Castro Valley Library

History of the Castro Valley Library by crselig2014
Monday, October 15, 2018, 3:29 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

BrooderBranchCaliforniaStateLibraryPhoto courtesy of the California State Library.

Special thanks to John Christian of the Hayward Area Historical Society for writing the history of the Castro Valley Library in honor of our 100th anniversary.


For more than 100 years, Castro Valley’s residents have enjoyed access to a free public library. The Library’s exact origins, however, are a little murky. The valley has seen three distinct libraries come and go, before culminating in the construction of today’s Castro Valley Library. In that time, the Castro Valley Library has transformed from a few books in old farm buildings to the grand community space we enjoy today.

The Early Years: Crow Canyon and Castro Hill

The first library was established July 17, 1915, in the home of Mrs. M.J. Alves, somewhere around the entrance to Crow Canyon, and was named the Crow Canyon Branch of the Alameda County Free Library. We do not know where exactly Mrs. Alves home was, but we do know that her small branch had 54 books and 8 registered library cardholders. A brief reference in the Oakland Tribune notes the new Crow Canyon Branch was one of two branches added to the Alameda County library system that year by Mary Barmby, the first county librarian.

The Crow Canyon Branch was short lived, and on August 1, 1916 the branch moved to the home of Kathryn Weaver. This little library was named Castro Hill Branch, in reference to the steep incline along today’s East Castro Valley Boulevard. Apparently Kathryn Weaver’s house was a little bigger, with a reported collection of 200 books and 18 library cardholders, but the Library wouldn’t remain in that location for long.

Sometime in 1918 the library moved to what is commonly thought of as the first Castro Valley Library—a building formerly used for chicken brooding. The “Brooder Branch,” as some called it, belonged to the aptly named Mrs. Emmarene Due. This new incarnation of the Castro Hill Branch grew quickly under Mrs. Due’s direction and included almost 400 books and 64 active patrons.

As successful as the branch was, there was a fair amount of hesitation on the part of Alameda County to approve the opening of a library in a chicken coop. Over time, however, Alameda County grew fond of its quirky little branch. A 1922 Oakland Tribune article titled “Chicken Coops for Libraries” explained:

“Alameda County is the only county in the United States which maintains a county library branch in a chicken coop, where the hens may regale themselves with succulent book titles and the roosters crow over newspapers and periodicals…Supervisors and county library officials were horrified at the suggestion [of using a former chicken coop], but at last consented to look it over…Today the ‘brooder branch’ is one of the most successful and generally used of all the county library branches.”

As the Castro Hill Branch’s reputation grew, so did the number of visitors. Librarians came from across the state to experience the novelty of a library inside a shack—much to the dismay of Mrs. Due who told a reporter years later, “I never thought of it as a shack because we had so many wonderful books.”

The Castro Hill Branch of the Alameda County Library system operated for 47 years—overlapping three years with the next library on Redwood Road. During those 47 years, Mrs. Due worked the circulation desk, petitioned the county for new books, and even started a children’s radio club.

In May 1965, the Castro Hill Branch closed. Less than two years later, Emmarene Due passed away. Today, the Castro Valley Masonic Center occupies the site of the former Castro Hill Branch.

Gertrude Booth and the Tank House Library

The direct descendant of today’s Castro Valley Library dates to 1927. At the time, the Castro Hill Branch mostly served residents living in the valley’s canyons. With no library in the heart of town, residents had few options. Encouraged by the local Parent Teacher Association (PTA), Mrs. Gertrude Booth decided to petition the county for another library branch.

Following in the footsteps of the brooder branch, Mrs. Booth converted an old tank house on her property for use as a library. Apparently a tank house was more palatable than a chicken coop, as the County did not hesitate and named Mrs. Booth the librarian of the new Valley Branch. Soon the name was changed to the Castro Valley Branch and the modest space opened its doors in August 1927. It was located roughly where the Castro Village Walgreens sits today.

Mrs. Booth’s tank house library was an immediate hit with the community. The new branch had 880 books in its collection including “books of fiction ranging from cream-puff romances to imaginary tales of piratical adventure….” The new space also gave community groups like the PTA a place to meet.

The tank house library served the community well through the depression and World War II. During this time, Castro Valley was still a sleepy, rural community. This changed drastically, however, starting in the late 1940s. Following the war, Castro Valley began its transformation from an agricultural area into the suburban community we know today. Housing tracks were planned and built, and a large influx of residents put new demands on the relatively small library. Library programs reflected the changes. Classes on interior decorating and design, for example, were meant to attract the valley’s new suburban homeowners.

By 1950, the Castro Valley Library had broken its all-time circulation record, lending almost 17,000 books in that fiscal year alone. The Library began opening seven days a week to keep pace with demand. In 1952, an additional wing was opened, but the community kept growing.

By the mid-1950s, the old tank house library stood in sharp contrast to the modernizing community. Once surrounded by open fields, the Library was now surrounded by the Castro Village shopping center and other new developments. The surging population pushed community leaders to seriously consider a new library for Castro Valley.
For Gertrude Booth, the tank house library remained a labor of love. She worked in the library for 32 years until health problems forced her retirement in early 1959. Soon after, Mrs. Booth’s property was sold to the corporation that built the Castro Village. With the destruction of the tank house library approaching, the community had to act quickly to build a new Castro Valley Library.

Gertrude Booth passed away in April 1964, having lived long enough to see the opening of the new Castro Valley Library on Redwood Road.

Castro Valley Library on Redwood Road

The Castro Valley Library on Redwood Road traces its origins back to a meeting in late November 1956. The Castro Valley Recreation Council called a meeting to discuss a proposal to improve library facilities in the valley. The campaign quickly took off with state and local government, advised by the newly established Castro Valley Library Advisory Committee, approving the plans for a new facility.

In September 1958, Alameda County purchased the Redwood Road site for $32,000. In late 1960, the Hayward architectural firm Wahamaki and Corey was commissioned to design the new building. Castro Valley contractor Wallace Webb & Son was chosen as the builder.

There was something very different about this new Castro Valley Library. Any residents hoping for a converted barn or windmill were out of luck. For the first time in the community’s history, the library facility would be purpose-built and designed with the input of the county’s librarians. Construction began in December of 1960.

On February 13, 1962, Castro Valley residents were invited to the grand opening of their striking, mid-century modern library. At over 10,000 square feet, the new building felt like a cathedral to knowledge compared to the cramped “brooder branch” of Castro Hill or the tank house of Mrs. Booth.

While impressive, the new Redwood Road site got off to a rocky start. Due to a lack of funding, the new branch lacked the selection offered by some other local libraries, opening with only about 23,000 books. Soon though, the library’s collection was growing at a furious pace, and by 1967, it had jumped to more than 43,000 available volumes.

The new facility also offered expanded programming. Storytime, magicians, and puppeteers were staple programs as the Castro Valley Library moved into the 1970s. Catering to all ages, the library added comic books to its collection in 1975, as well as local history books in 1977 in a partnership with the Friends of the Castro Valley Library.
Heading into the 1980s, the library enjoyed a bit of a facelift. New carpet replaced linoleum tiles, the teen section expanded, and the Castro Valley Women’s Club improved the landscaping. The library also held its first “Computer Day” in December 1982, giving many local residents their first opportunity to use a computer.

As time passed, a familiar problem emerged. The Redwood Road site was becoming too small for the community. In July of 1990, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors began to plan for the future of the Castro Valley Library.

In the meantime, the Redwood Road branch would soldier on. At the time of its closure in Fall 2009, the once seemingly endless space was crammed with books but lacked needed computer stations. After 47 years, Castro Valley was ready for another library.

Today’s Castro Valley Library

The new Castro Valley Library took much longer to conceive and build than those that came before. Alameda County purchased the site of the new library back in the early 1990s. Long term plans were made to fundraise and develop the site. The reality of a new Castro Valley Library took a giant leap forward in 2004 when a grant of almost $14 million from the State of California was awarded for the project. Small and large donations from Castro Valley residents as well as money from the County of Alameda made up the difference in this $22.3 million project.

The community celebrated the groundbreaking for the new Norbridge Avenue location on April 18, 2008. By July of 2009, the new library, designed by Berkeley architects Noll and Tam, was nearing completion. Progress was photographed hourly and posted on the county’s library website. That same month, Oakland artist Jos Sances was finishing up the 700 square foot ceramic tile mural in the children’s section. It is one of the Library’s many pieces of art, chosen with community input by the Alameda County Arts Commission.

A lot was happening on the outside of the library, too. The Hayward Area Recreation District was building its “pocket park” next door. The Alameda County Flood Control District was busy rehabilitating the stretch of Castro Valley Creek that ran alongside the new building. These projects, in conjunction with the new library, transformed the entire area into an interactive space.

Finally, the big day arrived. On Halloween 2009, the new Castro Valley Library opened to the public. Almost 2,000 residents participated in the “Great Castro Valley Book Pass”—a human chain that passed books from the old Redwood Road site to the new Norbridge Avenue site. What was the first book passed? A copy of local historian Lucille Lorge’s history of Castro Valley. A telling gesture—a community celebrating its future by remembering its past.

The new 34,537 square foot Library is a green building with solar panels and other resource-conserving components that earned it LEED silver designation. The classroom and large community room have allowed for expansion in the number and size of programs for all ages. Circulation of materials doubled in the new Library’s first year of operation.

Today’s beautiful 21st century facility continues to welcome thousands of visitors each week and expand services to meet community needs. Not bad for an institution founded in Crow Canyon with only 54 books and 8 patrons.

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