‘Our library is whole again’

‘Our library is whole again’

Willow Branch Library re-opens

More than 18 months after water intrusion repair work began, and more than a year after it was temporarily closed, the Willow Branch Public Library at 2875 Park St. was re-opened – in better condition than ever.

A crowd of more than 200 neighbors and library supporters attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 14. Remarks were made on the front steps of the library by historian Wayne Wood, Jacksonville Public Library Director Barbara Gubbin, District 14 Councilman Jim Love, Board of the Library Trustees member Sybil Ansbacher and Friends of Willowbranch Library President Roxanne Henkle.

WBGO_04Wood spoke about the history of the Willow Branch parcel and the Mediterranean Revival Style building, designed by prominent architect Bernard W. Close and built in 1930. Close also built the San Marco Library in 1949, a modern style in contrast to Willow Branch.

“Willow Branch is probably the last great building built in that style,” said Wood. “It stands as a testimony to the splendor of libraries and is inviting by its façade.”

Wood noted that the decorative band at the top of the building was done through a technique called sgraffito, Italian for “little scratch.”

“An itinerant Italian artist did this one, I’m told,” he said. The technique is produced by applying layers of plaster tinted in contrasting colors and then by scratching the design into the plaster.

Gubbin thanked the Riverside Avondale community for supporting the library, and for being patient with what the city thought would be a short process to deal with the water penetration.

WBGO_03“A lot of people rose to the occasion to make the water penetration issue one to be taken care of for another 85 years and for making the library look like it does today,” she said. “We think you’ll be glad to see all the work that has been done.”

“Libraries are so important to the community, particularly one you can walk to,” said Love in his remarks. “I think you’re going to enjoy this library for another 85 years or longer. It was tax dollars well spent. It’s an important asset for the community and it’s one of the most beautiful in all of Jacksonville.”

One of the library’s first patrons when it opened in 1930 was at the ceremony. Jordan Ansbacher lived on Avondale Avenue and attended West Riverside Elementary school.

“My brother-in-law, Jordan Ansbacher, was a really young fellow when this library first opened and he and my late husband, Lewis “Lukie,” and their brother Robert were brought here by their father,” said Sybil Ansbacher, whose late husband’s rare and extensive map collection was donated to the Jacksonville Public Library and is housed in the Main Library.

WBGO_05Before Sybil Ansbacher cut the ribbon, opening the library to its loyal patrons, Henkle shared a few words, too.

“Willow Branch is once again open to all and restored to its full potential. We’re excited to have the community room dedicated for adult programs, book clubs and entertainment events. Our children’s library is open to the children of the community,” Henkle said. “Our library is whole again. We have thousands of new materials in the collection now. I’m sure you will all be coming by to check something out for the next 85 years.”

WBGO_01The front doors were opened for the special occasion only and patrons streamed in to see the restored historic reading room, to check out the Children’s Library and the new community room, and to enjoy cake and other snacks. Music was provided by strolling violinist Beverly Chapman and folk musician Al Poindexter, and children enjoyed face painting, balloon sculptures and other entertainment.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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