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History of the Library

 History of the Library

Compiled by Eugene M. Lewis

Fort Bragg, a city of some 7,000 located on the Pacific Ocean coastline of California about 140 miles north of San Francisco, is blessed with an excellent branch of the Mendocino County Library system. Establishment of this well-regarded public facility, however, was a long story, full of individual determination, political drama and clashes of personalities.

Permanently settled in 1885 on an abandoned military reservation the fledgling mill town was incorporated as a city on August 5, 1889. A “reading room” furnished by the Womens’ Christian Temperance Union first served the new community in the next year. In a meeting on June 18, 1890 they decided that a reading room for the benefit of the public was a move in the right direction especially for the hordes of rough and ready loggers who came to town from the woods on weekends looking for entertainment mostly involving booze, gambling and the ladies. Availability of books, it was hoped by the WCTU, might encourage more civilized behavior. The local weekly newspaper, the Fort Bragg Advocate, reported in their July 2, 1890 issue that the reading room was to open at Mrs. Powell’s1 White House Hotel2 at 135 N. Franklin Street that month.

In 1910 the Union Lumber Company, founder of the city, established a library in their boarding house recognizing that “anything done to make the surroundings…more refined will bear fruit.”3

Later in 1910, on October 12th, the city fathers of Fort Bragg established a tax rate set at 754 per $100, with 104 going toward building and maintaining a public library.4 5

“In November 1910 a Library Board was formed and H. A. Weller6 donated use of two rooms in his building at the corner of Main and Laurel for temporary quarters. At that time the collections of the WCTU and the Union Lumber Company libraries were donated to the city. Volunteers ran food sales, white elephant sales, put on talent shows, showed films and went door-to-door soliciting library funds and donations of money toward the building project. The first library opened January 18, 1911, in the Jefferson Building8 on Laurel Street with Mrs. Dixon7 as librarian. Mrs. Perkins, the Ukiah Librarian, came to the coast for two days to help organize the collection and congratulated the city on all that was accomplished. On March 15th, 117 books were ordered from the $68.25 proceeds of a food sale and 130 library cards had been issued by that date. (Fort Bragg’s population was 2,408 according to the Federal Census).”9

The library board consisted of Sam Shafsky10, Ed Scott, Mrs. Frank Roberts11 and Connie Ross. In March 1911 the library issued 130 borrowers’ cards and received $50 in donations with some 117 volumes ordered. In the latter part of 1911, the Ed Dixons moved away from Fort Bragg and Mrs. Frank Roberts became librarian.

On April 26, 1911, C. R. Johnson, president of the Union Lumber Company, offered to donate a lot of 30 x 50 feet for the building on the condition that plans be drawn up by January 8, 1912. The site selected was the southwest corner of Main and Laurel Streets. Afterwards, the lumber company decided to give the city the lot just to the south of this and sold the corner to the Fort Bragg Commercial Bank. The bank bought the lot on the condition that the library be built five feet south of the property line to afford the bank extra light and safety.

The Library trustees decided to build a structure 50-ft. So, it was arranged by the company to give the city a lot 422-ft. by 56-ft. This lot was deeded to the city under the following conditions:

“The deed and conveyance be made upon the condition that the lot of land and any buildings and improvements erected there shall be used only, solely and exclusively for and by the Free Public Library. And, in the event of a failure on the part of the library to abide by the conditions, the title of the lot and the right of possession shall be forfeited and the library would have 120 days to remove all its buildings and improvements from the lot, and the realty would revert back to the company.”

. . .

The Advocate in its January 8, 1913 issue reported:

“The Fort Bragg Library is now completed and will be occupied in a few days. It is the third of a series of modern business structures erected within the last year. It is one of the finest library buildings in Northern California. This artistic structure adorns West Main Street, standing up on a lot, which the Union Lumber Company so generously donated. It is a thirty-five by fifty-five foot wooden structure of a very plain and attractive design. The white exterior finishing give it a very cheerful appearance. The interior is finished entirely in natural redwood-waxed. A mezzanine floor fourteen by thirty-five feet makes quite an addition to the floor space. Among the other excellent lighting qualities – consisting of seven large plate glass windows and ten transoms, its efficient electric light system and its steam heating system. All of the other library furnishings will be of late design. Therefore, we feel assured that Fort Bragg will have one of the finest libraries in Northern California, a modern library in a modern city.

“The trustees of this institution who have given much of their valuable time toward the furtherance of this worthy cause, the Union Lumber Company who so generously donated the building site and the people of Fort Bragg in general who are standing the expense of this valuable addition to our city are deserving of the highest praise. They are now in a position to enjoy the fruits of their labors.

“This building built by Ed Holmes12, is one of the finest contract buildings ever erected in Fort Bragg. It is a building that Mr. Holmes had due reason to be proud of as well as the people of Fort Bragg. We regret very much that Mr. Holmes, through failing health, has found it necessary to move to a drier climate.”

[EDITOR’S NOTE: He later came back to town.]

. . .

In October 1912 the [former] library building was finished at a cost of about $2,500. Galvanized pipes running from the company mill were put through-out the building for steam heat. Later on, a wood stove was used and still later, an oil stove. A butane furnace eventually was installed13.

George F. Aull, who died in Fort Bragg September 3, 1940, claimed in his obituary that he had donated the first book to the Library he had helped found.14

In the Advocate of September 10, 1924, the city librarian’s report appeared on the front page:

“The important part which the Public Library plays in the lives of the people of this community was brought out very forcibly by the annual report of the city librarian, Mrs. B. F. Wright15 which was read at the city council, Monday evening. The work of this city institution is carried on in such a quiet and systematic manner that very few in the community realize the vast amount of work done there during the year or the great number of people who are given service within the doors.

“It is probable that no other expenditure of public funds is as far reaching in its benefit as the library fund and no equal amount of money expended in a public way brings as great good to as great a number of people. Numbered among the members and attendants are people from every walk in life, American and foreign born young and old which is convincing that the Fort Bragg Free Library is fulfilling the mission for which it was built.

“To best show the growth of the library since it was instituted in 1910, we will give a comparison of figures. During the first year 1910-11 the average monthly attendance was 311 and the number of books loaned 239. From July 1923-24 the average monthly attendance was 2,053 while 1,634 books were loaned. The  figures are conclusive proof of what the library means to the citizens of Fort Bragg.

“Following is the full report of the librarian from July 1, 1923 to July 1924: Fines collected $97.80, membership fees $16.55, cash paid $42.14, paid into treasury $72.53. Attendance during year 24,642, Books loaned 19,618. Juveniles 7598. Magazines loaned, 497. Number of members July 1, 1923, 2,982, Joined during year 325. Total membership July 1924, 3307.

Number books in library July 1, 1923, 5,510, purchased during year 484. Total number of books 5,994. Total magazines subscribed for 20, newspapers 4.”

. . .

“Mrs.Bertie Wright became librarian in 1919 and under her management, the library grew for 25 years until such time she decided to retire. Virginia Brown became librarian for one year in 1944. She moved away from the area at the end of the second World War. On Oct.15,1945 Daisy Dodge16 became Librarian, a position she has held since. Franklyn Albertson17 is presently the chairman of the library board19.” [Advocate September 3, 1964].

Library activities were regularly reported in the weekly press and included new books received, hours of operation and programs available. No serious controversies disturbed the calm until a first distant rumble of change was noted in June 1947 when the County Supervisors began a study for establishing a county system. A California State Library representative addressed a Fort Bragg group in May 1960 saying that libraries were failing to keep up with public demands. At this time the Ukiah Library joined the North Bay Cooperative.

In September 1960 the City of Fort Bragg authorized repairs to the library stating that the City’s chief aim was to provide the city with an attractive and efficient city library. Meanwhile, over the hill in Ukiah, the County Supervisors were considering a county library system recognizing that Mendocino County was one of only six California counties without a county system.18 The next month the Supervisors declined to establish a county library but said they were keeping their minds “open”. A Library Advisory Board was created in Ukiah in June 1963 but it did not include any coast people. A grant covering the cost of a bookmobile demonstration project lasting until June 1964 was accepted and put into use. Proposition “A” calling for creation of a county library system appeared on the June 2, 1964 ballot and was approved by the county’s voters. The Supervisors created the County Library System in July 1964.

In December 1965 Fort Bragg’s city fathers considered joining the North Coast Cooperative Library System and later, in February 1966, the County System. The City Library joined 16 other libraries in the North Coast Cooperative in April 1966. On April 25th Fort Bragg asked Mendocino County to take over operation of its library; the building was still to be owned and maintained by the city. The Board of Supervisors agreed; the merger was consummated July 1, 1966.

In October 1970 Fort Bragg library hours were 10 a.m.- 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

On March 28, 1974 a meeting was held at the Fort Bragg High School for the purpose of organizing a Friends of the Library group to ascertain opinions on “ways the present coastal library facility can be upgraded…”20 From this meeting came formation of the Fort Bragg Friends of the Library.

From Gerry Grader’s column in the Advocate April 4, 1974:

“GOOD TIME TO CATCH UP ON READING…after all it will be days before the ground is in any sort of shape for serious gardening. Which is a long lead in the news that Fort Bragg is on its way to having a Friends of the Library group. Virginia Barrett, city librarian, met with readers last week, a committee to set long and short range goals was named and a meeting set up again on April 25th. On the committee are: Sterling Webb, Charlene Aumack, Verda Wakerley21, Thelma Pierson22, Mildred Williams and Judy Hawk. Everything from enlarging the library to cataloging to a book sale was discussed.”

. . .

In the May 30, 1974 issue of the Advocate:

“Friends of the Library Plan Book sale.”

“Linda Dempsey, chairman, opened the meeting of the Friends of the Fort Bragg Library May 17. Mildred Williams was elected treasurer and was directed to open a bank account for the money received as membership dues. Thelma Pierson was elected secretary. Virginia Barrett announced that the Ford Agency kindly agreed to the use of its building for a proposed book sale on Labor Day weekend, Paul Bunyan Days.”

“It was decided that the Friends of the Fort Bragg Library would sponsor a retirement dinner for Daisy Dodge on June 30th at the Piedmont Hotel banquet room. Mrs. Dodge has served for many years in the Fort Bragg library and is retiring at the end of June.”

“It is suggested that the friends purchase a locked bookcase for the Bancroft Books, now being repaired in Ukiah, with the money realized from the book sale. The next meeting will be at 10 a.m. June 21 at city hall.”

. . .

In late March 1975 the first photocopier was installed at the library.

In July 1977 a poll was taken to determine if the library should be open on Sunday. The vote was 110 in favor – a heavy majority of the votes cast.

A small room on the mezzanine floor became the genealogy room in September 1978. Paid for by the Mendocino Coast Genealogical Society, it was mostly occupied by a too large glass-topped table attended by ten uncomfortable stiff-backed wooden chairs. The Society and the Friends of the Library board remember meetings there for how tight the quarters were.

A dire forecast for the infamous Proposition 13 slated for the up-coming June 9, 1978 ballot predicted trouble should it pass. The measure passed by a  three to one margin in Mendocino County versus the two to one ratio in the rest of California. A month after the election library funds were pared so that open hours were reduced to 24 per week which provided for a Librarian, one aide, one 15 hour part-timer and one 24 hour part-timer. Open hours had been 57 per week including Sunday hours from 1 to 5. By November the hours had been further reduced to Monday and Thursday 10 a.m.- 9 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 10 a. m. to 6 p.m.

But the full effect of Proposition 13 was yet to be felt. Library funds were cut again in September 1982 reducing hours to Monday and Thursday 10 a. m. to 9 p.m.; Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 10 a. m. to 6 p.m. with no Saturday hours. Citizen protest blossomed in the Letters to the Editor section of the Advocate protesting diminution of services. In March 1984 some hours were restored – with Friday service again instituted on the 16th.

The Friends of the Library rallied to protect their library. Norman Hallam, County Director of Libraries, advised that the cost to run the Fort Bragg branch in fiscal 1984 was $85,306. The Friends began to plan how they could raise funds to keep the library open should the County fail to provide funding.

The chill exuded by Proposition 13 extended year by year until 40% of former library funding had vanished. Helen Stauer, the Fort Bragg representative on the County Library Advisory Board, warned that the County might withdraw funding for libraries.23 By July 1986 Supervisor Beltrami was suggesting that County libraries be closed because of the budget shortfall. Reaction in the press and from citizens was instantaneous with loud and rancorous crowds attending the budget sessions at the Supervisors’ meeting in Ukiah. The newspaper opined that the library issue had united the county citizenry.

The first Proposition “A” was an attempt to institute a 1% “Use Tax” for five years. Ten percent of the money collected was to be returned to the fund to accommodate expected growth of the library system; the remaining ninety percent was to fund annual library operating and capital expenditure