This year marks the centennial of the Melrose Branch Library, the first of four Carnegie Libraries built in Oakland.
The area we know as the Melrose District was once a thriving, semi-rural town south of Oakland. The town boasted large factories like the Oakland Chemical Company and a diverse array of light industry (machine shops, lumber yards, planing mills). Banks, tailor shops, pharmacy, and real estate offices could also be found there. Every twenty minutes people could go to the Melrose Terminal and board a Southern Pacific train, or get on a ferry at Clark’s Landing, as the Melrose wharves were known, to travel to San Francisco. East 14th Street (now International Boulevard) was the main commercial strip of the town.
Melrose School shared its building with Union High School #4 (later renamed John C. Fremont High). People, skeptical that the district couldn't justify having a high school, were surprised at how quickly the school filled with students. After the 1906 earthquake, families moved to the East Bay in unprecedented numbers. By 1907 even the new high school building erected on 47th Avenue and Foothill Boulevard was soon crowded. In 1909 the town of Melrose was annexed to the city of Oakland.
Such a thriving area seems to require a public library, but our current Melrose Branch was not its first. Citizens of the district donated land and built a library on 46th Avenue near East 14th Street in 1911. In 1914, City Librarian Charles S. Greene and Oakland Mayor Frank L. Mott sought Carnegie funding for a new, larger library. Henry Root and Jonathan R. Talcott, a prominent dairyman who owned the land on which Fremont High was built in 1905, donated two adjacent lots to the city. Architect William Weeks designed the stately Beaux Arts building.
The Melrose Branch Library, located at 4805 Foothill Boulevard was dedicated on September 8, 1916, and officially opened on September 16th. According to The Fruitvale Progress, over 500 visitors attended the opening day festivities. The branch had a Fiction Room, a Children’s Room, and a reference room. The auditorium, on the basement level, had a seating capacity of 150. A club room, also in the basement, was used by many women’s clubs of the district. In its first few weeks, daily attendance ranged between 300 and 400 patrons. On Sundays afternoons, the new library averaged 200 patrons. The Library had capacity to hold 25,000 books.
Over the years the Melrose branch library has provided its community members with quality reference service, dedication to the changing demographics of the community, and engaging educational and cultural programs. Melrose Library celebrates its centennial with a free program on Saturday, September 24, 1-4 p.m.