Capitol Hill Library history

In 1961, the Library Association of Portland Board of Directors directed William B. Wood, the new library director, to study existing branch libraries, comparing them to recent population changes and development throughout the county. At this time, the idea of library service had changed from serving the public with many small locations and book deposit stations — which had worked well when few people drove — to providing bigger collections in larger buildings spaced further apart. Even though Southwest Hills Library was only a few years old, the study identified the neighborhood as an area to watch for further growth.

Westside Portland’s population continued to grow, and in 1967, the Library Association of Portland Board earmarked the area south and west of Southwest Hills Library (now Hillsdale Library) as a possible site for a new location. In 1968, the board approved a site search in this area. Property was purchased in June 1969, and construction began on a new Capitol Hill Library, using the same architectural plan as Holgate Library.

The new Capitol Hill Library opened unofficially in May 1972, with limited hours, and closed the following month when a budget crisis forced its closure pending resolution of the 1972-1973 budget. In mid-November, the Library Association of Portland received federal revenue-sharing money, which enabled Capitol Hill Library to reopen on December 5, 1972.

Like the rest of the library system, Capitol Hill Library struggled with reduced hours and book budgets throughout most of the 1970s and into the 1980s. After three budget cuts during the 1982-83 fiscal year — and reduced county funding in the following year — four libraries, including Capitol Hill Library, were reduced to half-time schedules with one staff operating two libraries. In spite of the reduction in hours, circulation at those four libraries remained relatively steady at 70 to 80 percent of the previous year’s figure. A three-year serial levy to restore library operations passed in May 1984, and the affected libraries were able to resume their regular five-day schedules.

In the 1980s, as the economy slowly improved, library customers benefited from improved hours and a wider selection of materials. In 1989, Capitol Hill became one of the first four branch libraries to circulate videos.

By the early 1990s, Capitol Hill Library was showing its age, despite having had minor repairs and changes. In May 1996, Multnomah County voters passed a general obligation bond measure to improve technology in all Multnomah County libraries and to renovate deteriorating libraries. Capitol Hill Library closed for renovation on July 3, 1998, reopening on February 16, 1999.

Fact sheet

  • Area: 6,060 square feet
  • Book capacity: 20,000 volumes
  • Original architect: Allen, McMath and Hawkins, A.I.A.
  • Renovation architect: Thomas Hacker and Associates P.C..
  • Original contractor: Hufford Construction Company
  • Renovation contractor: Andersen Construction Co., Inc.
  • First librarian: Carolyn ApRoberts
  • Original formal opening: December 6, 1972
  • Reopening date: February 16, 1999

Read the histories of all neighborhood libraries, and explore historic library photos.