Washington Park Library has a wonderful history. The building actually began as a firehouse, at the turn of the 20th century, when fire engines were still horse drawn. Upstairs, in the un-renovated upper floors, the firemen’s wooden equipment lockers are still standing. Sadly and contrary to popular belief, the firemen’s pole has been jettisoned.
In 1950, the City of Providence gave the firehouse to Providence Public Library for use as a branch library. Photos from that time show a library with absolutely minimal changes: brick walls and rough furniture. But in 1956 modernism hit Washington Park. The ground floor of Washington Park Library was fully renovated; the architects, Buffum & Day of Providence, went for the full late 50s look. The shelving is gridded blond wood; the entire one room library is very clean and minimal. And then… the Eames chairs and the round Formica topped tables. Pictures from that era show a clerk sitting at a gleaming circulation desk, without a single piece of paper anywhere in sight, and with a general aura of what might be termed “library glamour”.
Washington Park Library hit some hard times around 2006, when the roof just gave up. We were closed for approximately 3 years, although PPL had a small children-only afterschool location in the former Benny’s at 1380 Broad Street – to use a truly Rhode Island locator. The roof there gave up as well, and Washington Park had no library services at all until March 28, 2009. By then, the City of Providence had stepped in and repaired the building, and we reopened with a clean, fresh and extremely cheerful facility.
Unfortunately, we discovered that when Washington Park Library’s books were placed in storage during our closure the shipping container storing the majority of our books sprung a leak… in the roof. If you’re counting, that’s 3 roofs now. Our collection lost over 9,000 books – mostly adult books. But the response from our community was great. Friends and newcomers alike showed up with donations to our collection. A librarian in Franklin Lake, New Jersey, heard this story and sent up boxes and boxes of 6 month old bestsellers they were weeding. And Providence Community Library’s other 8 libraries have all helped out by sending book donations and duplicate copies to our collection.
So the happy ending is here. The Washington Park neighborhood once again has a computer lab and full adult and juvenile services. Our collection is getting strong again: we’ve just added a lot of urban lit, new non-fiction, and great new young adult (teen) titles. We have a sweet, small Rhode Island Collection we’re looking forward to developing. Providence Community Library has made it possible for us to offer computer classes and kids’ programs. We regularly offer “Cradle to Crayons”, a story time program for 1 to 3 year old kids, and Cuentos Bilingues, a Spanish-English bilingual story time for 6 to 9 year old kids. Call us at 781-3136 to ask about classes and programs.
Dylan Little, Library Manager; Lyndsy Cioci, Library Clerk; Verenis Polanco, Children's Specialist