The Boulevard Park Library holds bragging rights as the very first library to join the newly formed King County Library System (KCLS) in 1943. Boulevard Park is located in the Highline area south of Seattle, between White Center and Boeing Field, with the City of SeaTac to the south. The area was part of unincorporated King County until it was annexed by the City of Burien in 2009. The library was founded in 1937, during the Great Depression, as a project of the local women's club. The World War II industrial boom led to a large population influx in the area around the Boeing Airplane Company, including Boulevard Park. A second library was built in 1952, and the current building was opened in 1971. That building was renovated in 1991 and again in 2002, with a further renovation scheduled for late 2016 or 2017.
Early Boulevard Park and Origins of the Library
The area that is now known as Boulevard Park was settled in the 1870s, with early development centered around the intersection of Military Road, completed in 1869 to link Seattle with Fort Steilacoom, and Des Moines Way S, completed in 1873 to connect Seattle with Tacoma. Until the 1930s, the area remained sparsely settled, occupied largely by truck farms that served mostly Seattle, with a few grocery stores mixed in. However, something big was happening nearby, which would completely transform the neighborhood. On May 9, 1917, William Boeing (1881-1956) had reincorporated his earlier aircraft-building business under the name "Boeing Airplane Co.," and moved it to a red barn on the Duwamish River, just northeast of Boulevard Park. On July 26, 1928, Boeing Field -- located next to the Boeing Airplane Company -- was dedicated as Seattle's first municipal airport. As these enterprises grew, more professional and technical workers moved into the area and the population of women who had the time and leisure to think broadly about culture rose.
On March 23, 1927, a group of women in the Boulevard Park area formed The Women's Progress Club of McKinley Hill. The club's name was changed to the Wednesday Social Club in 1933 because it served an area broader than McKinley Hill, and it met on the first and third Wednesday of each month. Its motto was, "All that is human must retrograde if it does not advance" (Colburn, 2). The club sponsored cultural programs at its meetings, with titles such as, "Books in the Home," "Good Citizenship," "The Literary Feast," "How to Develop a Taste for Good Reading," "Books to Buy and Books to Borrow," and "Women Writers Who Are Equal to Men."
At its 10th anniversary meeting, on April 21, 1937, the Wednesday Social Club unanimously passed a resolution to sponsor a library. A local store, Mansfield Grocery, which was purchasing new property for an expansion, donated a small corner of its new lot as a site for the library. After some diligent fundraising, the club was ready to enter into a construction agreement. The first Boulevard Park Library building was only 12 by 18 feet. Painting the structure; installing light fixtures, shelving, and a heater; and building a brick sidewalk were all accomplished by volunteer labor. Even taking into consideration the amount of volunteered work, the cost set forth in the November 3, 1937, construction agreement is surprising to twenty-first century eyes: "The seller agrees to furnish all material and labor, and construct the building ... according to the plans and specifications, the cost of the building to be $351.93" (Colburn, 6).
The new library was able to purchase more than 500 used books at a very modest price. Other supplies and materials were purchased, along with magazine subscriptions, and then -- this is not a misprint -- on November 10, 1937, just one week after the date of the construction agreement, the new Boulevard Park Library opened to the public.
Joining KCLS and the 1952 Library
After an initial period in which volunteers from the club staffed the library during limited hours on Monday afternoons and Thursday evenings, it became apparent that a professional librarian was needed. That duty was taken on by Frances Bronson, who served for many years. Those years were often difficult. During World War II, wartime shortages made it impossible to address the obvious fact that the little library was too small for the booming population of war-industry workers. In 1941, the club was able to purchase from Mansfield Grocery a lot located 60 feet east of its little building, but it could not immediately raise the funds to put a structure there.
The 1943 creation of the King County Library System provided the club some needed support for the library. As authorized by King County voters, the King County Board of County Commissioners established KCLS (under the name King County Rural Library District) on January 4, 1943. On December 27, 1943, Boulevard Park became the first library to join the new King County Library System. While membership in KCLS provided administrative support and access to a broader circulating collection, it did not immediately solve the problem of expansion.
In the early 1950s, with the United States again on a war footing to support U.S. troops in Korea, it became clear that the Boulevard Park Library had to expand in order to continue serving its population. Club members undertook every form of fundraising imaginable, including membership dues, a fall craft bazaar, selling Ladies Home Journal door-to-door, local business ads in the year book, bake sales, rummage sales, plant sales, book sales, carnivals, recipe exchanges, fancy "silver teas," "roll call fines" (for being unprepared to speak on a pre-arranged topic at meetings), and more.
Finally it appeared that enough money was at hand for plans to be drawn up and put out to bid. However the lowest bid was $2,000 more than had been raised, so the Wednesday Social Club returned to fundraising. In August 1952, the club entered into a contract with Lloyd E. Farrell, general contractor, to construct the new building, with shelving, for $6,106.94. This price excluded plumbing, wiring, floor tiles, and a heating system, so with those added in, the total cost reached $7,885. The club was still $500 short, but it managed to raise that, and at last the Boulevard Park Library had its own building on its own lot, big enough to serve the population of the very changed industrial-suburban area of the 1950s.
The 1952 library initially had space for a 4,000-volume collection. There was also room to hold story hours, to better serve the neighborhood and local schools, which included Boulevard Park Elementary, Highline High School, Beverly Park Elementary, Puget Sound Junior High, and two parochial schools. The new library increased its hours to four afternoons and two evenings per week. Circulation shot up to more than 3,000 books per month. According to a 1954 report by Mrs. Frank Walker, then the Boulevard Park librarian, 190 children enrolled in the summer reading club, 158 completed their reading and received certificates, and the library by then had added shelving so it held 5,000 books in its collection, and would add more as soon as more shelving was built.
To deal with increasing costs of maintenance and operations, on September 20, 1954, the Wednesday Social Club coordinated the founding of a new organization, The Boulevard Park Library Maintenance Association. This group provided a lot of volunteer maintenance, and also raised funds through paid memberships, but it did not last. It was not long before the Wednesday Social Club was again responsible for ongoing library costs. In 1962, recognizing that the library had become its principal focus, the club changed its name to The Boulevard Park Library Guild.
The 1971 Library
In 1964, believing that the community was again on the verge of outgrowing its building, guild members began what would be a long process of promoting and funding a new structure for the library. A 1964 expansion of the Federal Library Service and Construction Act of 1957 made matching funds available for construction of new libraries, and in 1966 King County voters approved a library bond. Together, these two funding sources could potentially do what bake sales and similar strategies could not. Guild members found an available lot at 12051 Roseberg Avenue S -- the corner lot at Roseberg Ave S and 120th Street S, which would remain the location of the library as of 2016. This lot was approved for purchase by Herbert Mutschler (1919-2001), then Director of KCLS, who confirmed at a February 1968 meeting of the guild that the purchase had been completed.
However, as it had during World War II, the Boulevard Park Library again faced wartime constraints. At the March 1968 guild meeting, Mutschler announced that the new library would have to wait because all federal funding had been cut due to the Vietnam War. In 1969, the women of the Library Guild commenced a letter-writing campaign, directed at State Senator Martin J. Durkan Sr. (1923-2005), head of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, pleading for the release of grant funds for libraries. Perhaps the campaign had some effect, because in April 1970 the guild received word that the plan for a new building was ready to move forward.
Ground was broken for the new Boulevard Park Library in January 1971, and it opened to the public on December 12, 1971. At 6,000 square feet, with a wood frame, brick veneer, and a shake roof, the new library was more than five times bigger than the old concrete-block structure built in 1952 that it replaced. The new building was designed by Van Slyck, Callison, & Nelson of Seattle, and built by the Urban Construction Company. Designed to serve a population of 10,000 people, the library featured adult and child reading areas, a multipurpose room, a staff lounge/workroom, and a librarian's office. The new library had the capacity to hold 20,000 books -- a far cry from the original 1937 collection of slightly more than 500 books.
Now gone, however, was the "club culture" that had long supported the library. At some point the local guild ceased to function, and the library went a long time without a Friends of the Library group before coming within the purview of the Burien Library Guild after the surrounding area was annexed by the City of Burien. With remodels in 1991 and 2002, bringing the useable space up to 6,536 square feet, the 1971 structure remained in use in 2016.
Meeting the Needs of an Urban Community
The 1971 library featured special soundproofing to shield against the pervasive sound of jet aircraft landing and taking off at nearby Sea-Tac Airport, which affected the entire neighborhood, as described in a 2001 study: "The creation of this 'jet ghetto' keeps housing prices among the most affordable in the region" ("Community Study," 4). The problem of jet noise was exacerbated in 2008 with the opening of the airport's controversial third runway, over the determined opposition of local activists. Adding to the area's challenges, "[t]he major thoroughfares (Highways 509, 518, and 99) that ring Boulevard Park provide excellent access to metropolitan destinations, but they also isolate the community" ("Community Study," 3).
As of a 2013 Community and Facility Analysis by KCLS, the Boulevard Park Library served a diverse population of 16,039 people who were among the poorest in King County. The per capita income in the Boulevard Park service area was just $16,364, as compared to the King County average of $39,673. The population was about 55 percent non-white, the largest portion of which was Hispanic/Latino or Asian. More than 25 percent were born in other countries. At least 55 languages were spoken in the Highline School District, which includes Boulevard Park. The official unemployment rate was 12.5 percent (compared with the King County average of 7.5 percent), but more than one third of the men and half of the women were not in the labor force at all. Twelve of 13 block groups in the service area exceeded the King County average crime index. According to 2000 census data, the teen-mother birth rate in the service area was nearly triple that of King County as a whole, and 37 percent of students dropped out of the local high school without obtaining a diploma.
Boulevard Park Library provided a range of valuable programs to this community, primarily focused on teens and children. The 2013 KCLS study documents an average of three early-literacy programs and 11 teen and children's programs per month, with average monthly attendance of 52 for each category. It also reports:
"Evening Story Times on Wednesdays and children's programming such as movie nights (Tuesday once a month), LEGO programs and other hands-on program themes draw 25 or more attendees" ("2013 Community and Facility Analysis," 8).
In 2016, Boulevard Park Library offered an intergenerational theater company for discussion of current issues through storytelling, a ukulele song club, Spanish and English story times, a puppet show and puppeteering workshop, a science game show, a robotics science workshop, a "teen and tween" study zone with volunteer tutors, a board and card game get-together with snacks, and more. The staff also made school visits and reached out to the community through use of a "Library2Go" van.
Plans for Renovation
Although it had been remodeled in 2002, the 1971 building needed further renovation to continue serving its diverse urban population. The $172 million library capital-improvement plan that county voters approved in 2004, included funds for improvement of the Boulevard Park Library, as well as the neighboring White Center Library. Soon after Boulevard Park was annexed by the City of Burien in 2009, the Burien City Council began to seek modernization of Boulevard Park Library. KCLS suggested that the Boulevard Park and White Center libraries could be jointly replaced by a new consolidated central facility. This met with substantial community opposition, and the consolidation plan was never adopted. Construction got underway on a new White Center Library in 2015, and planning proceeded for renovation of the Boulevard Park Library.
According to the 2013 facility analysis, among the needs to be addressed in the renovation were an oversized meeting room, preferably with glass divider; relocation and redesign of the restrooms; updating the electrical system and technology offerings; adding more computers; more windows to increase natural lighting; expansion of the staff work area; and restyling of the collection and display systems. Increased staffing so the library can open earlier for use by young children was also proposed. As of mid-2016, work on the Boulevard Park Library was expected to begin by 2017.