Northgate Branch, The Seattle Public Library

  • By Tom Brown
  • Posted 9/12/2008
  • Essay 8771
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Northgate has been synonymous for more than a half-century with its shopping mall, one of the first in the nation. But the residential areas around the mall and the nearby neighborhoods of Maple Leaf and Licton Springs comprise one of the largest and fastest growing residential areas in North Seattle, and residents have long wanted a branch library. They got their wish on July 15, 2006, when the new Northgate Branch, The Seattle Public Library, opened at 10548 5th Avenue NE, across from the mall.

Civic Counterpoint

The $6.2 million library is sited with an $8.8 million community center and a $4.8 million park. Together, the facilities provide a needed civic counterpoint to the mall and the strip development along Northgate Way.

The 203-page Northgate Area Comprehensive Plan, dated September 1993, detailed the need for civic improvements to accompany its already developed commercial area:

"The vision of the Northgate plan is to transform a thriving, but underutilized, auto-oriented office/retail area into a vital, mixed-use center of concentrated development surrounded by healthy single family neighborhoods. With the improvements in this plan, the Northgate area will become a place where people live, work, shop, play and go to school -- all within walking distance."

The plan included this modest reference to the need for a library:

"Library facilities should be available to the residents and employees of the Northgate area on a par with the availability of library service to other areas of the city with similar demographics."

A Northgate Branch library would offer a convenient alternative to residents, who at the time had to travel to Lake City, Green Lake, Greenwood, North East, or Broadview to check out books and enjoy other library services. Momentum for a Northgate Branch blossomed quickly following voter approval in 1998 of the $196.4 million “Libraries for All” bond issue. After numerous planning and community meetings over two and a half years, the library board voted in June 2003 to build the new branch on the former Bon Tire Center site at 5th Avenue NE and NE 105th Street.

A Taste for Books

Area residents whetted their taste for library services when The Seattle Public Library opened a temporary branch on the site in 2003 to serve patrons while other North Seattle branches were being renovated. This temporary facility was located in a former bank building and staffed by North East library employees who were displaced during the renovation of that branch. The temporary branch was closed in June 2004 and construction on the new 10,000-square-foot building began in March 2005.

The building was designed by the Miller|Hull Partnerships, site planning was done by ARC Architects and constrution was by Absher Construction Co.

The Northgate Branch was the 18th project completed under the "Libraries for All" building program.  The building has the capacity to hold 40,200 books and other items. The collection includes many contemporary and classic feature and documentary DVDs, music CDs, and audio books for adults, teens, and children. The branch recently expanded its collection of books, videos, and music in Russian. Bilingual staff are available to answer questions and help patrons.

The architects intended the library, community center, and park to form an urban gathering place. The buildings are connected by a common entry plaza, which is also the gateway to the park and playground. The project won a gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The work of several artists has been integrated into the site. Included are glasswork for the library by Portland artist Dana Lynn Louis, metal waves for the plaza by Olympia artist Nikki McClure, and glass blocks, birdhouses, and resting places by Portland artist Linda Wysong for the sidewalk and a pedestrian path. A sculpture by artist Rita Kepner, which previously was located at the old Central Library, also was installed at the site.

Within an hour of the branch opening, thousands of books had been checked out.

"Northgate is starting to look more like a residential neighborhood," said David Kunselman, The Seattle Public Library’s capital projects manager (Andom).

Northgate Branch librarian

  • Debra Westwood, July 2006 to August 2007
  • Jennifer Reichert, August 2007 to present 

Sources: "Northgate: Libraries for All Construction Fact Sheet," and "About the Northgate Branch," The Seattle Public Library website accessed September 10, 2008 (; “Northgate Area Comprehensive Plan, September 1993,” City of Seattle website accessed September 11, 2008 (; Nancy Bartley, “Newest Library's Patrons Hungry for More Than Books,” The Seattle Times, July 16, 2006 (; Mary Andom, “Northgate Gets Long-awaited Library,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer,  July 15, 2006 (; Jennifer Reichert, email to Paula Becker, February 14, 2009, in possession of Paula Becker, Seattle, Washington.

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