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Chicago Public Library was founded in 1873 with a donation of books from England following the Great Fire of 1871. In 1897, the city opened an exuberant library building filled with marble and mosaics at Michigan Avenue and Washington Street; today it is the Cultural Center.

In the early days of the library, if you were lucky enough to have a candy or drug store on your corner, you could order a book to would be delivered by horse and wagon. This was the age of the Progressives as a political force however, and by 1916, plans were drawn up for branch libraries.

GAZ winter 10 Library medIn 1923, the city’s first sub-branch opened in the seven-year-old Rutherford-Sayre Park fieldhouse. Open two days a week for a total of ten hours, “Mont Clare Sub Branch” was home to a collection of books in numerous languages. At this time, Montclare was a residental suburb and Galewood was still farmland, prairie, and a golf course. By 1938, the library was open on a daily basis.

As World War II ended, residents petitioned the city to move the branch to Grand Avenue where the most popular books–those about new homes and homemaking–could be available to residents celebrating America’s victory. But it took until 1954 for the library to move to a Grand Avenue storefront across from the bus terminal, west of Sayre Avenue. A move fifteen years later to a building on Neva was next, but residents petitioned for a permanent facility at North and Narragansett.

A 1974 fire destroyed the library, the collection, and the accumulated history of the area. It took four years to open another facility at Grand and Sayre–the recently closed branch. It was a larger facility with air conditioning, and a the name was changed to Galewood-Montclare. While an improvement, residents still wanted a permanent home, and petitions continued to be drawn up and presented to the Ward.

Since the 1990s, Major Daley has promoted local libraries, appointed a Library Commissioner, and opened a record number of branch libraries with the input of neighborhood organizations. The Public Building Commission has developed a “green facility” prototype and has a number either under construction or in planning.

CPL announced in June 2010 that they must close the Galewood-Montclare branch on Grand Avenue in mid-July 2010 because of a tax dispute with the landlord.

At a public meeting at the library on June 23rd, then-Alderman John Rice announced he’d worked out a deal to move the library to a temporary home at the Rutherford-Sayre Park Field House while a new location was found. In August, 2010, the library opened in a small room on the second floor of the Field House, with a small fraction of the collection and resources available on Grand Avenue.

In the last two years, new locations have been rumored, proposed and forgotten, but after major library budget, staff, and hour cuts in October, 2011, it seemed unlikely much could be done. Since then, Alderman Nicholas Sposato and Galewood Residents Organization members have met with CPL officials. All parties are co-operative, and interested in helping the community, but budgets are slim and CPL claims their resources are allocated by demand. Since our small, hidden library doesn’t get much traffic, CPL won’t make it a priority, so the “Check Out” idea was developed to create a surge in circulation to get some attention from CPL.

While we work towards a better facility, consider that our branch has “come home” to the small but historic facility that was quite cutting edge a mere 90 years ago.

Thanks to Tom Drebenstedt and the Galewood Gazette for supplying the bulk of this history. Photograph courtesy of Chicago Park District