Why I love my Berkeley Neighborhood–The Re-Opening of the North Berkeley Branch Library

by arlene on April 7, 2012

Members of the Crowden School provided music

Ribbon cutting to open the renovated North Berkeley Library

Beautiful weather, grateful neighbors, happy elected officials and Kosher macaroons and brownies all contributed to a “feel good” spring gathering in my neighborhood. We assembled at the corner of Hopkins and The Alameda in Berkeley, CA today to celebrate the re-opening of a newly updated, expanded and revitalized North Berkeley Library. Mayor Tom Bates, Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, City Councilmember Laurie Capitelli and Betty Olds were all on hand to cut the ribbon to officially open the newly restored library. Capitelli reminded the crowd that Northbrae, the neighborhood where the library is located, was designated one of the Top 10 neighborhoods in the US last year. “It’s the people like you,” Capitelli said as he gestured to the crowd gathered in front of the library “that make this neighborhood such a special place to live.” More than a hundred people attended the festivities, complete with string quartet from The Crowden School.

Betty Olds pointed out that several of Northbrae’s key features are located on small islands, as is this library. The circular fire station, as well as the much-loved bear fountain at the Arlington Circle are also located on islands. The North Berkeley Branch is the first of four branch libraries to be rehabilitated with use of Measure FF funds. But the majority of the funds available are a result of a private fundraising effort, headed up by Linda Schacht Gage. The Neighorhood Libraries Campaign has raised $2.2M of a budgeted $3.5M goal to help restore these important community resources.

The North Berkeley Branch Library, designed 75 years ago by James Placheck as a community center, has always been a local favorite. It was constructed as a WPA project in 1936, and became a City of Berkeley Landmark in 2001. Before the restoration the space was “quaint” and “cozy.” It could also have been described as a bit congested, with tall shelves of books in long rows taking up most of the main room. The historically sensitive restoration has revealed gorgeous stenciled beam ceilings, and expanded the available light and space. A new meeting room with advanced A/V systems is available at a lower level. On the way to the meeting room one passes two handsome tree-motif metal art pieces. Original wood reading tables have been restored, providing much more open space for visitors to enjoy the collections, containing more than 50,000 items.

At the end of the main reading room is now a quartet of leather arm chairs grouped around a gas fireplace. “I suspect there will be competition for these chairs,” commented Ken Miller, a North Berkeley resident. I just may be one of the people trying to grab one of those comfy chairs. What an idyllic place to sit on a chilly day, reading from their extensive collection of design, cooking, or travel magazines. It’s one of the few guilty pleasures with very little guilt: it contributes zero calories and it’s free!

Mayor Tom Bates enjoys the new North Berkeley Library

The North Berkeley Library will be closed for Easter Sunday (and all Sundays), and then will reopen Monday at 10 am for its normal operating schedule: Mon & Tues 10-6; Wed & Thurs 12-8; Fri & Sat 10-6.  For more on the Branch Library visit their website. To view more of my photos from this event, visit my Flickr folder.

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