When Montavilla had its own library

By PATRICIA SANDERS

I’m a historian who taught university-level art history for many years, but today my passion is Montavilla history, which I’ve been researching for a couple of years. The initial impetus for this was my mother’s memories of the Montavilla commercial district on Stark St.

Now I’m deeply engrossed in looking for clues to Montavilla’s past from vintage newspapers (including Montavilla’s own Montavilla Times and The Montavilla Sun), from historic photos of our changing neighborhood, and from old documents.

Let me give an example of a recent passion. Did you know that Montavilla once had its own branch library?

When my mother told me about her memories of walking down from 68th Avenue to check out books from the Montavilla library, I was surprised because I’d never seen one here. She thought it was just north of Stark, so my husband and I drove her up and down streets searching, but to no avail.

Either we were in the wrong place, it no longer existed, or her memory was faulty. It turns out her memory was quite accurate.

After our futile search, I met a couple of longtime Montavilla residents who confirmed that, in fact, there was a library, and it used to be “opposite” the Methodist Church. But opposite in which direction?

On 80th? Ash? 81st? Pine? And which building? I looked and found nothing that really looked like a library. Had it been torn down?

Then one day while on a neighborhood walk, I saw a woman coming out of the two story building at 211 SE 80th Ave. I introduced myself and asked Brenda Jose, director of Unlimited Choices, if she knew whether this building had once been a library. She said “yes”, and the search was on!

Since the early 20th Century, Montavillans wanted a library. And beginning in about 1906, did have a reading room / branch library with books supplied by the main library. But this was in a rented space. Surprisingly, in the depth of the Great Depression, several forces came together to make a permanent building possible.

The Montavilla Kiwanis Club spearheaded the effort, the City donated two lots, construction labor was provided by the State Emergency Relief Administration (a Public Works Administration project), and the Library Association found a small amount of money for building supplies and to commission plans by famed Portland architect Herman Brookman.

Montavilla Branch Library
Multnomah County Library photo
Creative Commons license  

The Montavilla Library was dedicated on Sept. 3rd, 1935. The new building had an exterior with bright blue shutters and tan shingles. The interior was gray with coral trim, and had an inventory of 6,000 books. It was a simple building with clean lines and elegant proportions.

Today it looks quite different. It has the same rectangular footprint (minus a small office wing at the back), but now has two stories and a new dormer over the entrance. According to Jose, the original library structure was lifted up to provide the new first story.

The Montavilla Branch Library closed in 1981. Some of you may remember the building continuing use as the OSU Extension Service. Some of you may even remember the library.

If you have stories to share about the library, old photos of it or stories about other historic Montavilla people, places or events, please contact me at pat.montavilla.history@gmail.com.

Read all of the “Montavilla Memories” articles by Pat Sanders here

5 thoughts on “When Montavilla had its own library

  1. Martin says:

    I lived in Montavilla for a short time in 1976. My brother and I got our first Portland library cards from that place. I was 14 and I felt so wonderful and empowered to have my very own library card!

  2. Annie Haynes says:

    Our family of five lived at about 83rd and Stark. My brother, sister and I walked to the Montavilla library every week and I brought home the max of books that they allowed. I carried home a stack so high. We lived in Montavilla from 1956 to 1969.

  3. Kelly Wellington says:

    Greetings….I knew the Montavilla Branch Library quite well. I was a regular and, when I reached 14, in 1967, I got my very first regular part-time job as a ‘library page’ at Montavilla Branch Library. I worked under the supervision of Linda Easley, the Librarian, and the clerical staffer. The southern half of the building was children’s books; the northern half was adult circulating books, and the checkout desk and sorting area was in the center, where the front doors entered the building. Both areas had age-appropriate furniture of chairs and tables. The reference texts (mostly encyclopedias and dictionaries) were on the wall behind the circulation desk. There was a part-time children’s librarian who came in for regular read-aloud sessions. There was another student and we shared the part-time shelver duties by coming in after school. By the time I’d started college at Lewis & Clark in the 1970s, I shifted to working in Periodicals at the Main Library downtown.

    I spent some of the best times of my young life at Montavilla Branch Library. I will always remember Linda Easley with fondness. She was a great boss.

  4. Kelly Wellington says:

    Oh…I lived on NE 78th and attended Vestal School from 1959 until leaving to attend Benson Polytechnic School in fall of 1967. I moved away from Montavilla in 1973, when I moved in to student housing at PSU.

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