BY NORMAN ROZEFF
A major change occurred in early 1928 with the completion of the Women’s Clubs Building (It is also frequently referred to as the Woman’s Building) in the former Bowie Park. This building was where the current Harlingen Community Center is at 201 E. Madison Avenue.
The library, supported by numerous play productions, teas, and Book Tag Days, moved into this complex. To raise funds the library board, all day and evening on a Saturday, even sold Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in downtown stores. This netted them $28.00 in commission.
One Library Day was proclaimed and was publicized by having a fire truck driven by Mayor Ewing circle around downtown while the librarian ranged its bell (or in another account blew its siren). This was to remind the citizenry that the library need the support of everyone.
This drive brought $600 in donations, $100 of which came from one generous resident. The Women’s Chamber of Commerce led by Mrs. Thomas S. (Anne) Herren was also generous in support of the library.
Later the city came forward with an appropriation for the library of $100 per month. The fine on overdue books had become two cents/day. The charge for an adult library card was ten cents, and this allowed the borrowing of up to 68 books per year. A child’s library card cost five cents. For rural residents an adult card was $1.00/year and $.50 for a juvenile. The library also featured the Harriett Macy Rental Shelf as another source of funding.
While Mrs. Macy continued as librarian, the Study Club voted that the library and Women’s Club edifice be managed and supervised by a committee composed of Mrs. Frank. D. (Maude) Nance, who was the PTA representative, Miss Annie Gregg representing the BPPW Club, Mrs. S. Ralph (Alice). Jennings of the Woman’s Chamber of Commerce, Mrs. Paul (May) Brown of the Study Club and Mrs. Gerald McKenna representing the library and Fine Arts Club.
Mayor Sam Botts took office in January 1928, and it was during his term in office that the library was officially adopted by the city. The U.S. Census of 1930 has Harlingen population at 12,124. Harlingen has leaped almost seven times from its 1920 total of 1,784. In the early 1930s, 35 percent of the library’s 46,260 books were fiction and the remainder references and non-fiction. With 1,595 library cards issued, assisting Mrs. Rork in her tenure as librarian were Miss Anna Durham and Mrs. Gerald McKenna.
The library was officially closed by the Library Board on October 4, 1932 due to the withdrawal of City of Harlingen funding. It then opened only once a week until the major disaster of the Labor Day Hurricane of 1933 struck the Valley.
The library then remained closed until November 1934. It was in March 1934 that the library board selected Mrs. Rork as librarian. She would serve until September 1939 when Mrs. McKenna took over the position.
The library was able to expand when an annex was constructed on the east side of the Women’s Club Building. It held the collection of 4,000 books, including 200 valuable books donated by L. M. Taylor.
The annex was constructed after Hugh Ramsey became mayor for the first time in December 1936. It was funded in part by the National Youth Administration (NYA), a New Deal agency that focused on providing work and education for Americans between the ages of 16 and 25 and operated from June 26, 1935 to 1939 as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Monetary assistance also came from the city and local gifts.
With the city’s population having to risen to 14,000 in 1940, the library now was circulating 9,300 books in its collection.
This number rose to 10,000 books by mid-1942 wherein the library circulated 4,060 books per month with the library open 33 hours a week.
As late as July 1942 library income from the city was still a pittance at $100/month, this having been increased by $25.00 from that of the previous several years.
Assisting Mrs. McKenna at the time were Mrs. Lucille Cocke, Mrs. Roland (Vivian) Lassanske, and Miss Jacinta Alvarez. When the number of books in the library’s collection rose to 20,000 the circulation of books was 7,000 a month.
The year 1941 saw a request to create a substation for books at the segregated Booker T. Washington School for Blacks at the 800 block of W. Filmore Avenue. In this year also, the Community Chest, that had donated to the library over the years, was asked to budget $1,000 for the library. The library was in need of books for the Boy Scouts as well as children’s art books.
This year saw 51,682 books loaned, an increase of 1940s 46,748.
It was in the 1940s that the Rotary Club was already giving thought to the construction of a new library facility. This may have been because Roscoe C. Pryor was president of the Rotary Club as well as chairman of the Library Board. Dr. Pryor would later go on to become president of Texas A & I University in Kingsville.
It was in March 1948 that Pryor requested a city budget of $6,000 for the library. If this amount was granted the library could then be dropped from the rolls of the Community Chest that had, in part, funded it in years past. It was two years later, after the Harlingen Army Air field (HAAF) had closed with the conclusion of World War II, that Pryor contacted the federal government asking that the Harlingen Library be granted the privilege of purchasing the non-government owned books of the HAAF Library, for in the past it had coordinated the donation of 3,000 books by the citizens of the community in a Victory Book Campaign.
With increasing tourism for the Magic Valley, the City of Harlingen thought it wise to cater to this source of revenue. In time the what was once Bowie Park on E. Madison Avenue was transformed. The Women’s Club Building of 1928 was demolished and in its place was constructed what is now named the Harlingen Community Center at 201 E. Madison.
Initially it was primarily used for winter tourist activities including outdoor shuffle board courts. The library would once again need to find a new home. In 1961 the Casa del Sol activities building designed by notable architect Alan Taniguchi was constructed adjacent to it at 221.