Lake City Library
12501 28th Ave. NE
The Lake City Library
In 1935, a small group of philanthropic-minded Lake City women organized the community’s first public library under the sponsorship of the local Pacific Improvement Club. The small library collection was in the basement of the old Lake City School which was located on the site of the present library building and open one day a week. In 1949, King County established a public library in a firehouse on 30th Avenue NE (Station No. 39). In 1955, the library was moved to a temporary space in the new Shoreline Savings and Loan on 28th Street Northeast.
A $5 million library bond issue passed in 1956 to fund a new downtown Central Library, three additional new branch libraries, and purchase a library site in Lake City. Grassroots community support was essential in the development of the present library in a November 1965. and may have been of particular interest to the mayor, Dorm Braman, a former businessman in Lake City.
After its opening, the library design was recognized at local and national levels with design awards from the Seattle chapter and national American Institute of Architects. It was honored by an architectural award of excellence, given by the American Library Association in 1966.
The Architect, John M. Morse
John M. (Jack) Morse designed many well recognized public and educational buildings in the Seattle area and could be characterized as a structural rationalist devoted to clarity in architectural expression.
He was educated at Harvard University and worked for the Boeing Company in its Engineering Department from 1943 –1944. After working as a designer for the architecture firm of Chiarelli and Kirk, he formed his own architectural firm in 1945. In 1947 he created the firm of Bassetti and Morse with Fred Bassetti. Their practice was devoted largely to residential design and were recognized nationally with three design awards for residences by 1952. The firm’s work expanded beyond the residential market.
Morse was an active participant in the AIA and during his career and an articulate proponent of urban design and civic initiatives in urban planning. The commission for designing the new Lake City Library was given to Morse in the early 1960s after ending his partnership with Fred Bassetti. His reputation as a Modern designer was established by that time by previous work.
A view of the public buildings designed by John Morse suggest their solidity, functionality and simplicity. They appear as background buildings and, in some specific cases such as the Lake City Library, materials and structural details provide an expressive and tectonic character. The modesty of many of his designs was intended as noted in remarks by the 1968 National AIA Jury on which Morse served, “Some buildings should stand out, but they should be public buildings which serve our highest needs.” Jack Morse was awarded a Seattle AIA Chapter Medal in 1966 for the design of the Lake City Library.
The design for the library was unusual because of its response to the site and the resulting introverted building layout. John Morse created a clear relationship between the building’s interior and a landscaped exterior setting using enclosed courtyards. He selected brick as the primary exterior material because of its enduring appearance and structural bearing quality. The unusual brick bearing walls are made by simultaneously laid-up interior and exterior brick walls, with the interior cavity then filled by reinforced concrete. The primacy of the brick walls is emphasized by the radius treatment of the outer building corners, the band of soldier courses that mark the first floor, the cap, and the arched window and entry door openings.
While the plan basically consisted of rectangular forms that made up a “T’ shape, the outer corners of the perimeter walls and the back courtyard wall were shaped with a 5’ radius. The curves further emphasized the monolithic horizontal plane of the exterior walls, and the plasticity of interior space. This radius shape of the walls is reflected inside the library with the long, curvilinear circulation desk.
The main entry to the library is provided through bronze gates and the east courtyard. The entry arch is protected by a pair of iron gates. These gates were the first ones created by George Tsutakawa after touring Europe where he was impressed by the many historic gates. Within the main doors there is a vestibule with a pair of wood-framed glazed doors set into an aluminum storefront frame with sidelights. This sequence naturally results in an inward orientation providing the library patron an experience of separation from the exterior public realm and arriving within the serene interior.
The building’s roof structure, consisting of 80’ long trusses, resulted in a completely open space and flat ceilings. The interior ceiling plan reflects the roof form with a grid of lighting panels set within the same area.