NewHolly Branch, The Seattle Public Library, and its Neighborhood

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 12/09/2000
  • Essay 2865
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The NewHolly Branch, The Seattle Public Library, is located at 7058 32nd Avenue S on Seattle's Beacon Hill. Completed in 1999, the NewHolly Library replaced the Holly Park Library, which was originally built in 1943 to serve the World War II housing development of Holly Park.  After the war, the Seattle Housing Authority converted the development to subsidized low-income housing.  Holly Park became one of Seattle's most diverse areas and also one of the lowest in median income.  In the late 1990s, in an effort to change the neighborhood from low-income to mixed-income, the entire Holly Park housing development was bulldozed and rebuilt as NewHolly, a blend of single-family homes, townhomes, and apartments, with both public housing and market rate houses and apartments.  By then, despite a previous move and subsequent expansion, the aging and crowded Holly Park Branch needed replacement and it became the first branch rebuilt under Seattle's "Libraries for All" program, funded by a $196.4 million bond issue that voters approved in 1998.  The NewHolly Branch, designed by ARC architects, is part of a Campus of Learning that includes youth tutoring, Seattle Community College classes, child care services, and job placement and training.

Wartime Needs

The Holly Park neighborhood got its start in the 1940s, at a time when Beacon Hill was mostly open land. When Boeing and other defense-related industries along the Duwamish River stepped up production before and during World War II, homes were needed for the thousands of families that poured into Puget Sound looking for work.

Due to the proximity to Boeing Field, about 102 acres of land (today bounded by Martin Luther King Jr. Way S to the west, Beacon Hill Avenue S to the east, and between Graham and Myrtle streets to the north and south) were chosen as a site for temporary housing. The housing project was named Holly Park. Interestingly enough, some of the homes were designed by Paul Thiry and John Paul Jones, Northwest architects who went on to worldwide fame.

The project became a melting pot of people from all over the country. Nearly everyone who moved there was from out of town and eager to make friends, and they forged a tight community bond. The Seattle Public Library, which had already opened a branch at High Point (a housing project in West Seattle), decided to open a branch at 7001 32nd Avenue S, inside the complex, using converted residential units. The Holly Park Library opened on May 19, 1943, and was staffed with personnel from the nearby Georgetown Library.

A Growing and Diverse Community

After the war, the community changed. Some families moved out, and those who had a harder time making ends meet stayed on in the low-cost environment. In 1955, the Seattle Housing Authority converted the complex into subsidized, low-income housing. The neighborhood’s ethnicity began to change.

Originally the neighborhood had only a few African American families among its 2,000 residents. By 1975, African Americans made up 27 percent of the population, with 8 percent of the community made up of other ethnic groups. By 1993, owing to an influx of refugees and immigrants, Asian families now made up 49 percent of the population, and 33 percent were African Americans. Recently arrived East Africans contributed to the mix.

During the 1960s and 1970s, Holly Park suffered from high crime related to poverty. Nevertheless, the community did what it could to counteract this. For example, the Black Panthers sponsored free breakfast and lunch programs, and community activists worked hard at building a sense of civic pride.

Putting the "New" in NewHolly

On June 12, 1969, the library, which had been enlarged in 1954 but was showing its age, moved to 6805 32nd Avenue S. In 1978, these quarters were remodeled and further expanded. The expansion, completed May 15, 1978, added 600 square feet, including a special area for children's picture books and some much-needed storage space.

In the 1990s, efforts to elevate the neighborhood from a low-income environment to a mixed-income community moved forward in earnest. The 1995 median annual income in Holly Park for a family of three was $7,030, compared to the household median income of $46,300 for residents of Seattle.

In the late 1990s ,the former Holly Park housing project's 871 duplex and fourplex units were bulldozed.  The area, renamed NewHolly, was rebuilt using a blend of single-family houses, town homes, and apartments.  Approximately 40 percent of the residential space was set aside as public housing.  Another 30 percent was sold or rented at market rate.  The remainder was slightly subsidized.  NewHolly occupies 118 acres.  Residents represent about 20 different languages and cultures -- creating a very diverse user population for the NewHolly Branch.

As librarians unpacked boxes and shelved books in preparation for opening day, reporter Marsha King described the old branch in The Seattle Times: "Glue barely held together the splintering chairs.  A restroom doubled as a janitor's supply closet.  A single computer with Internet access drew a long waiting list.  Fuses would constantly blow, and there was a peculiar smell" ("Brand New...").  The need to replace the aging, crowded, malodorous Holly Park Branch was obvious, and NewHolly was designated the first branch to be completed under "Libraries For All."

On November 20, 1999, the NewHolly Branch opened at 7058 32nd Avenue S at the entrance to the NewHolly development. ARC Architects designed the NewHolly Branch with a bowed roof, high windows, and 362,987 square feet to accommodate 12,000 books, tapes, and CDs, plus a meeting room. Computer terminals enabled users to link to the library catalog and to the Internet. The NewHolly Branch has 4000 square feet of library program area, more than double the space in the outdated Holly Park Branch.

Branch Librarians

  • Mildred Gookstetter (clerk in charge), 1954-1966
  • Junelle Studley Daum (clerk in charge), 1967-1971
  • Carol Tarwater (clerk in charge), 1971-1977
  • Regional Management, 1977-1990
  • Irene Haines, (dates unavailable)
  • Catherine Lord, (dates unavailable)
  • Valerie Garrett-Turner (interim appointment, dates unavailable)
  • Julie Ann Oiye, (interim appointment, dates unavailable)
  • Bobbie Daniel, 1999-2001
  • Cass Mabbott, 2001-2005
  • Catherine Lord, 2006-2008
  • Steve DelVecchio 2008-2009


Building data based on Seattle Public Library records; Census data from City of Seattle, King County, and U.S. Bureau of the Census reports;  "Seattle Public Library Directory of Staff, 1967-1970" (bound together, Seattle Room Collection, The Seattle Public Library; 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; Library Board of Seattle Minutes of Proceedings, Vol. 13, 1977-1978, p. 181, Seattle Room, Central Branch, The Seattle Public Library, Seattle; Tracy Johnson, "Brand-New Library Replaces A Dump Holly Park Building Is First On The City's Overhaul List," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, November 20, 1999, p. B-1; Stuart Eskenazi, "A New Neighborhood Built To Tear Down Old Barriers," The Seattle Times, May 15, 2007, p. A-1; Marsha King, "Library is Bigger and Better -- NewHolly Will Serve A Broader Community," Ibid., November 21, 1999, p. B-1.
Note: This essay was updated on September 10, 2008, expanded on May 9, 2009, and revised slightly on October 26, 2011.

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