Kenton Library history


Peninsular Station provided the first public library service on the peninsula beginning in October 1903. This “deposit station,” one of the first 11 in Multnomah County, provided a small collection of books in a location other than the main library building in downtown Portland. According to the 1904 annual report of the Library Association of Portland, “Thirty-three books were sent to Peninsula in October in charge of the school superintendent, Mr. E.J. Steele. Owing to pressure of school duties, these books were not made accessible until recently and only 14 have circulated.” Use of the book collection did not increase. The library association’s 1905 annual report states, “This station was discontinued early in the year. Circulation: 33.”


In 1907, five “reading rooms” opened in various locations within Multnomah County, including the North Portland area. The 1908 annual report describes these reading rooms:

"The reading rooms have proved an economical and effective method of book distribution. They are maintained by the cooperation of the residents of the locality with the Library, the former providing the room heated and lighted, while the Library is responsible for the salary of the custodian and furnishes the books and magazines. The rooms are open for five hours during the afternoon and evening and in addition each custodian is required to spend one morning each week at the central library for instruction and suggestion. A small group of reference books has been placed in each room and between 200 and 300 circulating books. These are kept fresh by weekly exchanges and a weekly delivery of books specially requested supplements this deposit collection."

St. Johns Reading Room opened on April 20, 1907, with Mrs. T.T. Parker in charge. Circulation during that year was 3,807 items. The St. Johns Reading Room closed in 1908.

Peninsular Reading Room opened on April 27, 1907, with Mrs. Frances Rhomberg in charge. The first year’s circulation totaled 3,142 items. Membership grew by 189 in the next year, and circulation increased to 8,276—the second highest for all of the five reading rooms.


The 1908 annual report mentions the growing needs for better library service on the peninsula:

"The suburbs of the city are more in need of library service, and of better service at present than the county districts. The Peninsula for instance with its constantly increasing population, its wide-awake boys and men and its working girls is a center of activity that is in need of all the thought and attention that can be given it and it is in this field that the Library should take into special consideration in the coming year."


University Park Reading Room opened on September 15, 1909. The annual report for that year notes,

"…[it] has been most cordially patronized, not only are the records of attendance and circulation unusually good but the class of books asked for on request cards shows an intelligent appreciation of the resources of the Library. Here and at Peninsular have been felt the greatest need for a larger loan collection and for books on special subjects."


Four sub-branches, including University Park, moved to better quarters. Peninsular Reading Room closed in January 12, reopening two years later in a storeroom at 1587 Peninsular Avenue.


The new Lombard Branch opened in 1927. The annual report notes,

"Most important to report is the acquisition of the new Lombard Branch. This branch, at the corner of Lombard and Boston streets, replaces the old Peninsular branch, which for twenty years served the people of the Peninsula district. For a long time, the residents of Kenton have been petitioning for library service but with no building fund there was nothing that the library could do to serve them adequately. Finally, after due consideration and agreement, the Kenton and Peninsula districts joined forces, decided upon a lot midway between the two communities, raised money to buy it, and then, having formed a corporation, borrowed enough to build a building which conformed to the ideas and taste of the Board of Directors of the Library Association. A Colonial type of building was chosen and Mr. Ernest Tucker was selected by the Library to draw the plans. The building cost $5000.00. The furnishings, amounting to a generous $2000.00, were provided by the Library Association…This is the fourth branch in Portland which has been built through community enterprise, effort and subscription.

"University Park Branch, the pioneer building built by a community, prospered to an extent that, finding its building paid for and with money on hand, it begged leave to enlarge the building. An extension was added to the main room and an additional room with a fireplace was built on the back. This room, furnished with painted furniture and gay chintz, is known as the Story Hour Room, although it is used for numerous other activities."


From the annual report:

"For some years the Library has maintained an east side unit known as the Lombard Branch. The lot and building were provided by a community subscription, and were leased to the Library for a moderate rental sufficient to maintain the improvements and to service a mortgage debt placed upon the property in order to complete the building. Recently the community organization holding title indicated its desire to be relieved of further maintenance and an arrangement has been consummated whereby the branch has been turned over to the Library Association in consideration of the Association paying the mortgage debt against it."


Ground was broken in 1943 at Vanport City for what was described as “the country’s only public library in a war housing project,” according to Harry D. Freeman, executive director of the Housing Authority of Portland. The building, maintenance and janitorial service, lighting, heat, water, etc. were financed by the Federal Housing Authority. The staff, books, operating expenses and supplies were included in the original school funds for a public library stemming from Federal Works Administration Lanham Act Funds. Vanport Library became a branch of the Library Association of Portland in 1944-45. The building was later destroyed in the 1948 Vanport Flood.


By the middle of the 1950s, the Library Association of Portland had begun a gradual transition in branch service, from a multiplicity of small agencies to fewer but stronger ones better spaced to meet the communities’ needs. The Peninsula area was one area under consideration for a new, larger library. In 1967, the library association purchased property for a larger building and hired the architectural firm Allen, McMath and Hawkins, AIA, to submit possible designs for the new "Peninsula Branch Library." The association selected one of those designs and directed the architect to prepare detailed drawings for the building. In early 1968, the library director reported to the library association board about community reaction to the consolidation of the three branches on the Peninsula (St. Johns, University Park and Lombard). Community members attended two library association board meetings in February. Only opponents to the plan spoke at the first meeting; both opponents and proponents spoke at the second. As a result of the community input, the board deferred the Peninsula consolidation plan indefinitely, deciding to concentrate on building priorities in other areas of the county. The board agreed to list the property with a realtor in June 1968; it was sold in 1971.


Because of budget cuts, two branch libraries, Vernon and University Park, closed on July 1, 1975. The two branches had experienced declining use in recent years and both were located relatively close to larger and better stocked branch libraries. The University Park branch building was sold in 1976 to the Episcopal Diocese of Oregon and St. Andrews Episcopal Church. Proceeds from the sale were transferred to the Endowment Fund and the interest earned used to purchase books for the Peninsula area.


In the June 30, 1981 election, Multnomah County voters passed one of two three-year library operating levy measures. The failure of the “B” ballot measure resulted in the loss of 30 full-time employees, the reduction of service at Central Library from six to five days per week, the loss of one bookmobile, and the closure of the Montavilla and Lombard branch libraries. Both libraries closed on July 1, 1981.


In November 1999, a group of concerned citizens circulated a petition calling for the reopening of Lombard Library. The Advocates for a Lombard Library formed in January 2000 and made a presentation to the Library Advisory Board in July 2000, outlining the history of library branches in North Portland and describing the needs of neighborhood residents for renewed library service. In November 2000, the library director presented a proposal to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners for a new branch library in the area. Board members expressed support for the project. The 2002 operating levy included funding for new leased libraries in North Portland and East County (although these new libraries were not included in the levy language). A public siting process resulted in the county commission’s support for a new library in the New Columbia housing development. Before the library could be built and opened, budget cuts ended the project. In 2006, voters passed a five-year operating levy, including language in the measure that specified new libraries in North Portland and East County. After another public siting process, the county commission voted to site the new Kenton Library in a storefront building at 8226 N. Denver Ave. Kenton Library opened on March 8, 2010.

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