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.

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2 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!

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