After nearly being built somewhere else, the Newport Way Library opened at 14250 SE Newport Way in Bellevue in 1970. The library was one of 20 that the King County Library System (KCLS) built or improved using funds from a 1966 bond issue. The Newport Way Library has served Bellevue's Eastgate community since its opening with a wide variety of programs tailored to people of all ages. The attractive, 8,690-square-foot library was remodeled and expanded in 2010 and 2011, and continues to offer something for everyone.
To Build a Library
Bellevue's Eastgate neighborhood developed with the city itself during the 1950s. Bellevue incorporated in 1953, but much of the Eastgate area remained outside the city limits until being annexed years later. Nevertheless it historically has been associated with Bellevue because of its proximity to the city center, which is located just a few miles northwest of Eastgate. As neighborhoods in the Eastgate community grew and developed, a growing murmur arose for a local library, and this murmur grew louder as development expanded in the 1960s.
Many local communities in the twentieth century had a community club dedicated to improving the community, and Eastgate was no exception. In 1964 the club formed a library committee to begin taking the steps needed to acquire a local library. It was headed by Leif Bjorseth, who ultimately became the leader in the drive to bring a library to Eastgate.
In March 1965 the Eastgate Community Club invited King County Library System Director Herbert F. Mutschler (1919-2001) to speak at the club's general meeting. Mutschler had already suggested that KCLS considered Eastgate an excellent location for a library, and at the meeting he explained how the community could work with KCLS on locating and funding a library. Mutschler subsequently backed up that support by incorporating the library committee's recommendations for an Eastgate library into a library-location plan that KCLS published later in 1965.
Meanwhile the Eastgate Community Club and its library committee kept working to generate community interest in a library, and by early 1966 results were beginning to show. In March of that year club president Hal Myers announced that area resident Charles Hutchins had donated an acre of land, located between SE Newport Way and SE Allen Road at approximately 136th Street SE (near Tyee Junior High School) as a site for the new library. Plans had the front of the library facing SE Newport Way, with access roads from both SE Newport Way and SE Allen Road. At first some consideration was given to buying a portable building for the site instead of actually building a building, but this idea didn't last long.
A Pleasant Surprise
With serious planning now under way, a more formal association was needed to help make it happen. In May 1966 the Newport Way Library Association was incorporated and went to work. Perhaps not surprisingly, Leif Bjorseth was named its first president, and he went on to remain active in the association for decades. In November 1966 a KCLS bond issue for $6 million passed in King County, enabling the construction or improvement of 20 libraries in the county, including the Newport Way Library.
By early 1967 there was talk that library construction would begin that autumn. A 5,000-square-foot building with 20,000 books was planned, but then plans stalled. First it turned out that the proposed location was bisected by a county road easement. Hutchins graciously donated more land at the site, but in 1968 a second, and ultimately fatal, problem arose when, as a 2004 history of the library puts it, "[u]nfortunately, the land donated by the Hutchins family proved unsuitable for construction" ("Community Study," 4).
For a few months, the association found itself scrambling to find a suitable site. Then there was a pleasant surprise. The Aldersgate United Methodist Church, located at 14230 SE Newport Way in Bellevue, had a two-acre plot on the southeast corner of its property that would work just fine for a library building, and in February 1969 the church's congregation voted to sell the land to KCLS.
The new site was twice as large as the original site, and this allowed for a bigger building. Plans now called for a 7,500-square-foot library with 30,000 books. Funding was squared away, plans were finalized, and bids were let. The building was designed by the architecture firm headed by Fred Bassetti (1917-2013), a renowned Seattle architect who helped shape the city's skyline and designed a number of buildings throughout the state. Larry Ollas Construction Company of Renton was awarded the contract to build it for $323,500 ($2.12 million in 2016 dollars), and by September 1969 preliminary earthwork was underway. As with many construction projects, the planned completion date of May 1970 slipped, but not by much. In mid-July librarians began stocking books in the new library, and it was dedicated on August 9, 1970.
"Architecture firm Fred Bassetti & Company has succeeded in incorporating a soft, rustic solitude into the 8,025-square-foot building" purred the Seattle Post-Intelligencer shortly before the dedication, and it was indeed an attractive structure, set back from SE Newport Way on a quiet wooded site ("Newport Way Library Inviting"). In a change from the original plans, the front of the library did not face SE Newport Way. The building itself had high-beamed ceilings with interior brick walls, large alcove windows with padded chairs, and a conference room with seating for up to 50 people.
The interior brick walls were something of a novelty. Sculptor Richard Beyer (1925-2012) -- who later became known for his iconic Fremont sculpture Waiting for the Interurban -- designed a series of "story bricks" ("Adventure in Art") throughout the building's interior. The whimsical carvings on the walls at varying levels included a sleepy brick dog in the children's reading area and the shape of a man appearing to come through the east wall of the library about 10 feet above ground level. Pete Peterson, a design architect for Fred Bassetti & Company, said "We hope the carved bricks will delight and surprise the library visitors and remind them that a human being built that building and was involved with the project" ("Adventure in Art ...").
The Newport Way Library opened with about 24,000 books. Nearly all of the books were brand new, a fact the library was especially proud of. However, the library did not open fully stocked, and it expanded its book collection with another 6,000 books in just its first year. There were several reasons for this: Some of the books were delayed in arriving from the publisher, but the library also bought a number of books, particularly reference books, at the last minute in order to have the most current books on hand. Thousands of the books simply hadn't arrived yet, but this was an easy fix. Within a year the library had 30,000 books, about one-third of them for children. It also had approximately 700 records available to loan (many of them for children), or you could listen to them in the library at what the Seattle Post-Intelligencer described as "phonograph listening tables" ("Newport Way Library Inviting"). The library operated 46 hours a week in 1970: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
An Aberrant Beginning
More than 300 Eastgate residents and guests dropped in during the dedication, which was opened by the all-female color guard of the Eastside Guardsmen Drum and Bugle Corps. There was an open house after the dedication and visitors happily strolled through the new library. But the honeymoon was short. Within a few weeks of its opening, the library was plagued during its evening hours by a group of a dozen or so teenagers who crowded around the entrance, tripping people as they came in and hurling obscenities at staff when they asked them to stop. They blocked the driveway, jumped on cars, and threw ink on the library's chairs, only to become docile and polite when the police showed up. By late October, less than three months after its opening, the situation had become so bad that the library's circulation dropped by 25 percent in just a few weeks.
At least two articles appeared in the Bellevue American that autumn discussing the harassment, and concerned citizens met in November to discuss ways to solve the problem. The talk segued into talk of providing more youth recreational opportunities in the area after school, and parents were encouraged to take a more active role in policing their children. One way or another, the problem was eventually resolved, but it gave the library a somewhat dangerous (and overblown) reputation that persisted throughout its early years.
Despite the strange start the library wasted little time getting into full swing. By 1973 it was offering opera previews, art classes, storytimes for kids, and author fairs for children. In 1974 the library offered a mime presentation, a chamber orchestra concert, performances by the Seattle Repertory Theatre, and craft classes in weaving, puppetry, and jewelry-making. The library steadily added to its book collection too; by the time of its 10th anniversary in 1980 it had 37,500 books.
The library continued to expand its programs in the 1980s and 1990s. During these years it occasionally had live-animal programs of more unusual animals such as llamas and cockatoos. A miniature horse was featured in another program. These were simple affairs in which the animal's owner came to the library, presented the animal, and answered questions. A big change came in the late 1980s when the library hired a teen librarian, which allowed it to provide more programs geared toward teenagers. This grew to the point that as of 2016 the library had a Teen Advisory Board that worked on special projects and provided ideas for programs teens would like to see.
The library also kept pace with the technological changes that whirled through the world in the late twentieth century. Compact discs began replacing the vinyl records that the library had offered since its 1970 opening. The library obtained its first computer in 1982, the Dynix system, an online catalog that allowed users to look up whether a book or other content was available in the King County Library System. The internet arrived for patrons of the Newport Way Library (and other King County libraries) in 1994 -- the same year that local voters approved annexing the library to the King County Library System.
Newport Way Library in the Twenty-first Century
The library continued to adapt to the technological changes of the early twenty-first century. As of 2016 it still had compact discs, but these were now enhanced by internet access to streaming audio and video. It had a total of 20 computers, four dedicated solely to the King County Library System catalog. The library still offered an array of programs; for example, it has had an early literacy program for years, and in 2014 it held a "Makerspace Weekend" in which the library obtained a 3D printer and let patrons make whatever they could think of. And in a throwback to its early days, the library still provided opera previews.
In addition to its history of providing a wide variety of programs, the library has always been known for its art. It's not just about the distinctive brick interior. Above the checkout desk is a colorful design of enamel and steel created by Spokane artist Harold Balazs. Other artwork includes attractive designs on the sliding glass door that separates the meeting room from the rest of the library. In 2001 the library's sculpture garden next to the building was completed, and it displays sculptures on loan from various artists.
The library underwent two relatively minimal remodels in the 1990s, and a more extensive one followed in 2010 and 2011. The $3.4 million project, completed in April 2011, moved the front door from the west side of the building to the north side and expanded the library's total area to 8,690 square feet. The meeting room's capacity was more than doubled to 107 occupants, and the meeting room could now be opened to the rest of the library if need be. Computers were added to the children's area, and self-check-in stations outside the library were added for the convenience of both patrons and staff.
The library circulated more than half a million items in 2015, which was actually a decrease from 2012 -- but this drop mirrored a decline in public library use overall, and reflected the increasing use of the internet for services that previously could only be obtained in a visit to a library.