Mt. Pleasant Library History

Mt. Pleasant Library History

The Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library, at 3160 16th St. NW, opened in May 1925, and is the third oldest public library building still in use in Washington. The library, primarily funded by the Carnegie Corporation and designed by accomplished library architect Edward L. Tilton, has seen the neighborhood change over the years, and has had a number of changes and adaptations itself, most recently culminating in a full-scale renovation, restoration and expansion.

The library was built to serve the rapidly growing communities of Mt. Pleasant and Columbia Heights. Mary Foote Henderson, instrumental in the development of 16th Street in the early 20th century, made the library available for purchase. The Italian Renaissance design of the building harmonizes with the monumental architecture of the churches and embassies that line 16th Street. The Mt. Pleasant Neighborhood Library stands in the Mt. Pleasant National Register Historic District, designated in 1987.

D.C.'s Third Carnegie library

Mt. Pleasant Library, 1925

The Mt. Pleasant Library was the third and last DC Public Library building built with Carnegie funding. Andrew Carnegie had funded the construction of the Central Library and, at its dedication in 1903, offered to finance other library buildings as they were needed. Congress was slow to authorize the acceptance of his offer. In 1910, it authorized acceptance of funds for the first Carnegie library, which opened in Takoma Park in 1911. By the time the Board of Library Trustees next sought funds, Carnegie had died without providing in his will for the construction of additional libraries. The Carnegie Corporation honored the promise by granting the trustees’ requests for the funding of two more branches, Southeast in 1921 and Mt. Pleasant in 1923.

The Board of Library Trustees approached Congress in 1922 for a $25,000 appropriation to purchase a site for a neighborhood library in Mt. Pleasant. The District’s head librarian, George F. Bowerman, recommended Edward L. Tilton as architect. Tilton, who previously designed the Southeast library, designed many other Carnegie-funded libraries. His firm with partner William A. Boring also designed the U.S. Immigration Station on Ellis Island, which won the Gold Medal Prize at the Paris Exposition in 1900. Tilton published articles on library design and favored ground-floor stack space with reading rooms above. He was known for paying careful attention to the needs of modern libraries while designing buildings with classic architectural detail. He was awarded an American Institute of Architect's (AIA) Gold Medal in 1925 for his library designs.

The Carnegie Corporation allotted $100,000, but the estimated construction cost of Tilton’s plans, reviewed by the Board in April 1923, exceeded $160,000. The D.C. Commissioners and the Library trustees asked the Corporation for additional funds “in order to erect a larger neighborhood library, with the thought that the size and character of the population to be served will develop a use of that branch only slightly less than the use of the central library.” They were awarded an additional $100,000.

Mt. Pleasant sun room, 1925Tilton’s designs called for a two-story building with basement built of Indiana limestone and a ceramic tile roof. Stairs led up to an arcaded entrance on the main floor and two wings angled back from the entrance to give the facade a gentle curve. A contemporary account described it as “a building modeled after the Massimi palace in Rome. A distinguishing feature will be an outdoor reading room, which in winter will be closed in with great windows.” This room, later known as the sun room, was enclosed year round.

An article in the Library Journal of 1926 described the design as "resembl[ing] an exclusive club rather than a library. Long windows draped with heavy curtains, arm chairs, floor lamps, fireplaces and a large sun parlor are among the architectural features which break away from conventional library practice." The library’s innovative and elaborate features were the subject of professional interest when it opened. In 1934, the Public Works of Art Project of the Civil Works Administration commissioned Aurelius Battaglia to paint murals that featured circus animals playing in a band. Battaglia later worked for Disney studios where his work included the film Dumbo.

Changes within

Mt. Pleasant rendering

Thousands attended the Mt. Pleasant Library opening on May 15, 1925, but the services of the library were limited due to lack of funding. The library opened on half-days on Wednesdays, and the children’s room did not open until a year later because Congress had cut the requested funding for a staff of 21 to 12.

In addition to the mural improvements in 1934, the Mt. Pleasant Library has undergone a few renovations since then. In 1984, the library was cleaned, repainted and made handicapped-accessible. Carpeting was installed in the reading rooms. The report for 1985-86 noted that circulation and head count had doubled “due to the general renovation of the building, becoming an international library and much better education of the patrons.”

In 2008, the library started a major renovation, restoration and expansion. In March 2008, the library conducted community outreach to gain input into what residents of Mt. Pleasant, Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan would like to see in their new library. DC Public Library held community meetings, administered surveys, held one-on-one conversations, had meetings with community organizations and schools, and conducted focus groups. Architects the CORE Group, in partnership with HMA2 Architects, were selected to complete the design work, which would address accessibility issues, improve vertical circulation, update infrastructure and improve code compliance, among other things.

The renovated library reopened Sept. 12, 2012, with much enthusiasm from the community. Improvements include:

  • Welcoming spaces and comfortable seating
  • Expanded children's space with a large story time room
  • Dedicated Teen Space with Mac computers
  • Meeting room for 100 people
  • 50,000 books, DVDs and other library materials
  • 40 computers plus laptops available for customer use in the library