Montclair Branch: History in the Hills . . .
Originally appeared in the 03/96 issue of “Off the Shelf”
“The Library will be busy with children at 4:00 p.m. on a weekday,” Leon Cho started to protest, but I arranged to visit with the branch librarian in the late afternoon anyway. Indeed, when I arrived, the Montclair Branch Library at 1687 Mountain Blvd. was full of young people, reading or studying inside or on the attractive outdoor patio on a recent balmy afternoon. The library has many children’s programs and its children’s circulation is second only to the Main Library Children’s Room. The branch offers toddler and preschool storytimes every Wednesday morning. It has a juvenile fiction collection as well as an excellent selection of current newspapers, large print books and books-on-tape. The recent addition of a fiction classics section rounds out the popular adult fiction and mystery collections.
It may surprise first time visitors that the small English cottage-style building has always been a library.
Montclair was one of several Oakland districts that grew rapidly during the 1920’s with the help of the automobile, which made new real estate tracts easy to reach. In the late 1920’s, the board of a charitable foundation identified the need for a free library to serve the new community. Chauncey W. Gibson was an Oakland citizen who established the Homes and Children’s Alliance in 1925 to distribute his wealth to worthy causes. He financed three libraries in California and an emergency children’s home.
Mr. Gibson’s gift purchased the land and the new building at a total cost of $6,600. A local builder designed and constructed the quaint English cottage-style building under the direction of Mrs. Charles Fisher, a member of the board of the Homes and Children’s Alliance. The new branch opened in March, 1930.
The librarian’s first month’s report was full of references to visits by school children and their enthusiastic letters of thanks to Mr. Gibson. The librarian’s only complaint was of not enough work. She blamed the scarcity of adult visitors on the new community’s isolation and infrequent bus service. She was correct in predicting that circulation would grow as the community grew and as transportation services improved.
By the early 1960s, the community had outgrown the small branch. In 1963 and 1964, an extensive community-led effort raised $15,000 for an expansion of the branch. Volunteers organized a door to door campaign, benefit events and local merchant “shopping days”. Proceeds from all these activities went to the Montclair Library Fund. The Homes and Children’s Alliance again stepped in to help the branch with a substantial pledge. By January 1965, the fund had reached the $15,000 goal and the Oakland City Council authorized funds to match the community’s contribution. The successful campaign made it possible to add the children’s room and patio at the rear of the original building. The bright children’s room was the venue for an Artists in the Library children’s series last summer where the East Bay Symphony Orchestra presented different types of instruments at four popular programs.
Credit is due to the Oakland History Room for its fine collection of material about the Montclair Branch. I would also like to thank children’s librarians Penny Johnson and Celeste Steward for their assistance, and last, but not least, branch librarian Leon Cho who was so generous with his time.
— Winifred Walters
(Please note that this story may not reflect current staff assignments at this branch.)