AKA: Seattle Public Library, University Branch, Seattle, WA; Seattle Public Library, University District, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - social and civic buildings - libraries

Designers: Biwell Construction, Incorporated (firm); Hoshide Williams Architecture (firm); Somervell and Cote, Architects (firm); Winston Albert Cordes (architect); Joseph Simon Cote (architect); Robert Isamu Hoshide (architect); Woodruff Marbury Somervell (architect); Michael Wagner (building contractor); Steven Wagner (building contractor); Jack Williams (architect)

Dates: constructed 1909-1910

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5009 Roosevelt Way NE
University District, Seattle, WA 98105-3610

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Building History

Pittsburgh steel millionaire Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) donated money to cities across the United States for the construction of libraries provided that the municipalities commit funds for land acquisition and maintenance of the new buildings. As part of the bargain, Watson and Cornelia Allen gave the land on which the University District Branch was built in 1908, and, in turn, Carnegie's foundation provided $105,000 for the erection of three branch libraries in Seattle, WA, the University Branch being one of them. A large competition involving 33 architects was staged to decide who would design the three branches. The Seattle firm of Somervell and Cote won this competition; in order to save the city money, the firm designed three libraries--University District, Green Lake and West Seattle--with distinctive exteriors but identical plans. The University Branch began operations on 08/06/1910, according to the Seattle Public Library itself, although some sources have indicated its opening on the previous day.

Previous University District Seattle Public Library locations included spaces set aside in the University Pharmacy (opened March 1906) and in the University Methodist Episcopal Church (opened in late 1906).

Building Notes

In 1908, the Seattle Times reported about the three branch libraries being designed by Somervell and Coté: "The public library board yesterday afternoon considered the question of materials to be used in the construction of the three new branch libraries, designs for which have been drawn by Somervell & Coté. It practically has been agreed to erect one building of terra cotta title, with a stucco surface, and the other two of either stone or brick. The designs of each instance will be altered to some extent to give a variety." (See "Variety Suggested in Branch Buildings," Seattle Times, 09/10/1908, p. 7 ) The Green Lake and University District branches had stucco exteriors, while the West Seattle building was clad in brick.

The SPL University Branch was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


The library was closed on 12/02/2006 for renovations paid for by the $196.4 million "Libraries for All" Bond Issue passed in 1998. The renovation included an upgraded ventilation system, computer enhancements, and expansion of the book collections. Alterations would provide a total of 8,140-square-feet of space in the University Branch. Work was scheduled to be completed during the second half of 2007; official reopening occurred on Saturday, 10/13/2007. Hoshide Williams Architects supervised the renovation and Biwell Construction Incorporated served as Building Contractor.

PCAD id: 7272