Rainier Beach Branch, The Seattle Public Library

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 12/06/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4038
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The Rainier Beach Branch, The Seattle Public Library, is Seattle's southeastern-most branch library.  Located at 9125 Rainier Avenue S, the branch traces its roots to a storefront operation that opened in 1928 and closed four years later due to the Great Depression.  The neighborhood then went 34 years without a library until a branch opened on 57th Avenue S in 1966.  The Rainier Beach branch moved into larger quarters, an old Sea-First Bank building on Rainier Avenue, in 1974.  In 1981 the branch got a brand new building that was the largest branch in the system when it was built.  Because of its size and relative newness, the Rainier Beach Branch was to be the last remodeled as part of the 1998 "Libraries for All" bond issue. But delays in other projects placed it near the head of the line in 2002, and the remodeled branch reopened in January 2004.

In the 1920s, the Seattle Public Library operated deposit stations in drug stores on 57th Avenue S near Rainier Avenue S. The druggists received a penny for every book deposited by patrons of other branches such as Columbia several miles north. The last station closed in 1924. Other neighborhoods had managed to get branches (or stations) if they could obtain the location without cost to the library.

The Rainier Beach Community Club, the Emerson School PTA and the Rainier Beach Women's Club organized a library committee (all women) under the leadership of Gertrude Earle. The committee lobbied library management and found a storefront near the Rainier Beach interurban stop, which it rented for a year at $20 a month. The money came from donations solicited by community groups. The library provided the services of a librarian three days a week, and books on loan from other branches. Rainier Beach Station opened on March 5, 1928.

The librarians worked hard at visiting schools and putting out the word that the library was there. The editor of the Rainier Valley Times was willing to run a short item every week about library activities, but would not go so far as to list new books. That would take up valuable space and he did not think his readers would be interested. As with most of the libraries in the city, teenagers gathered there after school and evenings, creating some discipline problems for the staff. Seattle Police from Columbia station were available if the stern words of the librarian did not calm things down.

The hard times of the Great Depression forced severe cutbacks in library services. In 1930, the branch was open two days a week, then just one. Rainier Beach closed its doors on January 26, 1932.

A Long Time to Wait

Rainier Beach did without a library for the next 34 years. No new branches were built in the city until the 1950s. On September 10, 1966, the neighborhood again got a branch at 9250 57th Avenue S. Librarian Junella "June" (Studley) Daum circulated 57,000 books that first year, but business began to gradually decline. Parking was a problem in the afternoon when a nearby karate school and dance academy held classes. Borrowers often double-parked to return books and could not stay to browse.

By the 1970s, the south end of Seattle ranked first in the city in households with children and a high percentage of home ownership. In 1974, the branch moved into an old Sea-First Bank at 9021 Rainier Avenue S. This was much more room for books and patrons, but it was not designed as a library. The City started planning for a proper branch. The City Council appropriated a block grant for new construction of the largest branch in the Seattle system.

Room for All

Architect Skip Fresn of Hennington, Durham, and Richardson Architects designed a 9,000-square-foot steel and masonry facility with soft-creme fluted masonry, accented by a blue strip. The windows were set at angles in a saw-tooth pattern and yellow awnings added color. The meeting room has room for 100. Cost of construction was $693,583.

On February 15, 1981, Mayor Charles Royer dedicated the new Rainier Beach Branch Library. The ceremonies included dance and musical performances by Filipino, Chinese, Pacific Islander, and jazz groups, representing the rich ethnic diversity of the area.

In 1985, the library became home for a three-foot-tall cast-aluminum sculpture titled The Children by Richard Beyer. (Beyer's best-known piece is Waiting for the Interurban, in Fremont.) The work was in memory of Victor Dickenson (d. 1983) principal of nearby Emerson School for 30 years. The piece depicted three children focused on a book and a magazine. Each child represented one of the major ethnic groups of the area. The following year, the branch received a $173,666 makeover.

The Last Shall Be Next

In 1998, Seattle voters approved $196.4 million in "Libraries for All" bonds to replace the central library, to renovate all 22 branches, and to build three new branches. Rainier Beach was to have been one of the last branches improved, but delays in developing designs and acquiring sites for other projects pushed the Rainier Branch job to the top of the list.

On November 2, 2002, the branch closed for expansion to a 15,000-square-foot facility in a design by Streeter and Associates. The cost of that project was $3 million. The remodeled branch opened amid great celebration in January 2004.

Branch Librarians

  • Junella Studley (clerk in charge), 1966-1970
  • Junella Daum, 1971-1977
  • Regional Management, 1977-1990
  • Bobbie Daniel, 1990-2001
  • Andy Bates, 2001-2003
  • Bobbie Daniel 2004-2005
  • Daria Cal, 2005-present


"Rainier Beach Library -- Annual Reports," folder, Seattle Public Library Archives; "Rainier Beach Library - Open House," folder, Seattle Public Library Archives; "New Rainier Beach Library Open House On Feb. 15," Beacon Hill News, February 4, 1981, newsclipping, Seattle Public Library Archives; "Sculpture Will Reflect Principal's Love Of Books," Beacon Hill News, February 6, 1985, p. 4; Seattle Public Library website (http://www.spl.org/); "Seattle Public Library Directory of Staff, 1967-1970" (bound toether, Northwest History Collection, The Seattle Public Library; 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; Karen Spiel, email to Paula Becker, February 14, 2009, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington; Daria Cal, email to Paula Becker, February 19, 2009, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was updated on May 30, 2005, on September 10, 2008, and on April 26, 2009, and was revised slightly on November 2, 2011.

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