Holgate Library history

Multnomah County Library’s earliest community outreach effort was accomplished through volunteer-staffed “deposit stations.” Each station consisted of a box of 50 books deposited in a neighborhood home or business. One current magazine subscription was also included, if requested. In 1904, such a deposit station opened in a drug store in the Lents neighborhood. According to the Library Association of Portland’s 1904 annual report, the Lents station “promised to be one of the most successful” when 43 books were picked up in only two weeks.

The population in what was then considered outer Southeast Portland continued to grow, and in 1906 another deposit station was set up in the Arleta neighborhood. In 1911, the Carnegie Corporation of New York donated money for the purpose of building branch libraries in seven Portland neighborhoods, including one in Arleta. Unfortunately, plans for Arleta Library were discontinued when the Carnegie gift was reduced from seven locations to five.

In September 1914, the Lents sub-branch library opened to the public at 5827 E. 91st Avenue near S.E. Foster Road. This new building was a vast improvement over the deposit station. It had space for 5,000 books as well as a trained library staff and space for library patrons to sit and read.

Andrew Carnegie donated additional funds for two more library branches. Local residents raised funds in order to purchase property for an Arleta library, and presented a deed for the lot to the Library Association of Portland on December 20, 1917. After many delays — caused by wartime shortages of materials and workmen — Arleta Library opened at 4420 S.E. 64th Street in early September 1918. The new building was larger than Lents Library, with a capacity for 9,000 books and room for adult and children’s programs.

As Portland recovered from the Depression, Arleta Library was one of many libraries that offered additional neighborhood services, such as a preschool clinic run by visiting nurses. The neighborhood was changing, and the librarian’s annual report for 1941–1942 noted, “…the bugbear of shifting populations is beginning to appear in the Arleta district. No longer is 64th and Foster a shopping center.”

During World War II, the library struggled with staff shortages as people devoted themselves to the war effort. Lents Library was one of several Multnomah County libraries that had to close a few days each week for lack of staff.

After the war, the population shifted again, and the Arleta and Lents business districts were revitalized. Within a few years, however, the population once again shifted. This time, more and more people moved away from the city neighborhoods and toward the new suburbs.

The highlight for Arleta Library staff in 1948 was getting an oil furnace to replace the wood-burning furnace. Staff no longer had to stoke the wood fire as part of their daily work.

In the early 1960s, Library Association of Portland staff took a close look at library services, comparing existing library locations to the most recent population changes and development throughout Multnomah County. The model of providing many small branches, sub-branches and deposit stations had worked well earlier in the century — when few people drove — but the public now preferred to access broader collections in larger buildings that could be spaced farther apart.

By 1967, further study produced a recommendation to consolidate Arleta Library and Lents Library into a larger, more centrally located building. Possible locations were discussed, including a site at the corner of S.E. 84th Avenue and S.E. Powell Boulevard and a site at the corner of S.E. 77th Avenue and S.E. Harold Street.

The search for a new library location concluded with the purchase of a site at S.E. 79th Avenue and S.E. Holgate Boulevard. Interested citizens and community organizations assisted in selecting this location, which was approved by the majority of local residents.

The May 19, 1971 dedication of the newly established Holgate Library at 7905 S.E. Holgate Boulevard was the culmination of a three-year planning program to combine the service areas of Arleta and Lents, which closed when the new library opened. The opening day collection included 12,000 books, 71 periodicals and 75 art prints. The new building had space for the collection to grow to 20,000 items, and featured a public meeting room for community meetings and library events.

In the following decades, new technologies, materials and services tested the physical limits of the building. Holgate Library added materials in the native languages of the neighborhood’s growing immigrant populations. Videos, CD-ROMs and CDs strained the library’s shelves.

In May 1996, Multnomah County voters passed a $29 million general obligation bond measure to improve technology in all branch libraries and to renovate deteriorating branch libraries. Physical and functional analyses of Holgate Library showed the library needed general repairs. The library closed in March 2000 for renovation; workers installed a new roof, plumbing and siding, and made energy-efficient improvements to the windows and exterior doors. The data and telecommunications infrastructure was also upgraded to allow a significant increase in the number of Internet-capable computer stations.

The renovated library reopened on October 17, 2000.

Fact Sheet

  • Area: 6,060 square feet
  • Book capacity: 30,000 volumes
  • Original architect: Allen, McMath, Hawkins Architects
  • Renovation architect: Thomas Hacker and Associates P.C.
  • Renovation contractor: Andersen Construction Co., Inc.
  • First librarian (new building): Carolyn ApRoberts
  • Reopening: October 17, 2000

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