Green Lake Branch, The Seattle Public Library

  • By Louis Fiset, Green Lake Park Alliance
  • Posted 9/12/1999
  • Essay 1663

Seattle's Green Lake neighborhood  opened a reading room in August 1905. The community quickly outgrew the little library's capacity. In 1908, a group of 40 Green Lake business and community leaders spearheaded a drive to purchase land upon which a  larger library could be built. This new library, financed by community members and in part by Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), opened in 1910. By 1999, the Green Lake Branch of The Seattle Public Library had 54,000 catalogued items and quick access to every catalogued item in the Seattle library system through its upgraded, on-line system. In the early twenty-first century, the Green Lake Branch was extensively renovated as part of "Libraries For All," a $196.4 million bond issue passed by Seattle voters in 1998. The branch was closed for more than a year for the renovation, and reopened amidst great celebration in March 2004.

Readers Overcome Mud

In 1905, a boardwalk, built on pilings adjacent to Ravenna Creek at the Lake's outlet, led from the street and streetcar tracks to the library porch to protect users from high water and muddy boots in rainy weather. For the next five years this fledgling library, with its shelving for 5,000 books, served the entire community and its children from Green Lake, Daniel Bagley, John B. Allen, and Fairview schools. At its peak, an average of 125 books a day were circulated to 1,473 registered borrowers.

In 1908, a group of 40 Green Lake business and community leaders spearheaded a drive to purchase land upon which a new and larger library could be built.

A Building for Books

The group raised $3,000 from the business community and from door-to-door solicitations and fundraisers to purchase four undeveloped lots along unpaved East Green Lake Boulevard at 4th Avenue NE. The Seattle Public Library board contributed an additional $1,000 toward acquisition of this parcel, which constituted part of the 1869 claim of Erhard Seifreid (1832-1899) that Seifried sold in 1888 to Green Lake developer, W. D. Wood (1858-1917). (Siefreid, known as Green Lake John, was the first non-Indian person to settle on Green Lake.) The owners deeded the lots to the city and the city turned them over to the library board.

The Green Lake founders next turned to philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) who was providing ongoing capital funds for The Seattle Public Library's Central and branch libraries. From 1901 to 1915, Carnegie provided $445,000 in new construction money for Seattle's growing library system. He ultimately funded more than 2,500 free public libraries throughout the world so that everyone might have a means of self-education.

Green Lake's 5,000-square-foot library was designed by W. Marbury Somervell (1872-1939) and Joseph S. Coté and cost $35,000 to build. Construction was delayed until February 1909 so that architectural plans for the University and West Seattle branches could be completed and contracts for all three let out to bid at the same time. The libraries would share a common internal floor plan, but differ in their exteriors.

Readers Not Criminals

The library opened on July 29, 1910. At the opening ceremonies, attended by an overflow crowd, Seattle Mayor Hiram Gill (1869-1919) and a city councilman made speeches, as did Judge F. A. McDonald, long time Green Lake resident, developer, and member of the school board. Mayor Gill stated "I would rather spend one dollar on libraries than $100,000 reforming criminals" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

Within a year the number of registered borrowers doubled to 2,769, and the collection reached 8,000 volumes. During 1911 the library circulated nearly 69,000 books. As the neighborhood grew, so did the library's collection and the number of users. By 1939 these early figures had doubled.

More People, More Reading

By 1999, the Green Lake Branch, The Seattle Public Library had 54,000 catalogued items and quick access to every catalogued item in the Seattle library system through its upgraded, on-line system. In 1997, librarians circulated 219,000 books and related items. More than 440 program events took place that year.

On November 3, 1998, Seattle voters approved a $196.4 million bond measure to upgrade The Seattle Public Library's 107-year-old library system with new facilities, technology, and books. The Green Lake Branch was closed for more than a year while being extensively renovated.

The renovation was designed by Snyder Hartung Kane Strauss Architects and included updated telecommunications and data equipment, better interior lighting, ventilation systems, sound insulation, and exterior drainage systems.  The building’s many tall windows were removed and replaced with exact replicas that could be opened to admit fresh air.  All areas were repainted and recarpeted.  An accessible downstairs bathroom near the meeting room was added. The circulation desk area was enlarged and improved and more computer terminals were added. The front walkway and entrance area were restored to their original Somervell/Coté design. The branch reopened with an updated collection in March 2004.

Branch Librarians

  • Harriett Allison, 1905-1906 (desk clerk)
  • Alice F. Kittredge, 1907-1909 (desk clerk)
  • Mayme A. Batterson, 1910-1912
  • Mary A. Batterson, 1913-1919
  • Elizabeth Thruston, 1920-1922
  • Laura de Ebedeie, 1923
  • Alice I. Walker, 1924
  • Anna Laura Bowles, 1924
  • Ruth A. Dennis, 1925-1928
  • Thelma Martin, 1928-1929
  • Fernie H. Harris (acting librarian), 1929-1930
  • Doris F. Hopkins, 1930-1939
  • Floy Mathis, 1940-1951
  • Weyana Schaal, 1952-1962
  • Florence Malone, 1963-1971
  • Margaret Moyer, 1972-1974
  • Barbara Erling, 1975-1977
  • Regional Management, 1977-1990
  • Toni Myers, 1990-2002
  • Joan Johnson, (dates not available)
  • Steve DelVecchio, 2007-2008
  • Hannah Parker, 2008-present


Green Lake Reporter September 14, 1950; Seattle Public Library Conservator's Report: Green Lake Branch, 1981, Green Lake Library Archives, Green Lake Library, Seattle; Floy Mathis. "History of Green lake Branch Library through 1940," typescript, n.d., Green Lake Library Archives, Green Lake Library, Seattle; clipping, Seattle Post-Intelligencer n.d. Green Lake Library Archives, Green Lake, Seattle; Green Lake Branch, Seattle Public Library website accessed May 30, 2005 (; HistoryLink.Org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Green Lake Branch, The Seattle Public Library, reopens after renovation on March 6, 2004" (by Paula Becker), accessed January 20, 1909; Nile Thompson and Carolyn J. Marr, Building For Learning: Seattle Public Schools Histories, 1862-2000 (Seattle: Seattle Public Schools, 2002); Seattle Public Library Annual Reports 1898-1920, (bound together), Northwest History Collection, The Seattle Public Library; Seattle Public Library Directory of Staff, 1967-1970 (bound toether), 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; Karen Spiel, email to Paula Becker, February 14, 2009, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington.
Note: This essay was updated on May 30, 2005, and again on May 9, 2009.

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