Oakland/Melrose, Alameda County
East Bay Loop area, San Francisco Bay Area region
Melrose Branch Library
Four branch libraries in Oakland were constructed between 1916 and 1918, the result of a 1914 Carnegie grant of $140,000 obtained specifically for branch libraries by Oakland's city librarian Charles S. Greene. Oakland pioneered branch libraries, opening branch reading rooms as early as 1878, and later emphasizing neighborhood branches. Greene's branch request matched Andrew Carnegie's philosophy wherein more recent grants focused on small towns and on branches in metropolitan areas to bring books closer to the people where they lived. However, controversy surrounded the attempt to allocate the four sites evenly between established working class neighborhoods and newer middle class neighborhoods east of Lake Merritt. Today three serve as libraries, all of which have been retrofitted and restored.
Because of the early donation of land, Melrose construction was able to begin before the war, and with $35,000 the practiced Carnegie architect William H. Weeks was able to plan a larger building with more amenities, such as the marble lined foyer, than was possible by the time the other three branches were constructed. The site of the Melrose branch, at the intersection of Foothill Blvd., 48th Avenue, and Fremont Way is a wedge-shaped lot. The Classical Revival building is in the form of two rectangles set at angles with a generous rotunda between. Because it was thought to be the most fireproof of the Oakland branches, and because of its location near a high school and use by young people, Melrose was the recipient of the Gibson collection of books and a generous endowment.