Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library History

Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library History

The Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library located in the Shaw neighborhood in Northwest, opened on September 27, 1975. The two-story, concrete building situated on the triangular lot created by Rhode Island Avenue and 8th and R streets N.W., was designed by Eason Cross of Cross and Adreon, Architects. The library contained approximately 20,000 square feet of space and was one of the largest branch libraries in the D.C. Public Library System when it opened. Initially known simply as the Shaw Branch, the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Branch was renamed in honor of the first chairman of the DC Model Cities Commission, who was a civically active Shaw resident. Funding for the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Branch in the amount of $1.2 million came from Federal appropriations budgeted by the D.C. Commissioners.

A plan for a Neighborhood Library in Shaw was first included in the Public Library's Capital Improvements Program in 1965. However, the proposed branch did not receive funding until 1969, when the National Capital Planning Commission adopted the D.C. Commissioners' "Shaw School Urban Renewal Plan." The plan involved the renewal not only of Shaw-area schools but also the revitalization of the community through additional public services and the reconstruction of dilapidated area housing. The plan was inspired by the work of the Model Inner City Community Organization, a group of middle-class professionals and businessmen living in the Shaw area. These men, including Watha T. Daniel (1911-73), who served on the board of directors, hoped to initiate a gradual resurgence in their community through the construction of public housing.

As part of the "Shaw School Urban Renewal Plan," the D.C. Public Library sought to construct a much-needed library branch in the Shaw neighborhood. The planned facility would contain approximately 18,000 to 20,000 square feet of space and accommodate 60,000 books in a two-story building.

The initial site chosen at the southwest corner of 7th and S streets N.W. proved unsatisfactory to the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), which proposed using the triangular lot bounded by R Street on the north, Rhode Island Avenue on the south, and 8th Street on the east. After being shown the designs for a library at this new site in May 1973, the Planning Commission rejected them, stating that the design should provide a "more open and inviting facility" with larger windows, setbacks and arcade-like openings on the first story. These recommendations were ignored by the D.C. Department of Buildings and Grounds, which proceeded with the construction.

Alarmed by the Public Library's disregard of the NCPC's directive, the chairman of the Model Cities Commission, an agency set up by the District government to oversee the implementation of various anti-poverty programs, wrote to the Mayor and NCPC requesting an injunction to halt construction of the Shaw Neighborhood Library. Construction was temporarily stopped while the architect was given the chance to defend his design, and the D.C. Corporation Council investigated the legal ramifications.

Cross argued that they were barred from incorporating the NCPC's proposed redesigns due to the small size of the lot. In addition, they felt that the design was a good one, and that the involvement of the D.C. Librarian in the design process ensured that it was appropriate for the building type. It was also made clear that the Commission of Fine Arts, which reviewed architectural design for public buildings in the city, had approved the design prior to the NCPC's comments. Corporation Council eventually resolved the matter by ruling that, in this case, the NCPC had no authority over aesthetics.

The architect of Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, Eason Cross (b. 1925) of Cross and Adreon, Architects, practiced in the DC area and lived in Alexandria, Virginia. Cross received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from Harvard Graduate School of Design in 1951. After working in several local architects' offices, Cross formed a partnership with Harry Barnes Adreon in 1961. Some of his principle works include Oak Meadow Nursing Home, Alexandria, VA (1964); Washington & Lee Gymnasium, Montross, VA (1967); and Douglass Recreation Center, Washington, D.C., in association with Stevenson Flemer (1969). He garnered several awards during his career, including an honor award from the American Institute of Architects in 1968 for the Washington & Lee Gymnasium. Cross was also active in his neighborhood, Hollin Hills, a noted 1950s planned housing development in Alexandria, VA.

The Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Branch building consisted of a two-story, reinforced concrete structure clad with poured-in-place, sandblasted concrete panels. The building had an irregular shape, which conformed to its triangular site. The first floor contained an adult reading room, a lounge area, and a listening booth, while the second floor provided space for a children's room complete with a specially designed enclosure for story hours. A large community meeting room occupied the lower level.

The Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library was dedicated September 27, 1975, with festivities that included a parade, a musical program, and the presentation of the library's key by Mayor Walter E. Washington to a young Shaw area resident. The opening day theme emphasized the library's role in the community: "Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library: A Landmark of Social Change."

When it opened, the library offered books and magazines, records, framed prints and mounted posters for its patrons. The library also provided a community meeting room on its lower level. The expressed goals of the new Neighborhood Library were to provide a new kind of library service, one with "a strong emphasis on the newer media of communications and information." The staff was also dedicated to developing creative public programs in accordance with the neighborhood's needs. The first branch librarian was Brenda Cox.

During its first year of operation, the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Branch offered a variety of community activities, including workshops in photography, tutoring, crocheting, knitting and exercising. It also offered poetry readings and art exhibits. On October 16, 1976, the library hosted a "Community Information Day" where local public and private agencies gathered to advertise their services.

Since its opening, the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Library Branch has become a center for community activity. The annual book circulation at the branch between 1995 and 1996 averaged nearly 15,000 volumes. In April 1981, the library hosted an educational forum focusing on the economics of third world countries.

In 1986, the Watha T. Daniel Senior Citizens Club, a social and volunteer organization of the area's senior citizens, celebrated its 10th anniversary. The Friends of the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw Neighborhood Library, first established in the early 1980s, is currently in the process of being reorganized with new bylaws. The group provides support to the library through its fundraising events, advocacy activity and volunteer time.