Chevy Chase Library History

Chevy Chase Library History

Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library

The Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library at 5625 Connecticut Ave. NW, just two blocks south of Chevy Chase Circle, was dedicated on March 21, 1968. The two-story building, described in contemporary accounts as “an example of modern functional architecture,” was designed by Nicholas Satterlee and Associates under the District’s Public Works Program.

Humble beginnings

The current building is Chevy Chase Library's fourth. The first building opened in 1920 with a collection of several hundred books in the kindergarten room of the local Elizabeth V. Brown School. The D.C. Public Library provided books at the request of the Citizens’ Association of Chevy Chase, which agreed to underwrite the librarian’s salary of $20 a week and equipment costs such as shelving.

For its first six years, the library was supported by the Citizens’ Association of Chevy Chase, which held band concerts, ice cream carnivals and other events to raise money. A librarian -- Ada C. Cotton from 1920 to 1932 -- split time between the Brown location and a station in the Janney School on on Albemarle Street at Wisconsin Avenue until fiscal year 1928, when they were combined to create the Chevy Chase Subbranch.

The library moved to rented space in a storefront at 3815 and 3817 Livingston Street, and opened in October of 1927. A third storefront at 3813 Livingston St. was added on Jan. 3, 1939. Congress also funded a full-time children’s librarian.

By 1930, the Chevy Chase Subbranch’s collection numbered about 5,000 volumes, of which about 2,100 were children’s books. Monthly circulation at that time ran between 3,500 and 4,500. According to a contemporary account, “[i]n building up her book collection...[Mrs. Cotton] has paid particular attention to the needs of suburban patrons. Consequently, the branch has a good group of books on gardening, and an excellent working collection of books for parents.”

Full-time branch gets crowded

Chevy Chase Library, 1947

The library became a full-time branch on Sept. 5, 1944. Staff doubled, and membership and circulation increased. By the end of World War II, the library had outgrown its space.

“Into the three-room library each week come about 1,400 people," stated an article at the time. "...Nobody stays to browse because there simply isn’t room and it is too noisy.”

With their lease up, the Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library returned to the Elizabeth V. Brown School building in 1948, thanks to an extensive community campaign. The Brown school building had been condemned for use as a school in 1939 and was used by the Office of Price Administration during World War II. When the former school building became vacant in 1945, residents saw it as an opportunity to provide space for both the recreational and library needs of the community, although extensive renovation was needed.

The Chevy Chase Community Council, a dormant organization that had collected funds for civilian defense during World War II, was revived under the leadership of the local druggist, Samuel F. Higger, to work for a combined recreational center and library. The project was initially vetoed by District commissioners, but community leaders successfully campaigned for the project in January 1947.

Stretched for space

Chevy Chase construction

However, within 10 years of opening in the Elizabeth V. Brown Building, the library was again stretched for space. In March 1958, the Board of Library Trustees sent a letter to the District Commissioners requesting that funds for the construction of a new branch in Chevy Chase be included in the Public Works Program. In November 1959, a new Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library was included in the six-year Public Works Program.

Construction began in March 1966 on the site at Connecticut Avenue and Northampton Street after Congress appropriated $611,000 for construction, equipment and the basic book collection.

Nicholas Satterlee (1915-74), architect of the Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library building, achieved prominence for his work both in the design of modern residential buildings and communities, and in the restoration and rehabilitation of historic landmarks.

Kids help move books to new building, 1968The Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library was completed in summer 1967, yet the opening was postponed until March 1968 because strikes delayed the delivery of shelving. Mayor Walter E. Washington spoke at the dedication on March 21, 1968, to an audience of about 700.

Total space for the Chevy Chase Neighborhood Library was over 24,000 square feet with a book capacity of more than 70,000 volumes. Provision was made for a third floor to meet future requirements for additional space. The building was fully air-conditioned.

The library’s exterior walls were finished in a red brick facing with architectural pre-cast concrete trim and Philippine mahogany woodwork. The brick facing was selected to complement the neighboring commercial buildings. Glass was used extensively on the building, and a skylight provided natural illumination for the open staircase from the first to the second floors.