West End Library History

West End Library History

The West End Neighborhood Library at 1101 24th Street N.W. opened February 24, 1967, serving a diverse community of approximately 33,000 people in the southern section of Northwest. The library occupies a two-story, brick and concrete building designed by Bethesda architects Albert Goenner and Associates and constructed by Minmar Builders of Washington, D.C. The 20,000-square-foot building, erected in 1966, was the first D.C. Public Library to be air-conditioned, and the 10th of 11 branches erected under the District's Public Works Program that began in 1955. The construction and site acquisition were funded under the D.C. Public Works Program at a cost of approximately $576,000. The library occupies a site on the northeast corner of L and 24th streets N.W. that formerly contained several single-family dwellings dating from the last quarter of the 19th century.

The neighborhood served by the West End Branch is anchored on the southeast corner by Washington Circle, bounded on the east by New Hampshire Avenue, on the north by N Street, on the west by Rock Creek Parkway, and on the south by Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. The area today known as West End obtained its name in the 1950s when area developers attempted to create a newly fashionable residential neighborhood akin to the west ends of other major American cities. The 12-block area first developed into a residential neighborhood containing both elite residences and modest frame dwellings in the mid-19th century. Substantial single, twin and rowhouse dwellings of brick occupied the high ground between E and I streets. The area south of E Street N.W. contained more modest frame residences. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the trend of suburbanization began to diminish the number of fashionable residences in the neighborhood. By the 1930s, the area provided housing for "a sizable population of working- and middle-class black families." In the 1940s and 1950s, the neighborhood again underwent significant changes, with much of the area being developed for light industrial uses, including dairies, warehouses and automotive repair shops.

West End's strategic location between the downtown business district and residential Georgetown made it a prime target for development in the late 1950s and 1960s. Because of its development potential and the overwhelming proportion of absentee owners, land speculators began buying up large pieces of land in the West End neighborhood in the 1960s, evicting the residents and razing many of the residential buildings.

Although local citizens' groups in the West End had petitioned the Public Library for a branch in their neighborhood as early as the 1920s, the earliest mention of a plan for the branch did not appear in the D.C. Public Library's annual report until 1958-59. In November 1959, following the established procedure for testing new library sites, bookmobile service was initiated in West End. The results of the bookmobile test were promising, and funds for site acquisition were provided for fiscal year 1961. Several other Neighborhood Library projects, however, took precedence over West End, delaying its completion.

D.C. Public Library administrators and the D.C. Department of Buildings and Grounds collaborated on choosing an appropriate location for the new Neighborhood Library in West End. Their first choice of sites was located at 24th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue N.W.; however, this parcel proved to be too costly. An alternative site was eventually acquired for approximately $330,000. The property on the northeast corner of L and 24th streets N.W. contained 10 parcels, two of which were occupied by buildings. Six of the 10 parcels were purchased, while the remaining four had to be acquired through condemnation proceedings.

In 1964, $35,000 was appropriated for the plans and specifications for the West End Neighborhood Library. Albert Goenner and Associates, a Bethesda-based architectural firm, was selected to design the new library. The principal of the firm, Albert O. Goenner, maintained an office at 9300 Old Georgetown Road in Bethesda, Maryland, and had been a member of the Washington Metropolitan Chapter of the American Institute of Architects since 1957. Goenner had designed the recently completed Palisades Neighborhood Library, which was also built under the D.C. Public Works Program.

Goenner (1913-91), the son of a Washington architect of the same name, graduated from Catholic University in 1936 with a degree in architecture. He worked for the government and during World War II served with the Navy Seabees. After the war he worked for Kass Realty designing commercial buildings and then went into practice for himself. He later formed a partnership, Goenner, Woodhouse & Associates, with Walter Woodhouse who had worked for him as a draftsman. Goenner specialized in public and commercial buildings.

Early in his career he designed the Inner Circle movie theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue, which was a major remodeling of an existing building, and later designed the Outer Circle theatre. He received a number of Air Force commissions including acoustical and other interior work on the Air Force Academy Chapel in Boulder, Colorado, and work at Edwards Air Force Base. He worked for the Holy Cross Order of nuns in Washington, where he designed St. Cecilia’s school and convent, and in Texas.

In February 1964, Goenner's design was presented to the Commission of Fine Arts, a regulatory commission charged with reviewing the architectural design of all public buildings in Washington, D.C. Their opinion was not favorable. Commission member Aline B. Saarinen expressed her disapproval of the design, stating that the design was "like the three faces of Eve...There are six different kinds of architecture here. There is no unity of idea or concept of design." After being reworked, the design was eventually approved by the Commission and the project was opened for construction bids. The low bid of $488,837 was submitted by Minmar Building of Washington, D.C. In fiscal year 1965, $576,000 was appropriated by Congress for construction costs, equipment, and a basic book collection for the new West End Branch.

Designs for the building were prepared under the supervision of James A. Blaser, Director of D.C.'s Department of Buildings and Grounds, and followed the requirements set out in the D.C. Public Library's service plan. The West End Neighborhood Library was the 10th of 11 branches erected under the District's Public Works Program that began in 1955. The design of each of these Public Works Program libraries followed the same general architectural program, determined not only by the D.C. Public Library's staff but also by the Office of the Supervising Architect that prescribed construction materials, decorative elements and the organization of the facade.

The West End Neighborhood Library consisted of a two-story, brick and concrete building decorated with exterior masonry panels incorporating opaque glass spandrels and tinted glass windows. A concrete canopy sheltered the two front entrances and large display window. The building was surrounded by paved terraces with benches and landscaping. The interior contained two floors of public services, the first consisting of a browsing area, an adult reference-reading room, a book stack area, and a soundproof listening booth. The second floor provided space for a children's room, additional book stacks and a community meeting room.

The West End Neighborhood Library opened February 24, 1967, drawing a large crowd to the dedication ceremony that included remarks by the District's Engineer Commissioner Robert E. Mathe; Mrs. William B. Hanback, President of the West End Citizens' Association; and Dr. Elmer Louis Kayser, the University Historian at George Washington University. The first librarian was R.T. Elgin.

Although the 20,000-square-foot library facility was capable of holding over 60,000 volumes, it opened with a collection of only 22,075 books in its adult collection. An effort was made to assemble a collection strong in government, business, economics and history for the large number of government and private employees in the nearby office complexes.

During the planning of the library, the West End neighborhood had undergone vast development, changing the area from mainly residential to mixed office and residential. The change in the population make-up also meant that the demand for children's material was minimal. As an example of the low children's circulation, in 1969-70, 96,729 books were circulated to adults, while only 15,591 were checked out to juveniles. In 1972, the library's public services areas were consolidated onto the first floor due to the low usage of the children's room on the second floor, and a desire to decrease operation costs.

It is an indisputable fact that the center of the city's business and commerce is rapidly shifting, bringing it ever more within the area served by the branch. The one-family rowhouses and relatively small apartment and business buildings that formerly made up this area are giving way to large business and office buildings and high-rise apartment complexes, thus increasing both the working and resident populations of the neighborhood.

As a result, West End will almost certainly soon have more readers in all of the following categories: non-resident persons employed in the area; younger people, either childless or with pre-school children; and older people. More inter-library loan requests from businesses and government agencies can be expected. However, a continual problem facing the West End Branch has been a lack of resources to expand its inadequate book collection.

The Friends of the West End Library, a nonprofit group incorporated in August 1990, helps to supplement the library's resources and strengthen its services through such activities as fundraising, donating funds to purchase magazine subscriptions and purchasing new equipment to replace outdated items. The organization also offers volunteers to help sort donated books, staff the annual book sale and assist librarians with daily work.

In 1994, the West End Branch held a collection of 53,000 books, 2,000 records, 139 books-on-tape, and more than 80 magazines and periodicals. Today, the branch hosts a Great Books discussion group, a film series and offers the use of two meeting rooms to community groups.