Beacon Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library, opens on July 10, 2004.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 5/26/2005
  • Essay 7317
On July 10, 2004, the new Beacon Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library, opens at 2821 Beacon Avenue S.  This is the 11th branch to open as part of Libraries For All, a $196.4 million bond issue passed by Seattle voters in 1998.

Beacon Hill’s first library branch opened in 1945 and was housed in a small building at 2708 Beacon Avenue S.  In 1962 the Beacon Hill Branch moved to a slightly larger space at 2519 15th Avenue S.  This space had originally been designed as a grocery store and was built in 1927.  Poor ventilation, inadequate seating, and limited shelf space were constant challenges for staff and patrons.  In June 2004 the Beacon Hill Branch closed for the move to the new building.

The new Beacon Hill Branch is 10,800 square feet and cost $5,358,990 to build.  It has a greatly expanded collection capacity of 40,200 books and materials, more than double the capacity of the old building. Designed by Carlson Architects, the building has swooping rooflines and is flooded with natural light.  The raised floor hides wiring, allowing unimpeded views of the over-arching wooden ceiling and large windows.  The Beacon Hill neighborhood in which the branch is sited is clearly visible through the building’s walls of windows, firmly rooting the architecture in the community. 

Wood and stone are used throughout the building.  Green slate tiles cover the south side and multi-colored, iron-oxide-pigmented tiles cover the north side. Paint colors are earth toned.  The sills, site stone, and countertops, and the stone in the sign are sandstone quarried at the Tenino Quarry in Tenino, Washington. Landscaping and further use of quarry stones around the exterior serve to enhance the building’s connection with the natural environment. (Tenino Quarry was the source of the sandstone used to build the original 1906 Central Branch of the library.   That branch, built with funds donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, was demolished in 1960.) 

Reflecting the diverse multicultural population of Beacon Hill residents, the branch’s collection includes materials in Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.  It also includes a 400-square-foot neighborhood service center and a language center for patrons who are learning English as a second language.   Groupings of comfortable padded chairs scattered throughout the building encourage quiet gathering.  The building features 24 computer stations, study rooms, a meeting room, a computer language lab, and an area designated for teenagers.

Two thousand new books in the children’s area were purchased with donations in memory of former Seattle Public Library board member and community leader Betty Jane Narver (1934-2001).  Those books bear commemorative bookplates honoring Narver’s work.  A series of three wooden door arches of different shapes provide young patrons with a transitional experience between the main library area and the children’s area.

The entryway to the branch features a sound installation consisting of recordings of poetry, prose, and short fiction written by Beacon Hill residents.  Some of the sandstone pieces outside the building are engraved with haiku written by Beacon Hill Branch patrons.  A large fabricated metal kinetic boat sculpture on a tall pole slowly turns in the wind outside the entrance.  The sculpture is by Pullman artist Miles Pepper and was designed to change form, opening and closing as it moves in the wind.  Pepper’s concept for the piece was his view that libraries are vessels for voyages of discovery.

Sources: Alan Snel, “Beacon Hill Is Eager For Its New Branch Library,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 15, 1999; Phuong Le, “Library Reconsidering Site For Controversial Beacon Hill Branch,” Ibid., April 27, 2000; Lindsey Rowe, “Anticipation Soars At New Library; ‘Architecture Is The Art’ At New Beacon Hill Branch, Which Reopens Tomorrow,” Ibid., July 9, 2004; Beth Kaiman, “Bank Reaches Deal To Sell Beacon Hill Site To Library,” The Seattle Times, September 16, 2000; Tan Vinh, “Sorely Needed Library Finally Opens," Ibid., July 11, 2004; HistoryLink.Org Online Encyclopedia of Washington History, “Beacon Hill Branch, The Seattle Public Library,” (by David Wilma), accessed May 18, 2005; “About The Beacon Hill Branch,” The Seattle Public Library website accessed May 16, 2005 (; “Fast Facts: Artwork at the Beacon Hill Branch of the Seattle Public Library,” The Seattle Public Library, information sheet, n.d.

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