National Register of Historic Places in Alameda County
(Click Photos to Zoom)
The 23rd Avenue, Golden Gate and Alden branches of the Oakland Free Library were designed by Charles W. Dickey and John J. Donovan. The three buildings have virtually identical plans but different period costumes: Spanish Colonial for 23rd Avenue, Tudor Revival for Alden and Georgian for Golden Gate.
This branch was one of four Carnegie libraries built under a 1914 grant to the city of Oakland. It served as a library from its construction to the late 1970s. Physically it is slightly but not greatly changed inside and out [as of 1996].
Oakland pioneered branch libraries in California, opening branch reading rooms as early as 1878 and continuing to emphasize neighborhood branches as the city expanded.
The 23rd Avenue branch traces its history to a reading room established in 1890 in what was then the easternmost part of Oakland, under the auspices of the Library Board with assistance from the 23rd Avenue Improvement Club. It occupied a succession of rented locations on the busy 23rd Avenue commercial strip back to back with the present location.
When we photographed the building in 2010, it was vacant.
Adapted from the NRHP nomination.
Oakland Liberates Shuttered Library
The building unveiled today as the Victor Martinez Community Library was part of a Carnegie Foundation endowment of four libraries given to the city of Oakland between 1916 and 1918. Oakland's librarian at the time, Charles S. Greene, believed that the city's people would benefit most from libraries placed within their communities.
Despite this vision, the building was one of seven branch casualties of budget cuts in the late seventies, severing vital library life-lines in poor and working communities. From the early 70s untill the late 80s, this building was a school created during the Chicano Movement called the Emiliano Zapata Street academy. Since then, the "Latin American Branch" library building located at the corner of Miller and 15th st. has mostly sat empty, despite the fact that the next nearest library is miles away, and increasingly difficult to access in a city like Oakland with an increasingly expensive transit system. With its eroding chain link fence and decaying, armored exterior, the building is much more than an eyesore; the unused, but inaccessible, space creates a life-draining dark vacuum of stability that serves at best as a convenient place for the unscrupulous to dump their old mattresses, couches and assorted garbage.
This morning, a group of activists opened this building again for use as a library. Inside is the modest seed for a library and community center - hundreds of books donated by people who envision the rebirth of local, community-owned libraries and social and political centers throughout Oakland. We've named the building after recently deceased author, Victor Martinez, who overcame a young life of hard agricultural work to become a successful writer in the Bay Area. His semi-autobiographical novel, Parrot in the Oven, has become a seminal work of the Latino experience. Martinez died last year at 56 of an illness caused by his work in the fields.
Some Carnegie Free Libraries in California
Some Other Carnegie Free Libraries in the West
The website Carnegie Libraries of California contains much information about these libraries.