Early in 1923, community leaders in the Belmont-Hawthorne area raised funds by public subscription to build a neighborhood library at East 39th Avenue and Taylor Street (at that time, the city had not yet been divided to designate streets as “Southeast”). The Library Association of Portland donated the cost of the building plans. In the Library Association of Portland’s 1923 annual report, its president noted, “So far as I know, these two efforts [Belmont/Hawthorne and Rose City/Rossmere/Beaumont], in conjunction with the Portsmouth building last year, are the first cases on record where taxpayers, using a tax supported library system, have voluntarily assessed themselves for funds to erect buildings in their neighborhoods for public usage.”
On February 29, 1924, the community dedicated Belmont Library, and the Community Library Committee presented the deed for the building to the Library Association of Portland. This was the first time in Portland that a community had built its own neighborhood library and presented it to the association debt-free. The 2,924-square-foot library opened to the public on March 7, 1924.
In 1937, federal assistance through the Works Progress Administration provided a building expansion that included the Children’s Room and staff work areas. With the expansion, the building increased in size to 3,554 square feet.
In the early 1940s, worries over World War II affected all citizens. In 1942, the Belmont Library’s librarian’s report noted, “The declaration of war and the subsequent months have brought tension and a feeling of uncertainty to everyone … the demand for technical books has been heavy, and women have asked for books for their courses in welding and aircraft work. Among our most popular books for younger boys have been two paper-covered booklets for aircraft spotters.”
By the 1990s, Belmont Library had become Oregon’s busiest library in terms of circulation per square foot. In 1996, voters passed a general obligation bond measure to improve technology in all Multnomah County libraries and to renovate deteriorating libraries. Belmont Library was one of four libraries specifically named in the bond measure to get special treatment; it closed for renovation and expansion on June 13, 1999, and reopened on March 21, 2000.
- Area: Before renovation, 3,554 square feet; after renovation and expansion, 5,954 square feet
- Book capacity: 20,000 volumes
- Original architect: Jamieson Parker Architects
- Renovation architect: Thomas Hacker and Associates P.C.
- Original contractor: W.C. Moore
- Renovation contractor: Andersen Construction Co., Inc.
- First librarian: Miss Ethelwyn H. Badger
- Original opening: March 7, 1924
- Reopening: July 18, 2000