Queen Anne Branch, The Seattle Public Library

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 5/02/2003
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 4170

The Queen Anne Branch, The Seattle Public Library, located at 4th Avenue W and W Garfield, was the fourth of the Seattle Public Library branches built with funds from philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). It was built in 1913. After a tumultuous beginning that divided the community, the branch has served the neighborhood through wars, strikes, and hard times. This branch was renovated in 2007 using funds from the 196.4 million "Libraries For All" bond measure approved by Seattle voters in 1998.

Library Benefactor

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) emigrated to the U.S. in 1848 from Scotland with his parents. He found employment in a cotton factory at 12 and studied nights to become a messenger in a telegraph office. He became personal telegrapher and secretary to a railroad executive, which propelled him into investment and advancement opportunities. By 1889 his Carnegie Steel Company dominated the U.S. steel industry and in the year 1900, his personal profit was $25 million.

Carnegie felt that he had a duty to use his wealth for good ends and he gave away $350 million in the United States and throughout the British Empire for educational and research purposes. One of his philanthropic institutes provided money for the construction of free lending libraries in communities throughout the U.S. Soon after the Seattle Public Library in the old Yesler Mansion burned in 1901, Carnegie offered funds for a new main library. This was followed by grants in 1908, which built the West Seattle, University, and Green Lake branches.

On January 1, 1911, Carnegie offered Seattle $70,000 toward the construction of two branch libraries. The community had to provide the locations, the books, and the staffing. The library board chose the Queen Anne and the Columbia City neighborhoods to receive branches and the board placed responsibility for finding sites on the community.

Acrimonious Debate

Queen Anne community groups formed a committee of three to organize financing. Several sites were favored including one at Queen Anne Avenue and Garfield Street, but several parties owned the property. The Queen Anne Civic Study Club, a women's group, found a site at 7th Avenue W and W Garfield and received a pledge from Seattle Daily Times publisher Alden Blethen (1845-1915) to buy it. There followed an acrimonious controversy among supporters of various locations -- East Queen Anne versus West Queen Anne. A "mass meeting" at Queen Anne High School in January 1912 "grew heated at times" and partisans levied accusations of corruption. After more than a year with no decision, concern rose that the lack of progress would result in the gift being withdrawn.

Finally, in April 1912, four lots at 4th Avenue W and W Garfield Street, between the two favored sites (and last on the list of suggested sites) were selected and purchased from Hans L. Hanson. Blethen provided $500 of the $6500 cost.

Architects W. Marbury Somervell (1872-1939) and Harlan Thomas (1870-1953) designed a Tudor Revival (sometimes called English Scholastic Gothic) building, which was built for $32,677. The new branch featured reading rooms, a children's story room, and an auditorium in the basement. The library stocked the shelves with 6,000 books. Mayor George Cotterill (1865-1958) and other dignitaries attended the opening ceremonies on January 1, 1914. "Thousands of people" (Quarterly Reports) visited the new building that first day and were treated speeches by the guests of honor and to music from an small orchestra in the lobby. The interior was decorated with huckleberry boughs and flowers. Head Librarian Judson Jennings gave a presentation on libraries of historical interest, using a stereopticon.

Important Numbers

Librarians filed quarterly reports on branch operations detailing circulation (books checked out) and registration (library cards issued) statistics, then the important measure of a library's performance. In explaining the rise and fall of these important numbers, the librarians captured aspects of community history, from weather to epidemics to world events, as well as such mundane issues as the cranky furnace (a chronic issue at Queen Anne).

Frances Louise Holmes was the first Librarian of the Branch and her early reports were handwritten (she got a typewriter in 1918). The branch enjoyed a brisk business in books and the auditorium was first used by a women's group, which heard candidates for mayor. Holmes had very precise ideas about conduct in her library and described children talking as one of the problems. She valued stability among the staff and complained, "A new page seems to upset the regular routine to a great extent for a short time" (Quarterly Reports). The Librarian of the Branch was not all negative however. "One Jap[anese] has been back twice and each time brought and carried away his books wrapped in a white handkerchief, whatever his motive, the Americans might learn a lesson in carefulness" (Quarterly Reports).

The Queen Anne staff worked closely with elementary schools and with Queen Anne High School to encourage library use and to reserve books that would be needed by many students in assignments. The communication with the schools was particularly helpful in resolving after-school conduct issues. The children's librarian used the schools to promote the summer reading program and the weekly story hour. Young readers who completed a certain number of books received certificates.

The outbreak of World War I saw patronage drop as men and women were employed in war work. The auditorium was utilized by the Home Guards, Exempted Men, The Council of Defense, the American Red Cross, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Earwig Society (sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce to eradicate that pest). The Exempted Men helped collect books for soldiers stationed at Camp Lewis near Tacoma. In the summer of 1917, Holmes noted that it was "not safe for women and girls to be on the streets at night" to explain her sagging statistics (Quarterly Reports).

Circulation numbers suffered when parents kept their children home during almost annual epidemics of measles, smallpox, and scarlet fever. An outbreak of infantile paralysis (polio) cancelled the popular story hour for a time in 1916. In October and November 1918, Mayor Ole Hanson closed all public places including branch libraries during the influenza pandemic. The Seattle General Strike in 1919 saw a short-term rise in borrowing when virtually every working person in the city stayed off the job.

Edith Hile took over in 1920 and her big issues were vandalism and the youths who gathered inside and outside the library during the evenings and created disturbances. In February 1923, she had to call the police to disperse a crowd. The officers then made the branch a regular stop in their patrols. Hile commended Children's Librarian Catherine M. Lanning for keeping the branch open after a major snowstorm on February 14, 1923. Lanning walked to work from her home on Capitol Hill because the streetcars were immobilized. She got to work late and had to close early, but the library opened and books were available for checkout.

Circulation dipped every summer because so many Queen Anne families took vacations or residents took work on farms or in Alaska during the season. In addition to duties inside the branch, librarians had to personally track down overdue books by visiting homes and mailing registered letters. Some days librarians traveled 10 miles on streetcars and on foot knocking on doors.

Reading Through The Great Depression

Eleanor Hedden arrived at Queen Anne in 1929 and she guided the branch through the Great Depression, when the library slashed her pay, branch hours, and funds to buy books. The branch saw its highest-ever year of circulation in 1932 -- 197,000 volumes loaned. People who were unemployed and underemployed sought solace and opportunities in books.

As a consequence of heavy patronage and no book budget, the Queen Anne collection took a beating both from normal wear-and-tear and from abuse. When Hedden discovered that a book on costumes had been mutilated, she trooped over to Queen Anne High School to complain to the principal. Then she interviewed 10 instructors to see if the missing pages had appeared in course work, "and stressed the bad results of illustrated note books" (Quarterly Reports). Thereafter, Hedden kept picture books in the office and allowed their use by patrons only within the branch and only upon presentation of a library card. Borrowing declined from the peak in 1932, partly because there were no new books.

From 1938 to 1942, workers funded by the Works Progress Administration -- a New Deal recovery program -- painted, landscaped, built shelves, refinished furniture, and inventoried books. The children's story room was converted to an office because it had become too small for the popular program. During the hard times, the library staff took an active role in backing two political issues of the era, an amendment to the city charter that would upgrade employee pensions and the State Aid Bill providing unemployment relief.

Tenacious and Hardy Readers

When the U.S. entered World War II, workers painted the skylight black and the Boy Scouts fabricated blackout shields for the auditorium as a defense against air attack. The building custodian surprised Librarian Ruth Norris by planting vegetables among the ornamental plants on the grounds. The produce "added a piquant touch to many an otherwise dull meal" (Annual Reports).

"With war industries gulping down our readers," Norris reported, "war tension occupying their minds, and gas rationing making library trips inconvenient and time consuming, little wonder that we scraped the bottom of the barrel of customers. Little wonder then only the tenacious and hardy, the near-by, or the perennially indolent remained." When Magnolia got its own station in 1943, Queen Anne staff prepared the book supply and helped staff the little branch. Circulation fell to half what it was in 1932. The War impacted Norris' staff too. With so many young people in the military or in war work, "Untrained assistants are younger, slower, less responsible, less accurate" (Annual Reports).

One reference question that Norris proudly noted was from a student researching a town overseas. His older brother was held there as a prisoner of war and the family wanted details of the location. (Later the older brother returned as a borrower.)

After World War II, students on the GI Bill used the library, but borrowing continued to slide. The demographics of the area began to change with construction of apartment houses occupied by couples with no children. Then television cut into readership.

In the 1960s, new branches in Ballard and Magnolia and the new downtown library siphoned off clientele. At the 50th Anniversary celebration for the Queen Anne Branch, the daughter and three grandsons of Alden Blethen were honored. Students from the newly opened community college system began to use the library and librarians noted more senior citizens and the first African Americans as patrons. "Noisy and impudent" junior high school students still vexed the library staff.

Second Century

In 1978, funds from a federal employment program, CETA and the Library and Arts Commission allowed artist Richard Spaulding to create a series of five stained glass mural windows for the central reading room. The entire structure received a major remodel in 1988 and 1989. The branch reopened on August 25, 2007, after a further $853,523 renovation under the city's "Libraries for All" program. It was the 23rd project completed under a $196.4 million bond issue passed by Seattle voters in 1998.

Hoshide Williams Architects designed the 2007 renovation, which included improved ventilation, upgraded technology services and equipment, more electrical, communication, and computer connections, new and refinished historic seating, and more efficient circulation desk and work areas. The number of computers for the public more than doubled from eight to 20.

Both levels of the 7,931-square-foot branch were repainted and recarpeted. Outside, work around the building perimeter improved drainage, waterproofed the foundation, repaired and cleaned the retaining wall, and upgraded the landscaping.

Branch Librarians

  • Frances Louise Holmes, 1914-1919
  • Bertha J. Randall, 1919
  • Elizabeth Thurston, 1919-1920
  • Edith P. Hile, 1920-1928
  • Mildred O. Miller, 1928
  • Ferne H. Harris, 1928
  • Eleanor Hedden, 1929-1942
  • Ruth Norris, 1942-1946
  • Weyana (Lopp) Schaal, 1946-1951
  • Floy Mathis, 1951-1960
  • Dorothy Welbon, 1960-1962
  • Maud G. Forberg, 1962-1971
  • Glenna Martz, 1971-
  • Regional Management, 1977-1990
  • Val Frye, 1990-2001
  • Sybil Harrison, 2001-2002
  • Kristin Cole, 2002
  • Lynn Daniel, 2003-2005
  • Jean Johnson, 2005-2006
  • Bob Hageman, 2007-present


"Queen Anne Library -- Fifty Years of Service," Flash, Seattle Public Library newsletter, January 1964, p. 1, Seattle Public Library Archives; "Nostalgia Issue," Ibid., Winter-Spring-Summer 1976, Queen Anne Branch Archives; Update, Seattle Public Library newsletter, September 26, 1988, p. 1, Queen Anne Branch Archives; undated newsclippings, "Queen Anne Scrapbook," scrapbook, Queen Anne Branch Archives; "Queen Anne Branch -- Quarterly Reports, 1914-1933," folder, Seattle Public Library Archives; "Queen Anne Branch -- Annual Reports, 1933-1874," Ibid.; "Queen Anne Branch -- 1912 Site Controversy," Ibid.; "Andrew Carnegie," Britannica CD 2000 Deluxe Edition, 1994-1998 (Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.); "Fight is Waged on Library Site," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 30, 1912, p. 5;  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 updated on September 10, 2008, and again on April 24, 2009.

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