The facade of the South Branch in February. Photo: Berkeley Public Library
The façade of the South Branch in February. Photo: Berkeley Public Library

Fourteen months after it was closed and torn down, the new South Branch of the Berkeley Public Library will reopen on Saturday May 11.

At 12:30 p.m. local officials and library supporters will gather for a ribbon cutting ceremony at 1901 Russell Street, right at the intersection of MLK. After that, the library will be open for normal business until 5:00 p.m.

When patrons walk inside the new 8,700 square foot, $6.5 million building, they will see something completely different from the award-winning, but clumsily remodeled, old South Branch building. The ceilings are higher, there are more windows, there are dedicated spaces for computers and other multimedia equipment, as well as more lounge chairs. Copper artwork by artist Gina Dominguez is displayed throughout the building. Solar panels will reduce heating costs.

This picture of the southern exterior is taken looking east from the corner of Russell and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Photo: Berkeley Public Libray
The southern exterior from the corner of Russell and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Photo: Berkeley Public Libray

“The New South Branch/Tool Lending Library is a warm and welcoming building with improved lighting, ventilation, and thermal comfort,” the library said in a press release. “It creates a civic presence for pedestrians and passers-by; inside it offers visitors a spacious and organized layout.”

Field Paoli Architects of San Francisco designed the new South Branch. Gonsalves & Stronck Construction Company of San Carlos were the contractors.

Construction cost for the South Branch were $6.5 million. The Berkeley Public Library Foundation raised more than $3 million to equip the new branches with furniture, fixtures, and lighting.

Not everybody was happy that a new building replaced the old. The Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association had lobbied city officials to remodel the original South Branch building, which was designed by architect John Hans Ostwald in 1961. The building won numerous accolades and was touted as a fine example of mid-century modern architecture. But the building was remodeled twice after it was built and planning staff determined it would be difficult, expensive, and impractical to preserve parts of the original structure.

A group called Concerned Library Users sued Berkeley to stop the demolition of the South and West branches. It contended that Measure FF, the 2008 bond measure that raised $26 million for the library branch improvement program, only specified the remodeling of the branches, not tearing them down and building new structures. CLU and Berkeley settled the lawsuit in September 2011. The city agreed to donate $100,000 to a fund that would help with historic preservation in south and west Berkeley.

Berkeley has already remodeled two of its branches: both the North Branch and Claremont Branch were completely redone and reopened in 2012. The West Branch of the library is expected to reopen soon as well, although a date has not been announced.

As part of the grand reopening, the Tool Lending Library, which relocated to 2547 8th Street during construction, will shut down at 5:30 p.m. Saturday April 20th. All tools should be returned by then. It will reopen on May 11th as well in a larger space with improved storage and a room to repair tools.

Branch van services to 1730 Oregon St. will stop at the end of the day on April 27, according to library officials.

Read the library’s press release about the reopening. Read about the Branch Improvement Program on the library’s blog.

Renovated Claremont library branch opens Saturday [05.03.12]
Never let it be said that Berkeley doesn’t love its libraries [04.09.12]
Berkeley settles contentious library lawsuit [10.07.11]
South Branch library demolition opposed [07.28.10]

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman...