The King County Bookmobile began serving Kenmore in the 1940s. Before long, as more people began raising families in the community at the north end of Lake Washington, residents decided that they needed their own library. Through the efforts of local parents, Kenmore's first library opened in a remodeled barn in 1958, with materials and staff provided by the King County Library System (KCLS). A children's wing was added in 1961, but by the 1970s a newer building was needed, and the library moved into a slightly larger modular building in 1976. After voters approved the Kenmore Library's annexation to the King County Library System in 1999, the city and KCLS worked together to build a large modern library. A 2004 bond measure provided funding and, following some delays in acquiring the planned site, the new Kenmore Library opened in 2011.
Kenmore, located between Lake Forest Park and Bothell at the north end of Lake Washington, began as a mill town -- it was named in 1901 by shingle-mill owner John McMaster, whose son William served as the first postmaster when a post office opened in the area in 1903. Even after the arrival of the post office, Kenmore residents had to rely on nearby communities for most goods and services. Kenmore's first grocery store didn't open until 1919, and the first gas station opened a year later. By the 1920s, little remained of Kenmore's lumber industry and, as other businesses moved in, the community began to develop its own character.
The newly formed King County Library System began bookmobile service to rural areas of the county in 1944, and there was soon a bookmobile stop at Kenmore's Farmer's Market on the corner of NE 193rd Street and 55th Avenue NE in the Linwood Heights neighborhood. After World War II, when bookmobile service expanded throughout the county, two more local stops were added, one in central Kenmore and the other in the Moorlands neighborhood. Book lovers had to act fast, since the bookmobile only stopped for 20 minutes every two weeks.
With a growing number of schoolchildren, thanks to the postwar baby boom, Kenmore parents expressed concerns that bookmobile service was inadequate for their children's needs. In 1956, a group of parents met in the home of Virgil and Lola Beetham to discuss plans and ideas for bringing a library to Kenmore.
The parents contacted the King County Library System and learned that KCLS would furnish books and staff for a library if the community provided a building. Virgil Beetham was president of the Kenmore Elementary School Parent Teacher Association (PTA), and library supporters initially proposed that the library be placed inside the school. However, KCLS rejected this proposal and the planners began to look for other locations.
By this time the PTA was fully involved, and in 1957 the organization took on the task of establishing a Kenmore Library as part of its annual project, which also included building a second, state-required access road to the school. As luck would have it, a piece of property became available adjacent to the school, right near the route of the planned road.
The two acres being sold by Robert H. Bell, which were located on 73rd Avenue NE just south of 192nd Street, included a small house and a barn. The asking price was $17,500 and, after KCLS approved the site, Virgil Beetham put up the earnest money to purchase the property. The PTA mothers then went on a house-to-house fundraising mission that netted $6,500, which was enough to take out a mortgage to finance the purchase. In 1958, work began in earnest.
A newly formed local library association sold a portion of land to the school district for its access road, and converted the house into a rental unit to defray the mortgage. Much work was needed on the barn, which once housed horses and farm equipment, to turn it into a functioning library building. A local architect contributed his services to remodel the barn, and materials were donated by local businesses.
The first Kenmore Library opened on July 21, 1958, and quickly become a treasured asset to the community. Children would ride their bicycles there to check out books, and it wasn't uncommon to see one or two kids arriving on horseback. On sunny summer days, volunteers would lead storytelling gatherings out on the front lawn. The library opened with 5,600 books on its shelves, and within a month more than 1,500 had been checked out. Jean P. Smith, the first librarian, issued almost 200 library cards in the library's first summer of operation.
By 1961 the number of items in the collection had grown to 8,000. That year a four-hundred-square-foot children's wing was added onto the building. At the time, librarian Jean Smith noted that the Kenmore Library offered more children's poetry books than any other KCLS library.
From Barn to Trailer
As Kenmore's population grew, so did library patronage. By the 1970s, it was apparent that a new building was needed. A site was chosen at 18138 73rd Avenue as part of a government complex that also included a fire station, police station, and park-and-ride facility. The new Kenmore Library opened on June 9, 1976, with a new librarian, Romaine Whipple, who took over the position after Jean Smith retired.
The new building was a double-wide trailer built by Western Modular Co. in Kent, and transported to the site in three pieces. Although not as scenic as the old barn, it was larger, at 2,112 square feet, providing more room for books and materials. But parking was limited, which made visits to the library challenging on busy days. And busy it was, especially as Kenmore continued to grow. By the end of the twentieth century, with the library more than ever a "vibrant community center," the city had once again outgrown its library building ("Kenmore Library Community Study").
Residents sought the best way to support the new facility and to expand library services the city needed. They concluded that it would be best to annex the Kenmore Library to the King County Library System rather than continuing to contract for services from KCLS. Annexation gave the Kenmore Library direct access to a larger collection of library materials, in addition to providing support from the broader county-wide tax base to fund needed expansion. In 1999, Kenmore voters overwhelmingly approved the annexation with a 92 percent vote in favor.
Working Toward a New Library
In 2004, King County voters approved a $172 million capital bond to renovate old KCLS libraries and build new ones. By then the Kenmore Library's collection had grown to 28,000 items, and it had seven Internet-access computers for patron use. Those computers, and even the study tables and reading area, were often full and, despite the staff's best efforts to make the most of the building, it was clear that the Kenmore Library was in desperate need of a new facility. As Julie Wallace, community relations manager for the King County Library System, noted at the time, "a 2,000-square-foot double-wide does not even begin to meet the needs of that community" ("Libraries Look to Bond Measure ...").
Kenmore residents were hoping to have their new library built in a couple of years, but encountered delays. The site chosen for the new building was being leased to the United States Postal Service, but the city and KCLS understood that the post office would soon be moving out. That did not happen, and over the next few years the city, KCLS, and even the area's congressional representative talked repeatedly with postal officials, urging them to move the post office to a new location.
The post office didn't move until 2010 -- right across the street into the old city hall. The new city hall hadn't been completed yet, but city officials hastily transferred their government offices into a temporary location in order to facilitate the post-office relocation. Construction of the $7.8 million new library -- designed by Weinstein AU Architects -- began in June 2010, and the building opened a year later in July 2011.
Bigger and Better
At 10,000 square feet in size, the new Kenmore Library was almost five times larger than the old library, and had plenty of parking, including an underground garage. The collection increased by more than 16,000 new books, magazines, movies, and CDs. The number of staff increased from six to 16, which greatly lessened the wait time for assistance and to check out books.
The new building was filled with plenty of natural lighting. Skylights and large windows on the north and south sides of the building brightened the large reading room, and also saved money, as interior lighting needed to be turned on for less than 30 percent of the library's operating hours. In addition to the light-filled reading room, the library had separate children's and teen areas, a meeting room, and two study rooms.
The extensive use of natural lighting was just one of many sustainable-design features in the new library. Others included energy-efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation systems and use of sustainably harvested wood in the building's interior. The exterior siding was made of teak wood reclaimed from demolished buildings, and a rain garden served to reduce pollution and flooding while providing wildlife habitat.
Six months after the new library opened, circulation had increased by 188 percent, and patron visits by 91 percent, compared to the previous six-month period. In 2012, the Kenmore Library was awarded a Civic Design Honor by the AIA Washington Council.