Seventy years ago, on January 7, 1951, Oaklanders gathered shoulder to shoulder on 14th Street in numbers that made traffic impassable to be the first ones to visit a new, modern library. The previous Main Library, the handsome Carnegie building located on 14th and Grove (now Martin Luther King, Jr. Way), was nearly 50 years old and too small to accommodate the population which had exploded during the Second World War. After years of citizens campaigning for a larger library, a bond measure was passed in 1945 to finance the new library.
The new central library was to be located on a key block of the planned Civic Center, a municipal district that clustered government agencies and cultural organizations around the western end of Lake Merritt. To make way for the project, several houses and an old music conservatory had to be torn down. Designed by the firm of Miller and Warnecke, the library construction didn’t begin until 1948. The cornerstone was laid by the Native Sons of the Golden West in May 1949. The firm of Stolte, Inc. won the construction