Lake City Branch, The Seattle Public Library

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 12/05/2002
  • Essay 4031

The Lake City Branch, The Seattle Public Library, started as a few shelves of books in part of a room sponsored by a community group. It grew into a branch of the King County Library System, after which The Seattle Public Library adopted it. The Lake City Branch's 1965 home had an award-winning design and formed basis of a major expansion under the Libraries For All program.

In 1935, Lake City was in unincorporated King County, but the automobile had enabled the once-rural area to become a suburb. Many who made their homes there had moved from Seattle. The area lacked many services that residents had become accustomed to in Seattle, including those of a library. The Pacific Improvement Club, a community group, organized a committee consisting of Minnie Lyon, Edna Musser, and Mrs. Wise to establish a free lending library. The three members of the committee arranged for a portion of a classroom in Lake City School to be shared with the Works Progress Administration. Husbands of committee members built the shelves. The library was open one day a week and loaned out books donated by members of the community. In 1937, the library moved into its own space in the school basement.

In 1942, King County voters approved formation of the King County Rural Library District, later known as the King County Library System (KCLS), but there was no money to build new libraries. Communities that supplied space and utilities were considered for service. Lake City already had a library so, on February 4, 1944, the Lake City library became part of the King County system. KCLS provided the services of a librarian and more books.

On November 11, 1949, the branch moved from the school basement into the new fire station a block north on 30th Avenue E (later 30th Avenue NE). The fire commissioners permitted the library to use their meeting room until a proper branch could be found. In the general election of 1953, the North End voted to be annexed into the city of Seattle, taking effect after the New Year. KCLS continued to operate the Lake City branch for another year.

On January 6, 1955, the library officially opened as a branch of the Seattle Public Library under the supervision of Margaret Anderson. A few months later on April 15, 1955, the branch opened in the newly built Shoreline Savings and Loan building on NE 125th Street. Scout Troop 240 and other volunteers moved 4,863 books into 2,200 square feet of custom-built space. Circulation doubled within the first year.

The Post-war Baby Boom struck Lake City as it did everywhere else in the country and students from newly built schools crowded libraries after school and in the evenings. Class assignments were reflected almost immediately in the demand for certain books and students who waited to start research often found critical items already checked out. Librarians learned to spot trends and place important works in the research section to insure availability.

Discipline issues were inevitable. A librarian reported in 1962, "From the beginning of school there seemed to be a restlessness among the students and a growing disregard for authority." One night, a plainclothes police officer had to intervene and counsel teenage patrons. During Thanksgiving in 1962, Lake City was one of six branches closed evenings by the library board for "rowdyism" (The Seattle Times).

In 1965, the City Council approved a new branch for Lake City using reserve funds and monies remaining from the 1955 library bond issue. Architects John Morse and Associates prepared a 9,000-square-foot design for a brick structure on the old site of Lake City School at 12501 30th Avenue NE. Sculptor George Tsutakawa (1910-1997) designed bronze gates for the front. In the words of Victor Steinbrueck, "It is an inward looking building which is fitting to its use and to the location where there is little of merit to look out upon. The emphasis is well directed to the inner space, the books, and the people using the library" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

Morse's design and Tsutakawa's gates received the Seattle Chapter, American Institute of Architects Award of Merit.

On New Year's Day 1967, an arson fire set in the book drop damaged the interior of the building. Only the timely response from the nearby fire station prevented further damage. The building was remodeled in 1996 and received new lights and new carpeting.

On June 6, 2001, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board approved the Lake City Branch for status as a landmark, because of its design.

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. The Lake City Branch was slated to be expanded in 2004, but remodeling was delayed due to the extensive time required to coordinate the complex project, which included the library remodel, neighborhood service center, park plaza, and structured parking. Extensive coordination took place between the library, city staff, and project architects. The delay in opening was fortuitous in that north-end neighborhoods, which were already impacted by the Green Lake, North East, and Greenwood Branch closures, continued to be served by the Lake City Branch.

Respecting the original design, ARC Architects expanded the structure by 6,000 square feet, added a meeting room, upgraded technology, and provided space for 15,000 more books. The construction was done by Bayley Construction.

The new library is part of the larger complex including a neighborhood community service center, recreation center, park, and parking garage, all of which were officially dedicated on October 22, 2005.

Branch Librarians

  • Enid Conkling (King County) 1944-1954
  • Margaret Anderson 1955-1959
  • Mildred Burch 1959-1972
  • Bob Iams 1972-1975
  • Regional Management 1975-1991
  • Beth de la Fuente 1991-2002
  • Andy Bates 2003-present


"Annual Reports," envelope, Lake City Branch Library; "History of the Lake City Library," typescript, undated, scrapbook, Lake City Branch Library; "Lake City Library To Be Dedicated Next Month," Lake City Star, September 29, 1965, p. 1; Victor Steinbrueck, "One for the Books," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Northwest Today, December 12, 1965, p. 6; Marshall Wilson, "6 Libraries To Be Closed Evenings Due to Rowdyism," The Seattle Times, November 19, 1961, newsclipping, scrapbook, Greenwood Branch, Seattle Public Library; Marshall Wilson, "Unruly Boys Often Led By Girls," The Seattle Times, November 20, 1961, newsclipping, Ibid.; Marshall Wilson, "Library's 'Mystery Girl' Identified," The Seattle Times, November 24, 1961, newsclipping, Ibid.; "Stillness Returns To Libraries As Night Closure Ends," The Seattle Times, November 29, 1961, Ibid; Athama Chansanchai, "Redone Lake City Library has it covered," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 19, 2005. "Lake City Library -- Miscellaneous Papers," folder, Seattle Public Library Archives; Deborah L. Jacobs, City Librarian, and Alex Harris, Capital Program Director, to Seattle Public Library Board of Trustees, Memorandum titled "Proposed Timeline Changes for LFA Branch Library Projects," December 9, 2003, The Seattle Public Library.
Note: This essay was updated on October 20, 2005, and on September 10, 2008. It was corrected on July 19, 2010, and on February 1, 2017.

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