Broadview Branch, The Seattle Public Library

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 11/21/2002
  • Essay 4022

The Broadview Branch, The Seattle Public Library, located at 12755 Greenwood Avenue N, began as one room in a portable classroom and has served northwest Seattle in one form or another since 1944. Broadview's history is distinguished by strong community support, which not only raised money and purchased and cleared land, but also staged protests to ensure that readers had the library services they deserved.

Until 1954, the Seattle city limits ended at N 85th Street and residents of the unincorporated North End enjoyed a suburban and even a rural lifestyle. As population increased in the 1940s, citizens expected more in the way of governmental services, including a public library. In November 1942, King County voters approved formation of a county library, but the system lacked the funding to buy property and build a branch in the North End. King County residents were granted borrowing privileges at Seattle libraries in 1943. The closest branch for North End readers was the Greenwood-Phinney Branch at N 70th Street and Greenwood Avenue N.

North End Branch

In 1943, nine community groups including the Broadview Community Club, the Parent Teacher associations from the Broadview and Oak Lake schools, St. Anthony's Guild, North Park Community Club, and the local school board lobbied the King County Library for a branch. The library could supply books, but the community had to come up with furniture and space. School District 51 provided a room in a portable classroom at the southeast corner of Greenwood Avenue N and N 105th Street. The Red Cross used the other half of the building as a wartime sewing room. The community collected money for furniture and shelving, and the library came up with the wages for a custodian.

On April 8, 1944, the North End Branch, King County Library System, opened for business. Helen Crowthers was the first librarian. In 1945, 16,161 items circulated out of the branch. The community could not rest on its accomplishments for long. The North Grove Lumber Co. purchased the school property and the building. The lumbermen allowed the library to continue to occupy the space until it found a new home.

The community started raising money again through direct solicitation and by putting on fundraisers like theater parties. They held a two-day Potlatch Carnival in November 1945 and raised a total of $2,500. Organizers incorporated the North Branch, King County Library Association, Inc. to purchase two lots at 525 N 105th Street. Volunteers set about hacking away at the blackberry vines and grading the site. The U.S. Army at Paine Field sold the association a surplus frame building for $120. Another $500 moved the 25' x 45' structure to the new location. More volunteers used donated materials and equipment to make the building suitable for use.

On August 8, 1947, the North Branch, King County Public Library System opened in its new home. That year, the collection comprised 2,500 books. Circulation had had almost doubled over that in 1945. In 1950, the association held a party and burned the $1200 mortgage.

Oakview Station

On January 1, 1954, the City of Seattle annexed the North End as far as N 145th Street. King County maintained the branch for another year before moving books and equipment out. On January 3, 1955, the branch reopened as Oakview Station, Seattle Public Library. For the transfer, Seattle redecorated the interior and installed a new floor. Seattle provided 4,000 mostly new replacement volumes. King County Branch Librarian Helen Crowthers transferred to the Seattle system and remained with the branch. She opened the doors Monday and Wednesday afternoons and evenings, and on Saturdays.

In 1957, Virginia Ziels took over the branch and she ran things there for the next 18 years. In the late 1950s, Ziels noted a strong interest in astronomy and aeronautics, reflecting Sputnik and the space race. The 1960s saw an upswing in use of books about mechanics, crafts, and do-it-yourself projects. In 1971, Ziels reported, "Although permissiveness seemed to be the hallmark of our society, the local patrons exhibited conservative tastes in their choices of both fiction and non-fiction." Astrology and supernatural topics were popular that year.

The growth of school libraries in the early 1960s meant that students relied less on the local branch. Circulation declined, but many people still visited the branch for research and for literary events. The small size of the building meant that users were occasionally turned away for lack of room. This probably contributed to the absence of discipline problems with young people that plagued the larger branches. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the population of the district ballooned, but the N 105th Street location proved inconvenient for many potential patrons. The community resumed its activism and pushed for a proper library on Greenwood Avenue N.

In 1967, the Seattle City Council approved funds to purchase property at Greenwood Avenue N and N 130th Street for the Broadview Branch. The architecture firm of Steinhart, Theriault and Associates drew up plans for an elegant cedar and brick structure in the Pacific Rim style. However, baseball intervened, and Broadview did not get its brand new library.

Curve Ball

Major League Baseball offered a franchise in the form of the Seattle Pilots. The only available professional baseball venue was the minor-league Sicks' Seattle Stadium. The council was asked to help refurbish Sicks' Stadium as part of the campaign to attract the Pilots. The council transformed library money into baseball money.

Outraged, the Broadview community got active. Under the leadership of Elsie Von Stubbe, volunteers lobbied for their library as promised. "Every time they were going to discuss money," Von Stubbe recalled, "we went down and asked to get ours back." Library users pestered politicians on the phone every week. On June 1, 1972, Von Stubbe's activists held a "Read In" at the building site. Children, adults, and senior citizens gathered at the vacant lot, sat on boxes, and read books to draw attention to their complaints and the need for a library. Seattle was then at the bottom of the Boeing Bust and it took three more years before economic fortunes changed and the Seattle City Council restored construction funding.

Broadview Branch

Council member Tim Hill broke ground on the new library on March 10, 1975, and construction cost was $425,987. The new branch opened for business on December 13, 1975. Donna Edwards was Broadview's first branch librarian. On January 25, 1976, Mayor Wes Uhlman (b. 1935) was the guest of honor at the dedication of the new Broadview Branch. Elsie Von Stubbe chaired the proceedings.

The new building featured Native American art by the Haida craftsman Marvin Oliver. The building included two reading areas designed specifically for children, the Crow's Nest and the Bear's Den. The auditorium could seat 50. The Oakview library closed. To accommodate the large number of senior citizens in the area, the branch stocked large-print books. The travel section appealed to the suburban community. The branch also became the home for the system's largest collection of automotive manuals, which were popular with both businesses and enthusiasts.

As part of the 1-2-3 Bond Issue passed in 1984, Broadview received renovations and upgrades in 1988. But the size of the branch did not increase.

In 1998, Seattle voters approved $196.4 million in "Libraries for All" bonds to replace the central library, renovate all 22 branches, and build three new branches. On December 8, 2007, the expanded and remodeled Broadview Branch reopened after a $7 million remodeling and expansion. The project retained the longhouse theme of the original branch and provided a new main entry off Greenwood Avenue N for pedestrians, and a second major entry off the parking lot for motorists

The branch reopened with about 66,000 items (near its capacity of 66,700), 40 new computers (compared with 11 in the old facility), meeting rooms, and areas for children and teens. The expansion brought the library to 15,000 square feet, nearly double the original space of 8,405 square feet.

Broadview Branch Librarians

  • Helen Crowthers, 1944
  • Mary Welch, 1944-1946
  • Emil Bishop, 1946-1947
  • Helen Turrell, 1947-1950
  • George M. Marchand, 1950-1954
  • Helen Crowthers, 1954-1957
  • Virginia Ziels, 1957-1976
  • Donna Edwards, 1976
  • Regional Management, 1977-1990
  • Bob Hageman, 1990-2002
  • Debi Westwood, 2003-2007
  • Lisa Scharnhorst, 2007-present


"Early History of Oakview Branch," undated typescript in folder "Oakview Library -- Early History North End Branch of King County Public Library System," archives, Seattle Public Library and Broadview Historical Society; "Oakview Library -- Annual Reports, 1955-1974," folder, Seattle Public Library Archives; "Broadview Branch," undated typescript, "Seattle Public Libraries," NW Uncat File, Seattle Public Library, History Department; "Building Program," folder, Seattle Public Library Archives; Helen McCall, "Base for Books," North End News, February 2, 1947, newsclipping on index card, "Seattle -- Libraries -- Broadview Branch," Northwest Index Card File, Seattle Public Library; "Rural Patrons To Use Library," The Seattle Times, August 31, 1943, p. 2; "Greatest Naggers Win Library," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, newsclipping, ca. March 9, 1975, "Community History," folder, Broadview Branch Library; "Library Launched," Northgate Today, January 28, 1976, newsclipping, Ibid.; "Broadview Librarian Named," Northgate Today, October 1, 1975, newsclipping, Ibid.; "Broadview Protest Held Over Lack of Library," newsclipping, ca. May 1972, Ibid.; "Broadview Library Status Report," Seattle Public Library website (; "Broadview Protest Held Over Lack of Library," The Seattle Times, June 2, 1972, B-1; 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 Room, Central Branch, The Seattle Public Library, Seattle.
Note: This essay was corrected on May 23, 2008, to note that the name of the Haida artist whose work graces the branch is Marvin Oliver. It was updated on September 10, 2008 and on February 20, 2009.

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