Happy 100th Birthday to the Southeast Library

Celebrate All This Week

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DCPL Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan stands outside the Southeast Neighborhood Library, May, 2019. The library is slated for renovation beginning in 2021. “People who use the Southeast library are very committed to it. They have a sense of ownership,” he said.

On December 8, the Southeast Library (703 Seventh St. SE) officially turned 100 years old.

The library has a variety of events planned for community members of all ages to celebrate the rich history and the exciting upcoming modernization of the space in 2023.

Kids browse at the Southeast Library in this 2017 file photo.

The Library’s Significance

The Southeast Library opened on Dec. 8, 1922. It was the third library and the second neighborhood library built by Carnegie in DC.

Southeast Library cost $67,000 (about $1.2 million today) to build. It was a gift of the Carnegie family, which built four libraries total in the District: Southeast, Mt. Vernon (1903), Takoma Park (1911) and Mount Pleasant (1925). That kind of money wouldn’t get us close to a new library today; the modernization slated to begin next year is budgeted at $23 million.

Noted library architect Edward Tilton designed the library in the neoclassical style specifically for its irregular triangle-shaped plot.  The original main floor layout included the book room, librarian’s office, reference room and two large reading rooms, one for adults and one for children. The fireplace in the children’s room featured tiles with scenes from Chauncer’s Canterbury Tales. A mezzanine level provided additional workspace for patrons and staff connected to the main floor by a central stairway, removed in 1928.

The library was renovated in 1982 and restored in 2007, when which walls were removed, wood was refurbished and the ceiling was updated. According to the 2018 historic nomination for the building, most of the historic details seem to have been retained.

Southeast Neighborhood Library Manager Julia Strusienski at the circulation desk in the main reading room, 2019. E.O’Gorek/CCN. FIle

Small but Mighty

It is one of the smallest libraries in the system, taking up most of the 6,431 square foot lot. Julia Strusienski, branch manager of Southeast Library, said that despite its small size, the library is important to the community. Residents are using the spaces and resources available to their full potential, she added. 

“Its size does not does not get in the way,” Strusienski said. “Every every single square inch is used and maximized by the staff, but also by the community. It communicates their connection to the branch in that they are so eager to put it to such maximal use.”

Strusienski said she is excited about the programming available — the celebration of the library’s 100th birthday, but also the general offerings each week.

A cutaway shows the planned expansion into public space and the central skylight. The new universal entrance planned off South Carolina Avenue is located behind the berm, lower left. DCPL: Whiting-Turner Construction/Quinn Evans Architects *click to enlarge*

The New Space

DC Public Library hopes to begin construction on the modernization and expansion of the Southeast Library in the summer of 2023.

Jaspreet Pahwa, Director of Capital Planning and Construction for DC Public Library, echoed Strusienski’s comments about the importance of the library to the community and said the renovations will allow the library to serve more neighbors.

“They used to give lottery tickets, almost, for story time,” Pahwa said. “It’s a very popular destination.”

Pahwa said the community has been involved with the process asking questions and providing feedback about the proposed project.

“People in DC are very smart,” Pahwa said. “They’re very engaged, which is a great thing for us as a civic entity, because we know that what we do matters.”

DCPL says they hope to open the doors to the renovated space in 2025.

Celebrations are already underway! Credit: Julia Struienski

Join in the Celebrations

Local author, Hill Rag columnist and member of the Friends of Southeast Library (FOSEL) Mike Canning kicked off the celebrations with a Thursday evening discussion. Canning discussed the his book Hollywood on the Potomac: How the Movies View Washington, D.C. and how it came to be published with FOSEL’s support.

The celebrations continue all weekend long with a family-friendly 100th birthday story time on Saturday Dec. 10 from 10:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., a family wishing tree installation and a mask and instrument making party from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

On Saturday afternoon, the library will host a fairy tale masquerade procession at the D Street entrance to the library with LED candles and noisemakers. After the parade, the library invites all participants to enjoy birthday cupcakes at the branch.

Throughout the weekend from Dec. 8 to 10, community members can also participate in the “100 Words” event and write on provided cards, in under 100 words, what the Southeast library means to them.

The Southeast library is open Monday through Wednesday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Thursday 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., Friday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. You can view a full list of the library’s events here.

Sarah Payne is a general assignment reporter for Capital Community News. She can be reached at sarahp@hillrag.com.