library), email to Linda Holden Givens, February 22 - March 6, 2017, in possession of Linda Holden Givens; Laurie White (KCLS), email to Linda Holden Givens, January 17 - February 27, 2017, in possession of Linda Holden Givens.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You