Cleveland Park Library History

Cleveland Park Library History

Cleveland Park Library

The Cleveland Park Neighborhood Library at 3310 Connecticut Ave. NW opened in October 1953. The building occupies a prominent corner lot on the west side of Connecticut Avenue between Macomb and Newark streets in the heart of Cleveland Park's commercial district. The library represents the culmination of decades of community activism in support of the placement of a public library in this Northwest community. The present site on Connecticut Avenue was referred to as the "library lot" as early as 1913.  

The building was designed by Municipal Architect Merrell A. Coe; the site of the library was purchased for $75,000 in 1945. The Connecticut Avenue Citizens Association raised $30,000, and the rest was appropriated by Congress. When it opened, the Cleveland Park branch, one of the first of the D.C. libraries to be designed in a spare, Modernist style, was one of the largest in the D.C. Public Library system.

A small start

The Cleveland Park branch began as a small collection of books provided by the public library system and housed in a single room of the John Eaton School at 34th and Lowell streets NW. This first library was born of community action on the part of Cleveland Park residents who petitioned the D.C. Public Library's head librarian, Dr. George Bowerman, for a library in their neighborhood. In 1910, Dr. Bowerman agreed to provide books if the community got approval from the Board of Education to donate a room of the new John Eaton School, and if the community could raise the salary for a librarian to come one day a week. Mrs. Philip S. Smith explained how the community "went from house to scattered house peddling the idea and came up with fifty dollars -- the complete salary for the year."

The community was successful in establishing a small library service at the new John Eaton School. However, after this promising start, library services in Cleveland Park were stopped  after a year because of the outbreak of World War I. Services at John Eaton School were not reinstated until after World War II.

By the mid-1940s, enough local interest in a Cleveland Park library branch had been generated to attract the attention of the public library's administrators. Between 1944 and 1945, several community activists, including Harry C. Grove, Mrs. Cazenove Lee and Catherine Cate Coblentz, led a drive to collect $30,000 as the community's contribution toward the purchase of the library site. Congress provided the remaining $45,000 needed to purchase the land.

A home of their own

Cleveland Park Library, 1953In 1948, the D.C. Public Library's Board of Trustees decided to provide for a temporary, part-time branch; in the 1951-52 District budget, Congress allocated $335,000 for construction of the permanent library. By October 1952, construction started, with an anticipated completion date of April 1953.

When it was finished, the Cleveland Park branch, officially named the Cleveland Park Memorial Library, was one of the largest branch buildings in the District of Columbia. It had a book capacity of 45,000, and accommodated adult and juvenile collections, public restrooms, an engine room, janitor's quarters, book storage space and staff quarters. The building's design intentionally provided space for an additional auditorium wing to be constructed at a later date, and the foundation and structural framing allowed for the future expansion of a second story.

A 1952 article described the building as an example of "simple, modern architecture," constructed of gray-colored brick with an emphasis on a large display window flanked by entrance and exit doors. The interior featured an open plan with no fixed partition walls, lending itself to "the maximum utilization of space." An auditorium addition was completed early in 1957.