BY NORMAN ROZEFF
With the city’s 1950 population now a little over 23,000, thought is given to a new and expanded public library. Gene McCullough was Mayor, 1950-52. Under his administration the city finalized the change to a city manager form of government and a new library and city hall came into being.
The former was constructed in Travis Park between Van Buren and Tyler Avenues. The address is 502 E. Tyler. Its architects were Cocke, Bowman and York. The hand of architect John York was clearly seen in the plans for the new library.
As Stephen Fox wrote, “York quickly established a reputation for the firm, designing inventive modern buildings that responded lyrically to the climatic conditions of the Lower Rio Grande Valley and made a virtue of the generally meager building budgets with which the firm had to work. The exposition of lightweight structural members and technologically produced building components, accented with brilliant color combinations, was the hallmark of York’s style.”
Unfortunately, some of York’s library architecture was not suitable for the environmental conditions of the Valley and had to be reconstructed. This included 40 percent of the library’s wall area being glass. This, of course, reduced possible stack space, allowed sunlight to fall on the books, and was subject to storm damage.
The building fund was first started as a project of the Rotary Club in 1942. The onset of the war postponed any further action. After the war the Rotary Club again took up its new library crusade, this time as a war memorial. Cost figures in different accounts vary. One record in library files gives the initial cost of the brick building as $74, 686.70 with air-conditioning running $10,012.76, and furnishings at $3,734.06 for a total of $88,433.46.
Another source states, “The air-conditioned facility with its 51,000 square feet is built incrementally at a total cost of $107,052 and was later enhanced by the city’s $35,000 contribution. These were supplemented by individual donations of $5,000 each by H. E. Butt, Hill Cocke, and J. Lewis Boggus, and $20,000 by Lon C. Hill, Jr. and family.”
Individuals who greatly assisted the project were R. C. Prior, Dr. Ernest H. Poteet, M. H. Connelly (former members of the Library board) and W. B. Briscoe (former city manager).
For the children’s room the Junior Service League of Harlingen purchased the shelving and furniture.
This organization also conducted the weekly story hour for youngsters in addition to workers for the summer reading club. The stacks, at this time contained 11,336 volumes. The collection will rise to 16,000 by 1952, 25,000 by 1956, and more than 37,000 by 1960. It is on March 9, 1951 that 500 attend the dedication of the Soldiers’ Memorial Plaques at the Lon C. Hill Memorial Library. These contained the names of Harlingen’s World War II servicemen and women.
In the 1950s outstanding contributors to the library include Mary Elizabeth Holdsworth Butt (wife of Howard E. Butt, Sr.), Mrs. E. Polk (Lucille) Hornaday, and Mrs. F. N. (Martha) Smith, among others. Library Board members in this period were Miss Paul Hill, Mrs. Polk Hornaday, Mrs. Gordon Nix, Jack Skaggs, Gene McCullough, Troy McDaniel, and Sam Scales, chairman. A later board consisted of Troy McDaniel, chairman; M. H. Connelly; Gene McCullough; C. E. Bennett; L. M. Crow; Frank Lucas; Miss Paul Hill; Hill Cocke; E. D. McDonald; and Gerald McKenna.
The official dedication is 12/9/51 with M. H. Connelly presiding, Gene McCullough mayor attending, and Hill Cocke, Rotary president participating. An Alice C. Jennings Music Memorial is set up at the library. Gifts to it are made by the Rotary Club and the Music Lovers Club together with the Kiwanis Club that donated music books and recorded music.
With the construction of the new library the city established by ordinance, in September 28, 1951, its Public Library Board and provided for a librarian for the system. The following year in November saw the integration of the library’s finances into the city coffers.
In 1952 the Junior League of Harlingen expended $1,579.54 on the Children’s Wing of the library and more importantly organized activities for youthful readers. Those literate only in Spanish were not totally overlooked. In September 1952 the Mexican Chamber of Commerce established a Spanish language library in its Chamber Building at 515 W. Van Buren Avenue. Victor Valdez was library chairman of this chamber.
Today the Harlingen Public Library has an extensive section containing Spanish language literature.
The new library saw an increase in circulation. By June 30, 1952 the number of books going out had already reached 71,000, yet the Library Board and staff had to repeatedly point out that the compensation for staff was not adequate and, in fact, was less than that of the smaller McAllen Library and the library departments of other cities of comparable size.
Publicity about the library had been increased with the 1951 com- mencement of a weekly “Memo from the Library”column in the Valley Morning Star.
As the new library had expanded from the old so did the number of borrowers. By September 1958 the borrowers numbered 15,715, of whom 3,192 were air base personnel and their family members.
There are also 115 winter tourists with library cards as well as 2,268 people beyond the city limits.
The library collection now numbered 33,300 volumes or 45% of national standards. In 1957 the library lent 172,365 books, a 25% increase over the previous fiscal year.
New books purchased in the 1957-58 period numbered 1,992. These were funded by $4,456.15 from the city and $404.70 from the Memorial Fund, the average cost of a book being $2.39. For the following fiscal year the city budgeted $3,200 for new book purchases. The number of registered borrowers would grow to 17,700 in 1959.
In June 1960 additional changes, designed by Bowman, Swanson, and Hiester, are made at a cost of $31,932.
These include expansion of the library’s footage and likely the closure of a number of windows. The additions offered room for an office, a storage room, the Texas Room, and additional shelving.
Previously the screened porch that became the Texas and Southwest History Room was filled with plants and acted as a reading area. Its collection originated, in part, from that of Miss Paul Hill.
It would eventually grow to become the largest such collection in the Valley. By 1962 circulation of the library’s 40,943 volumes was 126,402.