William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Library History

William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Library History

The Washington Highlands Branch of the DC Public Library was erected at 115 Atlantic St. SW in 1959. Constructed at a cost $304,000, the building was designed by Victor E. DeMers in cooperation with the District's Office of the Supervising Architect and constructed by Merando of Washington, D.C. The Washington Highlands Branch opened October 14, 1959, in a one-story, brick and steel building on the southwest corner of Atlantic Street and South Capitol Terrace.

Washington Highlands is a residential community in the southeast quadrant of Washington, roughly bounded by Oxon Run Park on the north and west, and the Maryland-District line on the south and east. As early as 1947, the DC Public Library considered the placement of a neighborhood library in the adjacent community of Congress Heights. At that time, library officials were concerned that the area east of the Anacostia River, one of the most rapidly growing sections of the city, would be without proper library services. In 1947, the Washington Highlands Citizens' Association directed a letter to the Public Library's Board of Trustees requesting a Neighborhood Library for their neighborhood. The letter suggested that the property at 119 Chesapeake St. S.E. be considered for use as a combined library and recreation center. The War Department, who owned the property, offered it for use by any of the District's various departments.

Despite the community's pleas, no provisions were made to provide library services to the community until the early 1950s, when a bookmobile stop was established there. The bookmobile demonstrated the community's need for a full-fledged Neighborhood Library by averaging an impressive circulation of 100 books an hour. The rapid growth of the Washington Highlands community, which experienced an estimated 350% increase in population between 1940 and 1953, also convinced library administrators that the neighborhood would best be served by a branch.

In 1956, after a struggle of several years, Congress finally appropriated funds for the purchase of a site for the planned Washington Highlands Branch. Yet the Public Library's Board of Trustees later found it difficult to secure the money necessary for construction. The Trustees requested $360,000 in construction funds to be included in the D.C. Commissioners’ 1957 budget, but were denied in June 1956. The Trustees resubmitted their request and were successful in having $437,400 included in the 1958 budget. This sum included the cost of construction plus $40,000 for books and another $40,000 for equipment. In 1957, Congress approved the construction costs for the Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library building, and the construction began in 1958. The Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library was the third of six planned branch libraries to be built under the District's Public Works Program, which began in 1955. This plan was later extended to include nine new and replacement branches in the revised DC Public Works Program of 1959. Ultimately, 11 Public Works Program branches were built.

The Washington Highlands Branch building was designed by Victor E. DeMers and erected by the general contracting firm of Merando of Washington. The design and construction were supervised by the Office of the Supervising Architect of the District of Columbia, and followed the requirements laid out in a service plan developed by the Public Library staff. According to 1956 and 1962 architects’ directories, DeMers maintained an office at 1211-A Connecticut Ave. N.W. and advertised himself as an architect-engineer. He became a member of the Washington Metropolitan Chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1945.

DeMers' design for the Washington Highlands library building consisted of a one-story, steel frame structure faced with red brick. The entrance was accentuated by concrete trim, a large display window, and two tempered glass entry doors. The library contained approximately 18,000 square feet of space with a partial basement occupied by book storage space and a meeting room. The main floor provided all public services, including a lobby, a children's room opposite the entrance, an adult reference-reading and book stacks to the left of the lobby, and a central circulation counter.

The staff work rooms, librarian's office and public restrooms are located at the rear of the building. The open interior spaces were designed to allow for maximum flexibility with moveable double-faced bookcases providing the only partitions. The plans also allowed for the addition of a second story over a portion of the original building when future needs required.

Although the Washington Highlands Branch could accommodate 50,000 volumes, it was not fully equipped when it opened on October 15, 1959, due to budget shortfalls. At the opening ceremonies, the principal speaker, D.C. Commissioner David B. Karrick illustrated how the public library could benefit the citizens and the nation as a whole:

“Because of the international situation, it is the role of the public library to serve as an information center. If, as we have been taught, the truth will make us free, the public library obviously helps preserve democracy and our way of life.”

Washington Highland's first librarian was Ruth McCoy, who was assisted by Virginia M. Heffernan. The library was open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and served a population of 35,000 within a one-and-a-half mile radius in the area between St. Elizabeth's Hospital and the Maryland state line.

The Washington Highlands Neighborhood Library has played an important role in educating and serving the community. One of its successful community programs included an annual spring festival designed to acquaint students, teachers and parents with organizations and agencies that provide health, recreation and safety services in the District of Columbia. The library has also sponsored art exhibits of local student work and collaborated with the Washington Urban League and the Merrill-Lynch Company in co-sponsoring "Scholarship Builders," a program designed to enhance the education of "at-risk" children. Some of the regular weekly programs are story time, a children’s film series and a book club.

The new William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Library, designed by the award-winning architecture team of Adjaye & Associates and Weincek Associates, was rebuilt and reopened on June 13, 2012. Information about that project can be found at the William O. Lockridge/Bellevue Library construction update page.