Image courtesy of Central Library
Normal Heights branch library, c. 1926
On Wednesday, July 28, 2010, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for the new central library in downtown San Diego, one month and 56 years after the current library at Eighth and E Streets opened in 1954. Back then, as a new library opened, an old library closed. A few miles northeast of downtown, the branch library in Normal Heights shutdown after serving the neighborhood and John Adams Elementary School for 28 years.
Normal Heights has never had its own brand new, built-from-the-ground up library. Before annexation to the city in 1925, Normal Heights had county libraries that were housed in local businesses — a hardware store, for example — or in the public school.
The Normal Heights library was a cast-off moved from Garfield Elementary School in University Heights. The 30´x40´ redwood cottage-style building was constructed by the residents of University Heights with volunteer labor and donated materials in 1914. When University Heights outgrew the building and opened a new library at Park Boulevard and Howard Street, the library board purchased a vacant lot in Normal Heights and moved the bungalow to 3491 School Street in 1926.
The Kensington Library at 4121 Adams Avenue was owned and run as part of the county’s library system until 1953. In 1953, the last small section of Kensington (bounded by 40th and 42nd Streets on the west and east, Jefferson on the north, and Monroe on the south) annexed itself to the city. That area also contained the county library, and Kensington did not want to lose its library; neither did Normal Heights.
According to newspaper accounts and library board meeting minutes, two of the strongest reasons for closing the Normal Heights library were that the building was small and the parking was terrible. Also, the Kensington building planned for a library was newer, in better condition, and was going to be remodeled and enlarged.
The library board supported the library board request. District 3 councilman Chester Schneider suggested that perhaps Kensington could take down its neon sign to “minimize neighborhood rivalries” with Normal Heights and improve the old wooden bridge over Ward Road. (That didn’t happen until 1960.) The city reimbursed the county $900 for library funds invested in the building, plus $3300 for the building and including relocation expenses for the Normal Heights branch.
The residents of Normal Heights protested with letters, petitions — one was 16 pages long — and visits to the city manager. Nothing could be done; the library closed and reopened in Kensington as the Normal Heights-Kensington Branch in April 1954. Years later, the original Normal Heights-Kensington sign was painted over and repainted with the names reversed.