Mount Pleasant has historic library back after more than 2 years of renovations

September 12, 2012

The Mount Pleasant neighborhood has its historic library back after more than two years of renovations, an occasion celebrated Wednesday by top city officials, neighborhood residents and scores of schoolchildren.

The $11.2 million project involved restoring the 1925 building’s interior, expanding an upstairs children’s room and downstairs meeting rooms, and building a rear addition connected through a glassy atrium.

“This library is eagerly anticipated and warmly welcomed by the neighborhood, maybe more than any place in the District,” said Ginnie Cooper, the city’s chief librarian. The renovation is the latest in an ongoing effort that has already seen 14 libraries thoroughly renovated or rebuilt.

Work on the Mount Pleasant branch, one of four city libraries built through steel magnate Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy, has been more complex than most. Disputes over preserving the historic facade and offering access to wheelchair users delayed the project by months and added upwards of $1 million to the cost as various boards and commissions weighed in on the design.

In the end, the building’s grand front entry was converted into an emergency exit, with patrons now entering through a new side entrance featuring a landscaped garden and wheelchair ramp.

There, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the opening was hailed by city officials including Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council members Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), the latter briefly lamenting the “subterfuges, solutions and counter-solutions” that preceded the opening.

“I think it worked out the way it needed to,” said Richard L. Huffine, head of the Friends of the Mount Pleasant Library, which pushed for the renovation.

Huffine said that the building has been designed from the ground up to be easier to maintain than the old library, which had fallen into poor repair. “This community loved this branch to death,” he said. “Now we have a chance to make it much more durable and sustainable. People can really love it to death.”

After the library closed for the overhaul in April 2010, residents used a small, temporary library in a Mount Pleasant Street NW storefront. That location closed last month, and the space is slated to become a Thai restaurant.

Among the features preserved in the renovation are a pair of Depression-era murals of animals at play by illustrator Aurelius Battaglia, a Washington native who later worked on several classic Walt Disney films.

His daughter, Nicola Battaglia, came from Boston to attend the ribbon-cutting. “I’m very excited it’s such a big deal,” she said. “He never brought me here when I was visiting. . . . I wish I could have experienced it when he was alive.”

Cooper said she was gratified that patrons were already arriving by Wednesday morning, even before the ceremony had started. “They were here at 11,” she said. “They said, ‘I need a book! I need a book!’ ”

Mike DeBonis covers local politics and government for The Washington Post. He also writes a blog and a political analysis column that runs on Fridays.
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