Period Piece: A Carnegie library reopens in the Marina

A look at the GG branch from back in the day (in an undated photo).

Period Piece is Lucy Schiller's recurring feature on the hidden histories of San Francisco. Give her a shout at if you know of some hot dirt on olden times in the city

About a hundred years ago, Andrew Carnegie was giving away most of the money he had amassed from a gargantuan steel empire. Eight libraries in San Francisco directly resulted from Carnegie’s efforts, including the Marina's Golden Gate Valley branch – the recipient of a much needed facelift that concluded last week.

The library was the eighth branch to open in San Francisco. It was born in 1918 to a city less than thrilled about accepting money from a man with a terrible labor rights record. Various arguments at City Hall had already played out over whether to accept the dirty money or refuse it, dedicate most of the funds to a main library or allocate more to several branches, elect trustees or keep the wealthy, elite ones around. 

After years of stalling, it was decided. Half of Carnegie’s grant went to the Main Library, the other half to seven branches. Last week, the Golden Gate Valley branch reopened after an extensive renovation thanks to B.L.I.P. (the inauspicious acronym for the Branch Library Improvement Project).

You can sense the money that went into this place's initial construction. Shaped like a big wedge of cake, the Golden Gate Valley branch nestles into the corner of Octavia and Green and is decked out with stately columns, heavy copper doors, and high ceilings. 

Libraries have come a long way from their original intended purpose of providing literature to the masses. There are books here, of course -- lots and lots of them. But the Golden Gate Valley branch also holds features for kids who can’t even read yet, digital signage in the teens’ area, a program room for community events, and of course, rows of computers for what is perhaps the library's most salient role in today's society: free Internet access. 

“Part of the mission of the library is to be a family destination,” says Mindy Linetzky, bond program administrator for BLIP. “We really want teens to come, for example.” With the library’s plans to hold occasional Wii gaming days, you can be sure they will, in droves.

B.L.I.P. has seen marked increase in community engagement since the start of the renovations. According to Michelle Jeffers, public relations officer at SFPL, the Visitation Valley branch’s recent renovation was met with a 406 percent increase in library card registration. 

BLIP's job is almost done now with twenty-two refurbished libraries under its belt and only two more on the docket. Safer (with seismic bracing), greener (with solar panels), and more accessible (with elevators), our new libraries hold a lot of their former glory but also some fancy new swag.

Golden Gate Valley Public Library
 1801 Green, SF
(415) 355-5666


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