Local History

The Oakland Public Library's Renovation


Residents of Oakland are all too familiar with the saga of the renovations at the Oakland Public Library. Beginning in 1999, when the residents of Oakland showed their support by overwhelmingly passing a referendum approving the renovation and expansion of their municipal library, it was especially disappointing when mid-way through the project the original contractor broke his contractual obligation and left the project incomplete. Years passed as litigation dragged on, and many believed that the original library, which was scheduled to have a full renovation, might never open again. But all the while the Borough of Oakland and Library Board of Trustees worked diligently to get the project back on track and now, finally, we are re-opening the original library building after almost 20 years.


Old Ponds Church

Originally constructed in 1936 as the Municipal Building, the design replicated the 1829 Old Ponds Reformed Church. The buildings structure is unique. It is made of stone with thick outside walls and some red sandstone corner blocks that date back to 1740. The weather vane on top of the Oakland library once signaled the wind direction from atop the octagonal steeple of the 1829 church. A mural by Giogi Manuilov, located at the West end of the building, is a WPA project from the 1930’s. In 1962 the library was moved from a room above the fire house to the Ponds Memorial Building, which became the Oakland Public Library. The whole collection, at the time, was housed on the main floor. The Children's Department got their own quarters in 1971. The downstairs was remodeled and the community room, bowling alley and the civil defense headquarters was made into a children's library. Shortly after more room was needed for the adult collection and a third level, the balcony, was added above the main floor in 1976.*


The old Yawpo Fire House, once home of the Oakland Public Library

Around 2001 work began on the "new" library building, which included a new children's department, circulation area, and downstairs area intended for use as a meeting room. While some work was completed,  the project stalled and then stopped, and for almost a decade the library has been half-finished. We're now finally at the point where the residents of Oakland will get what they deserve - a modern, fully functional public library. But not too modern, of course. The renovated Oakland Library building, with its cathedral ceiling and high decorative arches, embraces the original architecture of the building while incorporating modern design elements. The historic Beam Room, once the site of marriage ceremonies in Oakland, retains its charm. The old office area, which one housed a book drive-through, has been converted into a AV room, housing the library's movie and music collections, as well as our PC lab. The main area contains all the adult services collections that have been in the basement all the while, displayed on new attractive shelving. Care has been taken to provide plenty of areas for people to simply enjoy the space. The room is open, bright, and attractive.

The original library will open on February 1st, with the photography exhibit of “The Highlands of New Jersey: an iron age in small scale” by Nance De Vries. “After Hours at the Library” presents “W.E.B. Du Bois: A Man for All Times” on Friday February 2 at 7:00 PM, to be performed by Pulse Ensemble Theater of NYC, on stage, under the arch in the renovated library.

The library will soon move onto Phase 2 of the project, and we hope to have our “Grand Opening” for the entire building in the spring of this year. We’ll keep you posted!


* Source: Potash, ALexander; Oakland Over the Years 1902-1988.

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