Wallingford Branch, The Seattle Public Library

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 10/17/2002
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 3992

Library services in Wallingford began in 1949 with the gift of a house that became the Wilmot Memorial Library. In 1985, the branch moved to an old fire station as the Wallingford-Wilmot Branch Library. In 2000, the Wallingford Branch became the second branch built under the 1998 "Libraries For All" bond issue.

The Wilmot Memorial Library

In 1948, Wallingford resident Alice Wilmot Dennis offered a house at 4422 Meridian Avenue N to Seattle for a library. Dennis was a former teacher and the daughter of Green Lake pioneer Lemuel Alan Wilmot. The gift stipulated that it be used as a library for at least 30 years and be named for her late sister, Florence Wilmot Metcalf. The library board accepted the gift, but asked the community to pay for the needed repairs and remodeling.

The Wallingford Commercial Club formed the Wallingford Library Committee and 45th Street Theater owner Jack Neville was chosen chairman. The committee solicited donations and $5.00 charter memberships from the neighborhood. It took about a year to raise $2,236, which went toward a new roof, a new gas heating plant, and new plumbing. The interior was painted Pale Yellow and Old Rose and the shelving was Apple Green. The library came up with 5,000 books and $2,000 for furniture. A color portrait of Florence Wilmot Metcalf graced the main reading room.

Seattle Mayor William F. Devin (1898-1982) and State Senator W. Ward Davison dedicated the Wilmot Memorial Library on September 9, 1949. Alice Dennis was also in attendance. The little branch opened the next day under the direction of librarian Katherine L. Lund. The opening coincided with the Wallingford Jamboree Days celebration. Borrowers could check out and return books Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Snapshots of a Community  

Initial patronage was low, so Lund arranged for art students at Lincoln High School to design posters advertising the branch. Lund commented, "While we have [a] few sophisticates who want only the latest sensational novel we do not have a select group of intellectuals who read with discrimination, who want fiction and biographies of the first order, and who do not shut their eyes to the world situation" (Annual Report).

Circulation improved enough that in 1954, a fourth day of service was added each week. Librarian Lund wrote:

"The people of Wallingford are mostly Caucasian with a handful of Jews, one or two families of Japanese people, and the same number of Chinese and Filipinos. There seem to be no Negroes. Four families of D.P.s [World War II European refugees] are card holders. From its own experience the library would say that there are no gangs."

Lund reported that there were several borrowers who "have mental trouble." She took the initiative to join the Hospital Section of the American Library Association "to learn more about nervous diseases" and about "showing which books are suitable for nervous people" (Annual Report).

In the 1950s, Lund noted the migration by families out of the neighborhood to "the suburbs" of North Seattle. By the 1960s, a large number of empty storefronts on N 45th Street bore witness to this pattern. School libraries improved and visits to Wilmot by elementary school classes were discontinued. In the 1970s, the staff noted that more young families were again moving into the area and there was an increased demand for do-it-yourself guides.

Although a branch library in a house was charming enough, the building and the lot were not constructed for commercial traffic. The bathroom served double duty as the periodicals room and the front steps became a safety hazard. The neighbor's lush laurel hedge was a constant annoyance and served to conceal the branch's existence from potential users. There was no parking and the facility opened with a staff of just two. Neighborhood planning groups included a new library as part of the district's future. In 1981, the community was able to resist an attempt to close the branch as part of budget cuts.

Wallingford-Wilmot Branch

In 1984, Seattle voters approved a bond issue to upgrade library branches. By that time, the Wilmot Library had occupied the frame dwelling for 36 years. The old police and fire station at 4422 Densmore Avenue N became available and was taken over by the 45th Street Clinic, which took on the library as a tenant. On January 13, 1986, the Wallingford-Wilmot Branch Library opened there.

In 1991, the community came together again to resist closure of the branch in an economy move. The clinic grew and eventually needed the library's space.

Wallingford Branch

In 1998, Seattle voters approved the $196.4 million "Libraries For All" bond issue for a new central library and new or upgraded branches. Wallingford was the second neighborhood to receive a new branch. On January 29, 2000, the Wallingford Branch opened at 1501 N 45th Street in the Fremont Public Association Resource Center.

Branch Librarians

    • Katherine L. Lund, 1949-1959
    • Faith Salisbury, 1959-1962
    • Beverly MacDonald, 1962-1963
    • Maurine Johnson, (Clerk-in-Charge) 1963-1964
    • Aili Marklund, (Clerk-in-Charge) 1964-1967
    • Norma O'Brien, (Clerk-in-Charge) 1967-1969
    • Helen Sours, (Clerk-in-Charge) 1969-1972
    • Marylin LaJune, (Clerk-in-Charge) 1972-1977
    • Regional Management, 1977-1990
    • (Unavailable), 1990-1997
    • Michael Delury, 1998-2002
    • (Unavailable), 2003-2007
    • Dave Valencia, 2008-present


Annual Reports in "Wilmot Memorial Library 1948-, History," folder, Archives, Seattle Public Library; "Library On The Move," University Herald, January 15, 1986, p. 4; Jack Broom, "New Wallingford Library Presents Users With A Bright, Storefront Atmosphere," The Seattle Times, January 30, 2002, p. B-1; Sally MacDonald, "Wallingford's Library Needs New Home," The Seattle Times, January 5, 1993, p. B-3. The following items, mostly newsclippings, are found in the Archives of the Wallingford Branch, Seattle Public Library: "Wallingford/Wilmot Library Progress Report," memorandum from Winifred Savey, Seattle Public Library, December 20, 1985; Marla Calta, "Wilmot: A Homey Book Nook," The Seattle Sun, May 8, 1976, p. 7; "New Wallingford Library Holds Grand Opening Jan 29," The North Central Outlook, January 19, 2000, p. 1; "Local Woman Deeds Home For Community Library Use," September 16, 1948, p. 1, 7; "Work To Start Week From Tuesday On Remodeling For District Library," The North Central Outlook, ca. 1949; "New Library Staff"; "Library Dedicated"; "Seattle Public Library Directory of Staff, 1967-1970" (bound together, Seattle Room 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
Note: This essay was corrected on July 17, 2008 and was updated on September 10, 2008, and again on April 13, 2009.

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