History of Oak Lawn Branch Library
excerpted from Dallas Public Library web site
note: the pictures are of the current library
In 1929 Dallas had two libraries, Central and Oak Cliff. Both were “Carnegie Libraries,” with large marble columns in the front, a place for a librarian in the very center of the lobby and with Windsor chairs in all the reading rooms. Between 1890 and 1920, 86 Carnegie libraries had been built. The downtown central library was twenty-eight years old and Oak Cliff’s library was fifteen. An additional one-cent was added to the tax base for library support. Cleora Clanton was the library director and she strongly believed in branch libraries. It was time to open new branch services.
Oak Lawn Branch Library opened first as a book depository in Sam Houston School at 2827 Throckmorton St in 1929 with only children’s books. The library then moved to rented quarters at 3014 Reagan St in 1930, with the addition of adult books. The rented facility had 3,000 volumes and display windows on the sidewalk. The cost of the building, including fixtures and the site, was about $45,000. It held reading reference, stack rooms and an office, a double garage and a storeroom in the rear. The 30’s saw the repeal of prohibition and the opening of three more branch libraries all within a 3-mile perimeter of the downtown Central library.
Oak Lawn Branch Library moved into a larger space at 3521 Oak Lawn Avenue in 1950. In 1955, Mrs. Ruth Fagan, chairman of fund raising, announced a project to raise $1,650 for air-conditioning of the building. The group sought to cool the library, which was crowded with schoolchildren during the vacation months. The air-conditioning was installed in 1956.
In 1958 the Friends of the Dallas Public Library commissioned Dr Lowell Martin to survey the 5 branches of the Dallas Public Library. His findings for Oak Lawn were:
This district, starting two miles north of the business center, has been a substantial residential area. It is currently changing, but not deteriorating. A concentration of medical and related services is well established. Lemmon Ave has a series of specialized organization buildings, schools, etc. The first high-rise apartment buildings in the City are under construction, and in the upper-rental group. Oak Lawn may become a cultural and cosmopolitan area within Dallas.
The branch is located in a store just off the main intersection, with good street and nearby parking. The store (unlike other Dallas branches) is clearly identified as a library. It is within a half mile of Highland Park, a separate municipality entirely within Dallas. The store has a twenty-foot frontage and is sixty feet deep. Bookshelves extend not only along the walls but two long rows of freestanding shelves extend the length of the quarters.
The space is thus cut up into several long aisles, with exactly one small reading table, with three chairs. If all three chairs are occupied, it is not possible to move to the rear of the library without returning to the front and picking another aisle. The small quarters and general location of the branch not far from the central building suggest a special service program, concentrating on good current-interest reading for this cosmopolitan and professional part of the City, and an active children’s program. These special circumstances have been disregarded in directing the library in recent years.
The adult collection has been built as though this were to be a balanced subject collection, even though there was no place to put additional books. There has been no plan for systematic withdrawal of titles no longer in demand; the branch librarian reported an unusually “large” weeding of approximately 150 books in the past year, which is only a fraction of the necessary discards under the circumstance. The result is overcrowded shelves, an overcrowded floor area, and an uninviting collection – with the children’s section squeezed into one of the aisles.
Oak Lawn is far enough from the center of Dallas and sufficiently a center in itself to justify a local library. It would serve its own immediate neighborhood, part of the present Dunbar Branch section to the south, and the areas to the northwest. It should follow the proposed pattern for “inner circle” units – location in rented quarters, service program aimed at provision of current and local-interest material rather than a balanced subject collection, and an active children’s facility.
Location in rented quarters is indicated for this unit, not only because the area is changing, but also it is conceivable that an integrated program can be worked out with the Highland Park Library less than a mile to the north. The space for the unit should be at least twice as large as at present (a minimum of 3,000 square feet), which with a program that does not unwisely seek to be a miniature central library would result in pleasant, open quarters and increased circulation.
In 1960, Library Board President R L Thomas announced that Oak Lawn Branch, which previously was located at 3521 Oak Lawn Ave was moving to a new home at a leased facility at 3721 Lemmon Ave. The new building would have more floor space for chairs and seating. The branch opened to the public in March, but the opening ceremonies were delayed until May 19, 1960. The branch contained 3,200 ft², and was designed by Collins & Dryden. Funding for the library came from the City of Dallas Capital Improvement bond program.
On June 19, 1979 groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the new Oak Lawn Branch at 4100 Cedar Springs Rd. It was one of the first Dallas Public Libraries to have its card catalog on computer. Oak Lawn finally acquired its new building on January 10, 1981. Designed by architect William Thomas Odum to emphasize fresh air and natural light, the structure was placed on the lot in such a way as to make maximum use of the prevailing south breezes and the light from the north. Windows that opened and a roof design that facilitated ventilation were an attempt to make the building energy-efficient.
Oak Lawn Library provided cassette tapes featuring music and books-on-tape, art prints, educational games, and toys and puzzles, in addition to books. A sculpture piece, “Reclining Man,” by Salmones and a vest pocket park on the west entry side of the building were donated by Dallas citizens. The Friends of the Dallas Public Library presented the branch with a set of globes. The building cost over $1,000,000 for land, building, furniture, equipment, books and audio-visual materials.
In 1995, the Dallas city council approved the zoning to allow the construction of a new Kroger store adjacent to the site of the Oak Lawn Branch. The branch library was to move temporarily from its location at Cedar Springs Rd and Douglas Ave to a temporary location at 4504 Maple Ave, the former Smith’s Furniture Store, 10 blocks away, on March 5, 1996, delayed because of the need to remove asbestos found in the new location. The fifteen-year-old branch was torn down for the new Kroger and a new branch was built next to the grocery store.
Kroger paid $1,000,000 for the land and for the construction of the new building and the temporary quarters. The old multi-level branch library suffered from structural and design problems that had been too costly for the city to repair. “Kroger is very much a believer in community. We’re very proud to be here,” said Leigh Honeycutt, manager of the new Kroger store. Taxpayers paid nothing for the building, which is 2,000 ft² larger than the old building and was equipped with the new STAR computer databases. “We got a larger building on only one floor, which works better for a library,” said Joe Bearden, assistant director for support services.
The library has become a symbol of Oak Lawn’s diversity. “This isn’t like a suburban library where whole families come in and usage is always high,” said library manager, Ron Boyd. “We pride ourselves in knowing who lives here and trying to serve their needs. Usage would be low if we didn’t.” The library’s collection of more than 67,000 books includes a large number of volumes for Spanish-speaking residents and the library boasts that it may have the largest collection in the world of books by gay and lesbian authors (about 4,000 titles).
“Even the Public library in the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco doesn’t have that many books of special interest to gay and lesbian readers,” said C Jeffrey Weber, another former branch manager. In October, 1998 the Texas Society of Architects chose to give Oak Lawn Library an award for solving a difficult problem in precise and unmannered ways. Their challenge was to give the library a civic identity in anonymous surroundings, which they did by designing a formal entrance, complete with columns and portico, then making the long street façade a store window advertising books and ideas.
these footnotes were included, but somehow the reference numbers in the above document were absent (?)
- Dallas Yesterday, by Sam Hanna Acheson, pg. 127
- Dallas, Too, by Rose-Mary Rumbly, pg. 258
- Staff and Such, November 1950
- “Branch Services for Dallas”, January 1, 1958, pgs. 42-44
- Dallas Times Herald, March 15, 1960
- 1981 Oak Lawn Program
- Dallas Morning News, March 23, 1996
- Dallas Morning News, December 16, 1996
- Dallas Morning News, December 16, 1996
- Dallas Morning News, October 3, 1998