Juanita E. Thornton/Shepherd Park Library History

Juanita E. Thornton/Shepherd Park library


The Juanita E. Thornton/Shepherd Park Neighborhood Library at 7420 Georgia Ave. NW opened to an appreciative community on July 29, 1990. The dedicated efforts of neighborhood residents, led by a retired D.C. school teacher, Juanita E. Thornton, made the branch a reality after five years of planning. Initially known as the Shepherd Park Branch, the name was changed in 1992, when the neighborhood and Board of Library Trustees voted to amend the name to honor the woman principally responsible for the library’s completion.

Situated in the northernmost section of Northwest, the branch serves the community of Shepherd Park and was intended to supplement the services of Takoma Park Neighborhood Library, built in 1911. The Juanita E. Thornton Neighborhood Library, a $3.3 million facility, was built with funds included in the District's supplemental budget of 1985. The library was the second D.C. library designed by the architectural firm of Bryant and Bryant.

'Books Not Burgers'

A plan to build a public library branch in the Shepherd Park neighborhood first arose in 1984, when residents proposed the placement of a library on a site slated for a Wendy's restaurant. The 24 apartments that occupied the property were demolished in preparation for the restaurant.

Juanita E. Thornton, a retired D.C. school teacher and community activist concerned about the construction of another fast food restaurant in the area, quickly united the community to stop the restaurant from being erected, using the rallying cry of "Books Not Burgers." In the view of the citizens of Shepherd Park, the Georgia Avenue corridor was already inundated with commercial fast food chains, and a library would better serve the community. Thornton organized a three-prong campaign focusing on gathering grassroots community support, enlisting the help of D.C. Councilwoman Charlene Drew Jarvis.

The community was successful. In July 1985, the Library's Board of Trustees voted to build the library. Councilmember Jarvis persuaded the D.C. City Council to appropriate $3.3 million in the 1985 supplemental budget for the design and construction of the library. The owner of the site turned over the property to the District when it was determined that a public library would be built there. DC Public Library chose the firm of Bryant and Bryant, which had been responsible for the plans for the Lamond-Riggs Branch (1983), to design the new library facility.

Breaking ground

After three years of planning, ground was broken for the new Shepherd Park Neighborhood Library on September 26, 1988. The facility consisted of a two-story, reinforced concrete structure faced with "Calvert Rose" brick. The building featured an irregular shape, consisting of interlocking geometric shapes that resembled clustered towers and numerous, generously sized windows. The building contained reading rooms for children and adults, audio-visual facilities, an auditorium, several meeting rooms and exhibit space. Space was provided for 48,000 volumes in the book stacks.

The Shepherd Park Neighborhood Library opened July 29, 1990, with a collection of more than 20,000 books, tapes, records, CDs and magazines. The first branch librarian was Winnell Montague, a 20-year library veteran.
 
In October 1992, the library held a renaming ceremony to honor Juanita E. Thornton, the primary force behind the establishment of the branch. Thornton had passed away on September 14, 1990, and the community wanted to recognize her efforts and create a memorial to her memory. Thus, the Shepherd Park Branch became the Juanita E. Thornton/Shepherd Park Neighborhood Library.