The Coral Gables Branch Library celebrated its 50th anniversary on Mar. 23.
The library’s original foundation and construction pre-dates 1927, when the Coral Gables Woman’s Club established a book lending program and reading room for the newly founded City Beautiful. The city’s founder, George Merrick, had included a library in his original city plans and allowed the Woman’s Club to establish one in the Cathedral Room of La Puerta Del Sol, one of the city’s historic gates.
Members of the Woman’s Club Charter at the library’s inception included the founder’s mother, Althea, and wife, Eunice, and close family and friends such as Mrs. H. George Fink, Mrs. Frederick Wardlaw and Mrs. Don Peabody. Merrick and his family provided the initial furniture to begin the development of the library, and other club members focused on securing book donations, many of which were acquired by requesting copies from authors around the world. Other donation sources included over 100 books from the private library of William Jennings Bryan, a prominent Florida real estate advocate and Merrick’s confidant.
The library exploded in both popularity and the number of books available, causing a drastic demand for space. During the Great Depression, the National Works Projects Administration, a national initiative to aid state and local governments with public works construction, developed the first community library building in 1937, as one of 17 projects approved for the city at the time.
This building also housed the Woman’s Club, which continued to operate the library until the city assumed management of it in 1953.
In 1966, under the city’s management, the city commission inserted the library into the Miami-Dade County Public Library system. This arrangement enabled Coral Gables to retain ownership of the land and property within, but outsource the management, staffing, and service model to Miami-Dade.
To manage the library’s relationship with the broader management body, a Library Advisory Board was formed to act as liaison between the City of Coral Gables and Miami-Dade County, consulting in areas such as operation and maintenance of the library itself and its catalogue, preservation of the library’s historical resources, and coordinating special events. As a result, Coral Gables residents receive many benefits from the larger system’s infrastructure and the library remains open to the public, operating at the highest possible standards.
By the late 1960s, the library’s catalogue had grown to 51,000 books, again triggering a demand for more space for both storage and occupancy. Many Coral Gables constituents had made clear they wanted a new, dedicated building for a modern library. To this purpose, the City of Coral Gables purchased new land located today at University Drive and Segovia Street.
The building was completed on Mar. 23, 1969 and stands strong to this day, 50 years later, although much has changed about it over the years.
The original building was of a contemporary 1960s Mediterranean style, including keystone from the Florida Keys, red clay roof tiles, Spanish clay floor tiles, wrought iron light fixtures, and Honduran mahogany doors. The main reading room has 15-foot ceilings with exposed wood beams and the Margaret M. Beaton meeting room houses a large and colorful mural, consisting of ceramic glazed tiles of local landmarks and native flora and fauna, created by artist Katherine French Pancoast in 1970.
The library’s grounds include walkways, gardens, exhibits, and commemorative benches between the two public entrances to the building, and include a tropical butterfly garden and fountains at each end of the branching path.
In 2000, a substantial renovation of the gardens was implemented with the generous financial and technical assistance of the Coral Gables Garden Club. The club was particularly instrumental in the development of the butterfly area on the grounds and continues to be involved in its support and maintenance to this day. In 2001, the Butterfly Garden was completed and dedicated, along with a beautiful butterfly sculpture commemorating the fruitful partnership between the City of Coral Gables and the Garden Club that can be found in the library’s main lobby.
Today, the Coral Gables Public Library remains a monument to the city’s rich history, elegance, and beauty as well as a shining example of properly administered public work. It is an invaluable resource to the community, where residents and visitors can socialize, read, study, work, and access the internet for free.
Every day, patrons participate in a variety of special programs and events, including the early literacy initiative Reading Ready Storytimes, various book clubs, game clubs, educational workshops, and public services like a monthly driver’s license mobile service.