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The History of the Denver Public Library

The Denver Public Library, one of the jewels of Denver's Civic Center, is both a valuable resource and a stop-on-the-tour for Denver, the State of Colorado, and the entire world. Since Denver's early days, the Denver Public Library, in all of its many forms, has provided a focal point for literacy, learning and culture, always based on a model of democratic public access. 

As early as 1886, fledgling libraries in Denver began gathering force, finally blossoming as a result of the largesse of an industrialist. In 1910, the city opened a Central Library building of its own, an elegant Greek temple design funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and located in downtown's Civic Center Park. Between 1913 and 1920, Carnegie also underwrote construction of the city's first eight branch libraries. They would serve a growing city that had previously relied on traveling trunks of books, and begin the tradition of the Library expressing its civic role through architectural excellence.

The "Old Main" library in Civic Center Park served downtown Denver for 45 years, until the City commissioned the firm of Fisher and Fisher/Burnham Hoyt to design a new Central Library at the corner of Broadway and 14th Avenue. Opened in 1956, the new structure provided more than twice the space of the Carnegie building, but was expected to meet Denver Public Library's needs for only a decade. Denver experienced explosive growth between the 1950s and the 1970s. A string of new branch libraries opened to serve sprawling neighborhoods to the southeast and southwest. Among them were the four Ross branches, Ross-Broadway (1951), Ross-Barnum (1954), Ross-University Hills (1962), and Ross-Cherry Creek (1962), funded by a $100,000 bequest from Denver real estate investor and Library Commissioner Frederick Ross. The Frederick R. Ross Trust Fund was invested in ways that are still providing financial assistance to the Denver Public Library.

By the late 1980s, Library collections had outgrown the Central Library and most branch libraries. Three-quarters of Central Library materials were stored in basements and warehouses. Moreover, aging buildings weren't adaptable to the flowering technology of the Information Age. In 1990, an overwhelming 75 percent of the city's voters approved a $91.6 million bond issue to build a new Central Library and renovate, expand or build new branch library buildings. A 540,000 square-foot Central Library, the awesome design of world-renowned Michael Graves and the Denver firm of Klipp Colussy Jenks DuBois, opened in 1995. Branch improvements were also completed by 1995.

In 2007, Denver voters supported a bond issue that enabled the Denver Public Library to build three new branch libraries in newly developed and underserved areas of the city, including Green Valley Ranch, Stapleton, and West Denver. This funding has also provided the means to make much needed infrastructure repairs to existing Library facilities. Find out more about Better Denver Bond projects at the Denver Public Library.

In The Beginning

According to Denver Municipal Facts, Denver's first library, called the Denver and Auraria Reading Room Associates, was formed in 1860 and paid for by subscription fees of twenty five cents a week. In 1874, the Denver Library Association was organized by W. S. Cheesman, W. D. Todd and several other public spirited citizens. 

It held the field for four years, when it disbanded, owing to lack of financial support. The books were presented to the Board of Education and they formed the nucleus of the collection used by the High School Library, which for many years occupied the south wing of the East Denver High School building and furnished the people with reading matter.

What is now the Denver Public Library grew out of the organization in 1884 of what was known as the Chamber of Commerce Library. Roger W. Woodbury, banker and financier, who was president of the Chamber, was the prime mover in the enterprise. At a meeting of the directors held at his office in the old Times building, on July 17th, 1884, on motion of Mr. Edward B. Light, it was voted "that a room be set apart in the Chamber of Commerce building for a library to be known as The Mercantile Library of the City of Denver, under the auspices of the Chamber of Commerce."

It was first opened to the public Nov. 1, 1886, under the name of the Mercantile Library, occupying quarters first in the old Times building on Lawrence street near Sixteenth, and later in the attic of the building at Fourteenth and Lawrence streets, once the home of the Chamber of Commerce. 

The institution was supported entirely by the Chamber of Commerce, the members in the beginning subscribing $15,000 for the purchase of books. It was practically maintained without outside assistance until the fall of 1891, when the City Council appropriated for its support from that time on from $5,000 to $8,000 per year. In 1893, the name was changed to the City Library, although it did not become a city institution until 1898. 

A fourth floor was added to the building to accommodate the new Library, and a sum of $15,000 was collected from Chamber members to purchase books and provide funds for the logistical needs of the fledgling enterprise. The first books arrived in June 1886, and the library was opened on November 1st in the presence of an audience of about 100 people. This first collection consisted of about 3,000 books, all fiction, with about 800 for young readers. The first card catalog was released in January, 1888. Only in 1891 did the City Council finally appropriate a monthly sum of $500 for the Library, half of which was allotted for book purchases.

After several thousand more dollars of City funds going to support the Library, in 1893 the name was changed from the Mercantile Library to the City Library, the former name being a misnomer anyway, since the Library had always been free. In 1895, the Library had expanded to occupy three floors of the building, allowing for separate reference and circulating departments, and an office for the Librarian.

Meanwhile, at the East Denver High School library at 19th and Stout Streets, Librarian John Cotton Dana inaugurated the "Children's Library," the first of its kind in the country, and another of Dana's innovations in the entire library field. In its first 18 months, 90,000 volumes were circulated and hundreds of children had used the room for educational and recreational purposes. Today, virtually every library in the country has a children's section, and as did John Cotton Dana, the Denver Public Library today recognizes its vital task in furthering the enrichment of young minds and the development of lifelong reading habits.

In 1897, the General Assembly passed a comprehensive library law, which began a collaboration with the Department of Education, who had been running the library in the East Denver High School building for ten years, and whose collection would become part of the City Library. On the 13th of August, 1898, the Council passed an ordinance establishing the Public Library of the City of Denver, and the consolidation, which took place the next year, required a new home, built at 15th and Court Place, under a five year lease.


The Carnegie Library Years 1910-1955

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919), American industrialist and financier, contributed to the building of over 2,500 public libraries throughout the English-speaking world. Almost 1,700 of these were in the the United States, with 36 in the State of Colorado. The $200,000 Carnegie grant of 1902 facilitated the building of the Main Library (1910-1956) in Civic Center. (The building now houses various administrative offices of the City and County of Denver.) Carnegie later gave $160,000 to build Denver Public Library's first eight branches. The Carnegie largesse continues, with the Library receiving a $500,000 grant for literacy programs for at-risk children in 1999.

The February 1902 Carnegie grant to the City of Denver for the construction of a new library, set the wheels in motion, and on August 7, 1906, groundbreaking began on a building that like the other Carnegie libraries, offered to the public a "temple of literacy." It would be built of Turkey Creek sandstone, from quarries near Pueblo, Colorado, in an opulent style rarely available to average people.

A year was spent in selecting a site, and the final choice was the corner of La Veta Place and Colfax, between Acoma and Bannock. The building was completed in 1909, but the opening was delayed because of missed deadlines by the furniture makers and other interior finishing problems. The Library's book collection at the time of the move was 125,000, and the new building had been designed to accommodate 300,000, so "roomy" probably couldn't begin to describe it.

The metal and glass book stacks, extending seven stories of seven feet each, were built as a free standing structure, unconnected to the floor or walls of the building. "Denver Municipal Facts" calls this "one of the wonders of the building." The furniture, some of the tables of which are kept today in the Western History Department, were described by DMF as made of "oak with an exquisite finish that excites the admiration of even the most fastidious."

The newspapers in the reading room, from all over the country, were "attached to handsome table racks, and he who reads them must stand, as no seats were provided for the peruser of the daily paper. The experience of all libraries is that the newspapers are monopolized by certain people when comfortable seats were provided... there is room for 46 people standing at the newspaper racks." The third floor was a spacious hall for memorials, art exhibitions, and other events.

On February 15, 1910, the Denver Public Library opened its new home, the first to be truly adequate, a $430,000 Greek temple of literacy that stands today as an ornament to Denver's Civic Center. In 1912, the contracts were written for building four branch libraries using an additional $80,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, which funded the Roger W. Woodbury, Sarah Platt Decker, Charles Dickinson, and the Henry White Warren Branches of the Library.  All four branches opened in the summer of 1913 to much fanfare.  In April, 1914, the Valverde Branch was built as an addition to the Valverde Fire House. Carnegie grants also funded the Byers, Park Hill, Smiley, and Elyria branches in the following years.

All five Carnegie branches have been designated historic landmarks by the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission. The Denver Public Library has integrated such updates as new furniture and fixtures, elevators and ramps for people with disabilities without compromising the historic designs.

The Burnham Hoyt Years 1955-1995

In October, 1956, the new Burnham F. Hoyt library opened, hailed by the Denver Post as "one of the world's most modern libraries," and adding a $3.3 million dollar asset to Denver's Civic Center. City Librarian John T. Eastlick explained "We have tried for a wide open effect, informal, flexible, a place where it will be pleasant to come and where we can expand or contract at will as future needs develop." The apparently five story building actually comprises seven floors, with two levels of underground stacks with room to accommodate 500,000 books. 

The building employed a "central core" concept, new at the time, of concentrating all of the mechanical and functional components in one place: that is, elevators, staff stairways, air shafts, electrical, plumbing, book elevator, and pneumatic tubes for the building's message system. Throughout the building, the librarian's desks were placed around this shaft, providing easy access to the central core.

The Rocky Mountain News reports that on the fourth floor, "the Western History Department, the Library's most famous facility, has a 'glamor' room featuring wood paneling and a large operating fireplace" and a temperature / humidity controlled vault for rare books. Ornamenting this room also, was the spectacular painting "Estes Park," by Albert Bierstadt. Scores of books published over the last 50 years credit Western History, and authors like Willa Cather and James Michener were familiar faces to Library staff. Here's more about the Western History Department.

In the months following the opening of the "ultra-modern" facility, Eastlick reported that new customer registration, circulation, and reference questions all doubled in usage, confirming that an un-cramped, convenient facility was what the public wanted.

The move into the new building, across Civic Center from the old Carnegie building was a notable event, with a conveyor belt system built for the job, including a bridge across 14th Avenue. The project of moving a half a million books and periodicals was a dawn-to-dusk task, lasting almost six weeks, and there were several delays and glitches which were important enough to have been reported in the paper. Most of the furniture and stacks from the old building were kept, and re-purposed for the new one.

A long held dream of City Librarian Dr. Malcolm G. Wyer, the new library took years of planning and arrangements. Architects Burnham Hoyt and Arthur and Alan Fisher were selected, and when Wyer retired in 1953, the new City Librarian John Eastlick took the reins and saw the project to completion. The auditorium in the basement of the new building was named for Wyer, who personally appointed Eastlick as his successor.

Part of the dedication of the new library was a display of books loaned from the Yale Library, the 1455 Gutenberg Bible, and the 1640 Bay Psalm Book, both rare and valuable artifacts that brought thousands of sightseers into the new building.

The new building was financed through a $2.5 million bond issue passed by Denver voters in May, 1947, and $818,000 from the City for the purchase of the location. In 1990, the Burnham-Hoyt building at 1357 Broadway was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which prevented the site from being "scraped" for the new Library, and compelled the architectural adaptation that characterizes the Michael Graves addition. 

The 40-year period between the opening of the Burnham Hoyt building and the 1995 Michael Graves building saw the Denver Public Library move from the "old world" of post-war America, to today's world of the Internet, digital capture, and information databases beyond the imagination of even the most visionary. The Library deepened and expanded its presence in Denver, opening many new branches and lending stations, always staying on the cutting edge of technology, even before the term "cutting edge" was coined.

Here is the Library's collection of Burnham Hoyt's Architectural Records.

The Michael Graves Years 1995 - 2000 and beyond

"I had always imagined paradise as a kind of library." Jorge Luis Borges

On March 25, 1995, the Denver Public Library re-opened in its spectacular new home, the Michael Graves addition to the Burnham Hoyt building, stepping into a world of modern and efficient "library heaven" as City Librarian Rick Ashton called it.

A 1990 bond issue for $91.6 million that was championed by Ashton and passed by an overwhelming majority of Denver voters paved the way for what has been called "one of the most remarkable civic buildings of our time." World renowned Architect Michael Graves, teamed with the Denver firm of Klipp Colussy Jenks DuBois, "created a signature building... a dynamic blend of formal and informal spaces, community rooms and quiet reading rooms, a playful Children's Pavilion and museum quality galleries." 

The Library's seven-story exterior is finished in limestone and pre-cast concrete with copper accents throughout. The interior is curly maple. In soft southwestern colors of buff, red, and green, the building materials "will weather well to give us that wonderful character we associate with the passage of time," says architect Graves. The 540,000 square foot building was constructed at a cost of $65 million, with the balance of the bond issue money going to renovations and new buildings for 22 branch libraries.

Points of special interest in the building are Schlessman Hall, the vast, open space revealed at first entry, with its murals by artist Edward Ruscha and polished limestone floor with its embedded ammonite and belemnite fossils, to the Level Five Gates Western History Reading Room with its central wooden tower and ever-changing art galleries. 

The Western History Department, early adopters of the new technology, spent the years 1995-2015 digitizing over 100,000 of its images and making them available online. The manuscript collections, formerly stored in dusty warehouses in often splitting cardboard boxes, have been carefully groomed and cataloged into a vast and well-organized, useful resource, utilizing the entire sixth floor of the building to do its crucial, behind-the-scenes work. Also, with the new building, the Western History Department joined forces with the Genealogy Department, capitalizing on the similarity of the two disciplines. Here is more about the Western History and Genealogy Department.   

The new building opened with 180 computers, which in 1995 was a bold investment in the future. In 2009-2010, renovations created dedicated spaces for public computers on the Fourth Floor, concentrating users to enable Library staff to more effectively assist them. These renovations also saw enlargements to the Level Five Mullen Manuscript room, enhancing security for rare items and making room for increased customer usage.

In 2015, the Library acquired the entire archives of the Rocky Mountain News, adding some 300,000 photographs to our Digital Collections, along with printed material that will take years to process. Here is more about The Rocky Mountain News at the Denver Public Library.

The Carnegie Branches
Ford-Warren Branch - E. 34th and High Street

The original Henry White Warren Library, E. 34th Ave and High St, was the first branch of the Denver Public Library system. It was financed through a grant from the Andrew Carnegie Corporation and was named for Bishop Warren (1831-1912), scholar, author, and nationally prominent churchman in the Methodist Episcopal Church. He founded the Gammon School of Theology in Atlanta, which has a long history of educating African Americans in the field of ministry; he was also the first Iliff Theological Seminary president here.

The Warren Branch opened in the summer of 1913, an Italianate, tile-roofed Fisher Brothers design, of buff brick and Indiana limestone. Denver artist Allen True did the interior decoration, including a six-by-eight foot mural in the adult reader's room, depicting a campfire scene with covered wagons and people singing.

After a renovation, the branch re-opened on July 6, 1975, and was renamed to include the first - and for many years the only - black woman doctor in Colorado. Dr. Justina L. Ford (1871-1952) began general practice in Denver in the early 1900s, and her work touched thousands of people of many origins and races. In 1950, she estimated that she had delivered more than 5,000 babies, an average of one every three days. After completing Hering Medical School, Chicago, Dr. Ford practiced briefly in Alabama, but decided to move to Denver where a Negro might play a fuller part in community life.

Overcoming the barriers of race and sex, she did the most practical thing: "I fought like a tiger against those things ... Folks make an appointment and I wait for them to come or go to see them, and whatever color they turn up, that's the color I take them," she told a Negro Digest reporter in 1950.

The opening of Ford-Warren Library after a renovation at 2825 High Street was an official Centennial-Bicentennial event in the city of Denver, and the building is specially dedicated to the citizens of the community. The branch underwent another renovation in 2012, funded by the Denver Better Bond program, passed by Denver voters.

Here is the Library's collection of Justina Ford Papers. Here is the Ford-Warren facebook page, and here are the location, hours and other information about the Ford-Warren Branch.

Decker Branch Library - 1500 South Logan Street

The Decker Branch was the second of the first four Carnegie branches, and opened in the summer of 1913, in its location at the northwest corner of Platte Park. Designed by architects Marean and Norton, the branch was renovated in 1993. From Denver Municipal Facts:

The Sarah Platt Decker Branch building in South Denver probably is a greater departure in library architecture than any of the others. Instead of being an oblong or square structure, it is an L-shaped building at the intersection of two streets. From the ends of the building, which front on two thoroughfares, there extends a low brick wall, which makes the entrance directly at the street corner. At this entrance are two ornamented vases in terra cotta, and around the wall are flower beds. The entrance walk crosses a grass court to the little English porch.

The building itself is of domestic English architecture and built of tapestry brick with twisted brick chimneys and a green tile roof. The structure shows to great advantage among the trees in Platt Park, where it is located. The old English design is carried out successfully in the library's interior. Overhead there is no ceiling except the timber roof and the heavy oak beams. The lighting fixtures are of beaten copper and all of the windows are of leaded glass. At the end of the children's room there is a great fireplace and chimney seats are built on each side of the fireplace. Over the mantle against the chimney is a large wall decoration by Dudley Carpenter of Denver. It is six by eight feet in size and shows the Pied Piper of Hamelin followed by a swarm of little children. Back of the delivery desk in this building is some good-looking oak paneling over which is another painting, twelve by fourteen feet in size. This shows King Arthur receiving his magic sword. A feature of the adults' reading room is the big bay window, which extends entirely across the end of the room. The window is of leaded glass and the chairs here are of the Windsor design.

Sarah Platt Decker was the founder and first president of the Denver Women's Club, and a leader in the Women's Suffrage movement. Born October 1, 1855, she moved to Denver in 1887, and her activism brought Colorado women the right to vote in 1893, only the second state to do so.

In 1894, she started the Colorado Women's Club, a daring move for that time. Under her direction they were responsible in Denver for free night classes for laborers (especially children), a free employment bureau, free medicine for poor and working mothers, playground supervision, books for the blind, Denver's first day nursery, the open-shelf system in public libraries, and free seed distribution for neighborhood gardens.

Decker was a forceful advocate in the establishment of Mesa Verde as a national park, and by 1904 was the national president of the nearly one million member Federation of Women's Clubs. In 1908, she was a delegate to Theodore Roosevelt's Governor's Conference on Conservation and Natural Resources.

When she died on July 7, 1912, Denver City and County offices closed at noon with flags at half-mast, and three Colorado governors were among her pallbearers. She was the first woman to be given the honor of lying in state at the capitol building, as requested by Governor John F. Shafroth. Decker was honored with a plaque at the League of Women Voters' headquarters in Washington, DC, as Colorado's "First Woman Citizen."

Here is the Decker Branch facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Decker Branch.

Smiley Branch Library - 4501 W. 46th Avenue

The Smiley Branch, built in 1918, was one of the original branch locations partially funded by the Carnegie Corporation, and is on the National Register for Historic Places. The $20,000 English cottage-style building (designed by Park French of Mountjoy, French & Frewen of Denver) was so successful in design that the Carnegie Corporation requested pictures and a description of the branch.

The branch was named after William H. Smiley, Denver school teacher and superintendent who moved to the city in the 1880s and was known as “The Grand Old Man of Education in Colorado.” In 1980, it became home to the Northwest Denver Toy Library, which was run solely by neighborhood volunteers and offers toys and games for checkout with a library card.

 The branch was designed by library officials with the idea in mind that it should be as “attractive as possible for the children of the neighborhood.” Its location in Berkeley Park was “intended for the special use of the large groups of children who play there daily, and who will skate there in the winter time.” (The Denver Times)

This information collected by Smiley Circulation Clerk, A. Francis.

Here's the Smiley facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Smiley Branch Library.   

Woodbury Branch - 3265 Federal Boulevard

The fourth of the Carnegie Branch libraries was the Woodbury Branch, in the Highlands Neighborhood of Denver. It was built in 1913, and was named for Roger Woodbury, who came to Denver in 1866 and was editor of the Denver Tribune and the Denver Times. The branch underwent a renovation in 1993. From Denver Municipal Facts:

J. B. Benedict was the architect of this building, which is a beautiful example of the Florentine type of architecture. It is constructed of very light-colored brick with a tile roof in reds and gun-metal colors. The arched windows and entrance are decorated with richly ornamented terra cotta. In front of the entrance there is a beautifully proportioned balustrade with flat vases and lighting standards. The furniture and the wood used in the interior is birch treated with a silver finish. The walls are of a light grayish-blue and the broad frieze at the top of the walls is in a stenciled design showing the lions of St. Mark's in yellow. The high ceiling is timbered and all of the beams are exposed. Lighting fixtures are of black wrought iron. There are fireplaces with reading benches in front of them in both of the reading rooms. There are no wall paintings in this building, but two beautiful pictures of three panels each, reproductions of the Tudor paintings in the House of Lords, were presented by Mrs. Benedict for wall decorations.

Here is the Woodbury Branch facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Woodbury Branch.

Dickinson Branch - 1550 Hooker Street

The Dickinson Branch was another Carnegie-funded Branch Library that opened in the summer of 1913 on the southwest corner of Hooker Street and Conejos Place. Designed by architect Maurice Biscoe, it was ornamented with Allen True murals and beautiful arched windows, and was much beloved in its community. The branch was named for Charles E. Dickinson, who lived in Colorado from 1880 to 1912. He was an investment banker, and one of the original members of the Library Commission. It was first called the "West Denver Branch," and was noted for its Hebrew and Yiddish collections.

After teenaged vandals burglarized and set fire to the Dickinson Branch and Lake Junior High in May of 1953, City Librarian John Eastlick weighed the cost of repairs combined with the diminishing use of the facility, and the branch was closed on March 1, 1954. In 2003, the building had been renovated and was on the market as a high-end loft residence.


Elyria Branch - 47th and High Streets

Another Carnegie library, the Elyria Branch, was built in 1920 in the Spanish style, with a red tile roof, a fireplace, and paintings by Albert Olsen. A mural of Don Quixote was one of the favorite features of this little library, and in the late 1930's, Elyria hosted a "Toy Library," from which children could check out their favorite doll house or fire truck. This branch was decommissioned in 1952, and is now a private residence.

Denver Municipal Facts reports:

The Elyria branch library cost but $16,000 complete and furnished. It was designed by H. J. Manning, the architect, and it measures 53x26 feet. It is a Spanish building with white cement laid over brick walls and the building has a tile roof similar to the Park Hill building. The brackets underneath the cornice and the exterior grill work are all in wrought iron as are the lanterns at the building's entrance. The door is paneled in Spanish tiles and the two large windows in the front wall are of leaded glass. The interior is open and attractive. There is no ceiling except the roof, which is faced with wood, and the heavy beams are exposed. In the children's end of the building there is an attractive fireplace in brick and tiles. In both of the end walls there are recessed spaces, which later will be filled with two decorative wall paintings now being done by Albert Olsen. The money for these two wall paintings was presented to the library by the Denver Union Stockyards Company. In the basement of the Elyria building there is an auditorium for public meetings.


Park Hill Branch - 4705 Montview Boulevard

The Park Hill Branch Library, one of the last two Carnegie branches, opened in 1920, and was remodeled in 1964. It was named for the neighborhood it serves.

From DMF: Jan-Feb 1921, p. 10

 The new Park Hill Branch Library Hill and Elyria, have just been completed and opened for public use. They are situated at Montview Boulevard and Dexter Street in Park Hill and at 47th Avenue and High Street in Elyria. Both of these new buildings were erected by Denver architects and with their completion, Denver now has eight specially erected branch library buildings in addition to the library quarters in the new Globeville community house and the two reading rooms in Valverde and at First Avenue and Broadway. The two new branch library buildings were erected with money presented to the City of Denver by the Carnegie Corporation.

 The Park Hill building was designed by M. H. and Burnham Hoyt of Denver and cost $26,000 complete and furnished. The building measures 64x32 feet and is built of rough troweled cement over brick. The rough exterior walls are buff in color. The cornice, trim and exterior decorations are in cast stone. The roof is of Spanish tiles and the entrance door is Spanish in design and red in color. The under cornice is stenciled in terra cotta and old blue and the lanterns that hang at the entrance door are of wrought iron. The interior walls are unique in Denver, as they are rough in finish and give a crinkled appearance. The entire interior is one open spacious room with the delivery desk in the center.

The book cases, which extend along the four walls, are sunk into the rough walls. The bookcases are unbroken since the heating ducts are sunk in the walls back of the books cases and the heat comes out at the top of the cases. All of the windows are of leaded glass and the ceiling is beamed. The lighting fixtures are quite unique in that they are of rough wrought iron brackets which hold the glass globes.

These lighting globes originally were electric battery jars and were made by cutting out the bottoms and inverting the jars. At the end of the adult reading room is an attractive bay window which is supplied with window seats for readers. Window seats also flank the fire place in the children's end of the building.

The fireplace is of cast stone and on the chimney breast is placed the stone plaque, the Ancient Mariner, which was modeled by Robert Garrison, the sculptor. In the basement at the Park Hill building is an auditorium which is provided with 165 folding chairs. The librarian's own private rooms and the work room are also in the basement.

In 1979, the Park Hill Branch started a toy and game library in the basement, which was a huge success. Linda Metcalf, Park Hill's children's librarian, said, "So many things need to be done before reading. Toys help children master the long list of developmental tasks that are reading prerequisites."

As usual, the whole community seemed to get involved. After a toy drive in December, 1978, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and honor students from Manual High School, scrubbed, refurbished, grouped and cataloged more than 300 toys." (Denver Post 10-22-79)

Here is the Park Hill Branch facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Park Hill Branch Library.

John "Thunderbird Man" Emhoolah, Jr. - 675 Santa Fe Drive

The John "Thunderbird Man" Emhoolah, Jr. Branch was one of the Carnegie Libraries, and opened in 1918 in the building designed by Varian & Varian Architects. It was originally named for William N. Byers, editor and founder of the Rocky Mountain News. The Byers Branch went through a $400,000 renovation in 1992.

In both 1952, and 2009, the Byers Branch was threatened with closures, but was rescued both times by community activism to save it.

In 2011, the mural in the library, depicting César Chávez, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Hernán Cortés and Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl, was restored by its original artist Carlota EspinoZa [sic]. It had not been cleaned since it was new, in 1975, when it was presented by the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation.

In 2021, Byers was renamed the Thunderbird Man Branch in honor of John Emhoolah Jr., an Indigenous activist who spent 50 years advocating for Indigenous students.

Here is the John "Thunderbird Man" Emhoolah, Jr. Branch facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the John "Thunderbird Man" Emhoolah, Jr.

Ross Branch Libraries

The four Ross branch libraries are Ross-Broadway, Ross-Barnum, Ross-University Hills, and Ross-Cherry Creek, funded by a $100,000 bequest from Denver real estate investor and Library Commissioner Frederick Ross. In all, Ross, who was appointed Library Commissioner in 1906 by Mayor Speer, donated a total of $350,000 to the Denver Public Library, surpassing even the Carnegie Grants.


Ross-Broadway Branch - Lincoln St & Bayaud Ave

The Ross-Broadway Branch, located at Lincoln Street and Bayaud Avenue, was dedicated on November 29, 1951, when City Librarian John Eastlick and Davis W. Moore of the Library Commission presented the new branch to Mayor Quigg Newton and the City of Denver. The $73,500 building was designed by Denver architect Victor Hornbein.

Here is the Ross-Broadway facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Ross-Broadway Branch.

Ross-Cherry Creek Branch - 305 Milwaukee Street

The Ross-Cherry Creek Branch of the Denver Public Library opened in 1962, and was designed by Reddy & Reddy Architects, who designed Stapleton Airport. According to Mary Voelz-Chandler, it was a "staid, modern grid and glass building, like a big sugar cube at the corner of East Third Avenue and Milwaukee Street." In 1993, Michael Brendle Architecture gave the building a radical make-over, introducing skylights, curves, color, angles, and ellipses to give the building a modern, lively, and engaging feel. 

The Ross-Cherry Creek Branch, with its jaunty colors and angles, fits right into the posh and fashionable neighborhood it serves, and is a beloved stop in the daily rounds of many Cherry Creek community residents.

Here is the Ross-Cherry Creek facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Ross-Cherry Creek Branch.

Ross-Barnum Branch - 3570 W. First Avenue

The original Barnum Branch of the Denver Public Library first set up shop in a firehouse. The Rocky Mountain News reports in February, 1919, that "through the courtesy of Dewey C. Bailey, Manager of Safety, the firehouse of Engine #20, located at Knox Court and West 6th Avenue has become a neighborhood center."

Organized by Librarian Florence Briber, the firemen themselves helped in setting up the shelves and shelving the books, and apparently the branch operated together with the working fire station, providing the firemen plenty of reading material in their down time, with the occasional fire alarm shattering the studious quiet of the stacks.

Funded by the Frederick Ross Grants, the Ross-Barnum branch opened in 1954, undergoing a renovation in 1973.

Here is the Ross-Barnum facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Ross-Barnum Branch.

Ross-University Hills Branch - 4310 E. Amherst Avenue

The Ross-University Hills Branch Library was dedicated on Sunday, June 3, 1962 by City Librarian John Eastlick, and was the third of the Ross Grant branches. Designed by Alfred Watts Grant and Associates, it is of red brick with green stone aggregate ornamentation, an open ground-floor plan, and basement meeting rooms that can accommodate 100 people. The first librarian to manage Ross-University Hills was Adeline V. Stauter.

Ross-University Hills underwent a makeover in 1995, directed by architect Michael Brendle, who also oversaw the 1993 Ross-Cherry Creek remodel.

Here is the Ross-University Hills facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Ross-University Hill Branch

Various Branches
Hampden Branch Library ~ 9755 East Girard Avenue

As early as April 1970, there was a groundswell of interest in having a library in far southeast Denver. With the development of Hampden Heights, land had been given to the city for a library in 1969.

The issue of building a library in far northeast Denver, replacing the Warren Library, and building a library in far southeast Denver for Hampden Heights, was on the ballot September 12, 1972. The issue passed.

Childress-Paulin Architects -Planners were selected as architects, and Albrecht Construction Company built the new branch. Ground breaking was on April 23, 1974.

The new Hampden Branch Library opened on July 9, 1975, with Miss Winifred Wortman as head librarian. There was a dedication ceremony with entertainment, and the library was open for business. During the first hour and a quarter, 597 items were checked out.

The branch has continued to be a busy activity center - with growing circulation figures and an active group of business users, as well as students, recreational readers, and researchers. In recent years, there has been a great increase in the number of books borrowed from other libraries throughout the city, and libraries throughout the country with the use of interlibrary loan. Much use also is made of the research materials of the Central Library. We have expanded from a library of books to a library of a variety of media. The advent of the computer has expanded our horizons a great deal; we will see even more advancements as we use more modern technology in our newly renovated building.

Funding for the renovation of the Hampden Branch Library, along with development of the entire Denver Public Library system, comes from the bond issue approved by Denver voters in 1990.

Here is the Hampden Branch facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Hampden Branch Library.

Athmar Park Branch Library - 1055 S. Tejon Street

The Athmar Park Branch of the Denver Public Library opened first in a storefront at 1060 South Raritan Street, on March 15, 1963. It occupied various buildings and spaces after that before moving into its current location, a renovated former Prince of Peace Church, in November 1994.

Here is the Athmar Branch facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Athmar Branch Library.

Bear Valley Branch - 5171 W. Dartmouth Avenue

In 1969, a capital improvements allocation of $330,000 was approved by the Denver City Council for the construction of a Denver Public Library branch in the Bear Valley area, to replace the heavily used Bear Valley Neighborhood Library that had been located in rented quarters at 3100 South Sheridan Boulevard in the Bear Valley Shopping Center since 1963. Before that, the area was served by a Library bookmobile at the shopping center one day a week.

Bear Valley was the first of the Library's "storefront libraries," a concept used many times in subsequent years. Its new, 1971 home, in its own dedicated building, was the twelfth of the Denver Public Library branches.

Designed by Anderson Barker Rinker Architects, the two-story, 10,550 square foot building features a rounded tower section containing a stairwell that wraps around the elevator. The finish is textured concrete, and there are large areas of bronze solar glass. It has a first floor courtyard, and a second floor deck area for outdoor reading. The interesting curves and shapes of the building impart a distinct "futuristic" feeling. Opening with 20,000 books, the first Bear Valley librarian was Peggy Boswell.

In 1998, Ted Hackworth, Councilman from District #2, donated computers and printers to Bear Valley and Hadley Branches, providing access to the fledgling Digital Collections of the Library's Western History Department. This was before our material was widely available on the Internet-proper, and these terminals were actually a "mini-internet" that dazzled users with thousands of keyword-searchable, enlarge-able historical photographs.

The Bear Valley Branch was dedicated on Thursday, August 26, 1971, with Mayor William H. McNichols, Edward Miller, Library Commission President, Henry G. Shearouse, City Librarian, the Architects, and other dignitaries in attendance.

Here is the Bear Valley Branch facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Bear Valley Branch.  

Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library - 2401 Welton Street

The $16 million Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library opened on April 26, 2003, bestowing a branch library, museum and research facility to the City of Denver and Denver's African-American Community. The Branch was named, at the suggestion of Mayor Wellington Webb and his wife Wilma, after two prominent activists, "for their courage as pioneers in promoting change in Denver, and for having the wisdom to face adversity with grace."

Omar Blair, the first black president of Denver Public Schools' Board of Education (from 1972 to 1984), and Elvin Caldwell, first black Denver City Council member (from 1955 to 1980), longtime friends, were unanimously approved because "Blair and Caldwell are prominent African-Americans who have given of their time and talents to bring about significant change in Denver and the West," according to Landri Taylor of the Library Commission.

Blair-Caldwell is much more than just an historical archive, with scholars in residence, exhibits, programs for children and adults, and oral history videos, all of which bring history alive for the branch's patrons. Ever-growing collections include materials from Wellington E. Webb, Elvin Caldwell, Hiawatha Davis, King Trimble, Arie Taylor, Edna Mosley, Ada Evans, Harold Jacobs, Omar Blair and John Mosely. 

Here is the Library's Omar Blair Manuscript Collection, and here is the Elvin Caldwell Manuscript Collection

Here is the Blair-Caldwell facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Blair-Caldwell Branch

Eugene Field Branch - 810 S. University Boulevard

The Eugene Field Branch, named after the American writer Eugene Field (September 2, 1850 – November 4, 1895), at East Ohio Avenue and South University Boulevard, was dedicated on March 15, 1970, and has been an important hub of activity for the University Park and Bonnie Brae neighborhoods ever since. It was one of the first branch libraries to provide film and record loan as well as fine art rental. 

For the 40 years prior to its debut on University Boulevard, the Eugene Field Branch had existed in Eugene Field's actual house, a house that had been moved from its original location at 315 West Colfax Avenue to its current location in Washington Park at Franklin and Exposition. Purchased for $300 in 1925 by Denver's own Molly Brown, it began as the Eugene Field museum, until Brown donated it to the City and it was moved, in 1930. Today the house is occupied by The Park People, and is kept in pristine condition. 

Field lived in the cottage for only a short period, between the years of 1881 and 1883, while he was managing editor of the Denver Tribune.

The Boston Evening Transcript on June 21, 1930, was one of many papers quoting Mrs. Brown "of Denver and Paris" in her response to questions about her purchase of the house. "Gene Field never failed me. The first money I ever earned was when miners rolled silver dollars down the aisle when I recited  Field's poems in Leadville. I recited his poems before 2,000 people in the Waldorf-Astoria in New York when I came up from the Titanic disaster."

One of Field's most beloved poems, "Wynken, Blynken, and Nod" is commemorated by Mabel Landrum Torrey's 1918 statue, which is in Washington Park near the Field house. 

The Field Branch was designed by Denver architect Oluf N. Nielsen, under City Librarian Henry G. Shearouse, and underwent a major renovation in 1993-1994, guided by input from the public and Library staff.

Here is the Library's Eugene Field Manuscript Collection. Here is the Eugene Field Branch facebook page, and here are the location, hours, and other information about the Eugene Field Branch

Green Valley Ranch Branch - 4856 N. Andes Court

The $11.4 million Green Valley Ranch branch opened on March 12, 2011, with 26,000 square feet, a lounge and fireplace, 50 public computers and more than 100,000 materials. The aerodynamic roof form, an actual airline cockpit, and aircraft themed furniture all echo the nearby Denver International Airport. Funds for this branch came from the Denver Better Bond Program, passed by Denver voters in 2007.

Here is the Green Valley Ranch Branch facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Green Valley Ranch Branch.

Chalmers Hadley Branch Library - 1890 S. Grove Street

This branch was dedicated on June 7, 1964, by Mayor Thomas G. Currigan, and was renovated in 1994. The branch was named for Chalmers Hadley, who headed the Denver Public Library for 14 years between 1910 and 1924.

Here is the Library's collection of Chalmers Hadley's Papers. Here is the Hadley Branch facebook page, and here are the location, hours, and other information about the Hadley Branch Library.

Montbello Branch - 12955 Albrook Drive

The Montbello Branch was built in 1975 for $500,000 underwent a million dollar renovation in 1993. Originally funded by the Library Bond Issue of 1972, it was the first of the renovations funded by the 1990 Bond Issue. Designed by Childress / Paulin Architects, the 12,000 square foot branch library includes bubble windows, a "reading tower," a continuous skylight running the length of the building, and a furnished outdoor reading courtyard.

Here is the Montbello Branch facebook page. Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Montbello Branch.

Pauline Robinson Branch - 5575 E. 33rd Avenue

At the February 20, 1995 dedication of the library branch named after her, Pauline Robinson said, "Of all the honors, the truest satisfaction that I've received throughout my career has been encouraging young people to continue their education and to prepare for their lifelong goals." 

Robinson was one of the first African-Americans to graduate from the University of Denver's library school, and became the Denver Public Library's first African-American librarian. She retired in 1979 as Coordinator of Children's Services. 

Here is the Pauline Robinson Branch facebook page.  Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Pauline Robinson Branch.

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Branch - 1498 N. Irving Street

Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzáles (June 18, 1928 – April 12, 2005) was a Mexican American boxer, poet, and political activist, who was born in Denver, Colorado, and has a Denver Public Library Branch named after him, that opened in 2015. 

When he graduated from Manual High School in 1944, he had earned the nickname "Corky" because according to his uncle, "he was always popping off like a cork." In his poem "Yo Soy Joaquin," he glorified the ideas of the "Chicano," "Atzlan," and "La Raza," planting the seeds of the new identity movement developing in the Latin-American community. According to Democracy Now!, Gonzáles was "The Fist" of the Chicano movement.

Gonzáles led protests across Denver during the turbulent civil rights movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. But the honor of naming the branch goes to him not for his political activities, according to Victoria Gonzalez, spokeswoman for El Museo, but for his poem "I Am Joaquin," that inspired a literary genre that is taught in universities across the nation. He also opened Escuela Tlatelolco, a charter school his daughter, Nita Gonzáles, continues to operate today.

Here is the Library's Corky Gonzá​les' Manuscript Collection. Here is the Corky Gonzáles Branch facebook page, and here are the location, hours, and other information about the Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzáles Branch.

Sam Gary Branch Library - 2961 Roslyn Street

Funded by Better Denver Bonds passed by Denver voters in 2007, the Sam Gary branch opened to serve the communities in the newly redeveloped Stapleton area. City Librarian Shirley Amore dedicated the new branch on August 11, 2012, presenting the 28,000 square foot facility to the new community.

The branch's namesake, Sam Gary, was instrumental in the redevelopment of the Stapleton area after the airport closed, and created the Stapleton Redevelopment Foundation. For his activism, he was dubbed by the Front Porch newspaper as "the key community member in Denver who brought the new-urbanism planning concept to the redevelopment of the old Stapleton Airport."

Designed by Denver's Oz Architecture, the $12 million facility blends a nouveau-traditional feel with varied elevations and abundant windows, giving it a strong indoor-outdoor ambience. The branch offers the latest in library technology, including customer self-checkout stations, e-books, public computers, Wi-Fi accessibility and Radio Frequency Identification for library materials.

Here is the Sam Gary Branch facebook page.  Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Sam Gary Branch.

Schlessman Family Branch - 100 Poplar Street

The Schlessman Family Branch library opened on March 9, 2002, a 15,000 square foot, modern facility, replacing the Montclair Branch Library, which closed on January 26 of the same year. This new, modest sized branch is second only in popularity and usage to the Central Library, and its hi-tech collections and facility are heavily used by community members of all ages.

The 14,850 square foot building cost $3.2 million dollars, and was designed by architect Michael Brendle, FAIA, and was designed to be a "bridge" between the adjacent historic neighborhoods and the aviation history of the former Lowry Air Force Base. Brendle was the architect who directed the 1993 remodel of the Ross-Cherry Creek Branch and the University Hills Branch in 1995.

The branch was named for the Schlessman Family,  who donated a million dollars for the project, which was combined with bond issue money and funds from the Ross Trust.

Here is the Schlessman Family Branch facebook page.  Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Schlessman Family Branch.

Valdez-Perry Branch - 4690 Vine Street

Named after Bernard Valdez and John Perry. Valdez was manager of Denver's Department of Social Services from 1963 to 1979, and President of the Denver School Board during the same years, and Perry's grandchildren donated the land where his grocery store had been built in 1910. The Branch was opened in 1996, part of the 1990 bond issue. It was later renovated and re-opened in May, 2012.

Here is the Library's Bernard Valdez Manuscript Collection. Here is the Valdez-Perry Branch facebook page, and here are the location, hours, and other information about the Valdez-Perry Branch.

Virginia Village Branch - 1500 S. Dahlia Street

The Virginia Village Branch, occupying storefronts for the first part of its existence, moved into its new building at Florida and Dahlia Streets in 1994. The branch began as a bookmobile stop in 1973, moving into a storefront at Florida and Holly about 1986.

Public involvement in the design process of the new building was robust, and architects Barker-Rinker-Seacat & Partners created an 11,500 square foot building that provides library services combined with a community gathering center that is sensitive to the surrounding residential character.

The branch includes a whimsical "book serpent" with shelves and niches for kids to sit in and places to walk through. Including a tree-canopied courtyard and a parklike setting, the building was built by J. G. Tamminga Construction Company, who built various projects for the City of Denver for over 80 years.

Here is the Virginia Village Branch facebook page.  Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Virginia Village Branch.

Westwood Branch - 1000 S. Lowell Boulevard

The Westwood Neighborhood of Denver began as a 760 acre investment by none other than the great P.T. Barnum, the famed circus impresario, purchased in 1882. He paid $10,000 for the land, and offered "lots and parcels for homes, gardens, and manufacturing at $15 to $112 each." Barnum had originally bought the land as "an anchorage for the show between voyages," but later decided it would make more money as development land.   

In 1922, new land owners carved a section from the Barnum Neighborhood, creating Westwood. They opened up 6,000 lots for as little as $104 a pair, for fifty cents down and fifty cents a week, and people poured in, living at first in tents or shacks until they could establish a toehold.

The city was incorporated in 1944, but legal wrangling delayed the annexation to the City of Denver was delayed until April 28, 1947. The opening of the Denver Ordinance Plant (now the Federal Center) brought in flocks of workers who took advantage of the cheap prices and total absence of building ordinances. Westwood has grown steadily to this day.

The community center at 1000 South Lowell Boulevard has been serving the community since the late 1950's, assisted and guided by the South West Improvement Council, and when the Denver Public Library bond money allowed for branches in underserved areas, Westwood benefited with its new branch library.

1976 was the first year of operation for the Westwood Branch.  It opened on February 9, 1976 in rented space in the Southwest Community Center Complex.  The library was open only twenty hours per week because of a shortage of funds. It began with one Library Assistant, Michael Morse.

The Westwood Branch closed in November 2004 for renovations of the Westwood Community Center, which took several years, and both reopened in February 2008. The library hours were Monday through Friday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. In 2014, Saturday hours of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. were added as well.

The Westwood Community Center was originally built as the Southwest Denver Community Center by Grace Methodist Church in 1957 on land donated by and purchased from Westwood residents. In 1974, the complex was sold to the City and County of Denver and leased back to Southwest Denver Community Center Board.

In 1992, the SouthWest Improvement Council (SWIC) began operating the facility at 1000 South Lowell Boulevard and changed the name of the complex to the Westwood Community Center, under a leasehold agreement with the City and County of Denver. 

Here is the Westwood Branch facebook page.  Here are the location, hours, and other information about the Westwood Branch.

Denver Public Library Timeline

Denver Public Library Timeline

1878 - Cheesman and Todd combine collections of some 1,000 books, labeled "Denver Public Library"

1882 - Collections moved to 19th and Stout Streets

1889 - John Cotton Dana made librarian and secretary of school board of District 1

1889 - Name "Denver Public Library" made official, collection still at East High

1894 - Children’s Library – First in the country

1897 - Dana leaves, John Parsons made Librarian until consolidation

1899 - Consolidation of City Library and Mercantile libraries

1902 - Library acquires La Veta Place Terraces to house collections

1902 - $200,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie for new building 

1906 - Groundbreaking for Carnegie Library - Frederick R. Ross appointed to the Library Commission

1907 - April 1 - Cornerstone laid

1910 - Carnegie Library opens 

1911 - Chalmers Hadley is City Librarian (February 1, 1911 until 1924)

1912 - Valverde branch in Old Town Hall

1913 - Roger W. Woodbury, Sarah Platt Decker, Charles Dickinson, and the Henry White Warren Branches open

1914 - Valverde Branch opens in firehouse wing until 1928

1918 - The Smiley Branch Library opens, funded by another Carnegie Grant; Byers Branch Opens

1918 - Barnum Branch opens in Engine #20 Firehouse

1920 - Park Hill Branch opens

1925 -  Malcolm Glenn Wyer becomes City Librarian [September '25 until 1951]

1930 – Founded Adult Education Council

1934 – Bibliographical Center For Research - first of its kind, prototype of ILL

1935 – Western History Department founded

1951- Ross-Broadway Branch Opens

1953 - John T. Eastlick appointed City Librarian

1954 - Ross-Barnum Branch Opens / Dickinson Branch decommissioned

1956 - Burnham Hoyt Central Library opens

1962 - Ross-University Hills and Ross-Cherry Creek Branches open

1963 - Bear Valley Branch opens

1964 - Hadley Branch opens

1968 - Dahlia Branch opens

1969 - Henry Grady Shearouse Jr. becomes seventh City Librarian (until March 1984)

1970 - Eugene Field Branch opens on University

1971 - Bear Valley re-model opens

1972 - Ford-Warren Branch opens

1975 - Hampden Branch Library opens

1975 - Ford-Warren Branch Library opens

1976 - Westwood Branch opens

1985 - Rick Ashton becomes the eighth City Librarian; CARL catalog is implemented

1990 - Bond issue passed by City of Denver for $91.6 million

1993 - Ross-Cherry Hills remodeled

1994 - Athmar Park Branch Library opens in its permanent location

1994 - Virginia Village Branch Library opens

1995 - Michael Graves Central Library Opens; Ross-University Hills remodeled

1996 - The Library offers internet access to its customers

1996 - Valdez-Perry Branch Library opens

1996 - Pauline Robinson Branch Library opens

1997 - The Library hosts the Denver Summit of the Eight world economic conference

1998 - The first Booklover's Ball

2002 - Montclair Branch closes; Schlessman Branch opens, El Centro program begins

2003 - Blair-Caldwell Branch opens

2006 - Rick Ashton retires, Shirley Amore becomes ninth City Librarian June 19

2015 - Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzáles Branch opens; Central Library hires a Social Worker

2015 - Shirley Amore retires, Michelle Jeske becomes tenth City Librarian