Lakewood Library closes; Future of Pierce County site pending
Marsha Klaas sent me a handwritten letter. Over the years, this is how the 77-year-old has often corresponded. She’s not the type to use email, nor her landline for that matter.
This note was urgent.
“I have no one else to turn to,” spelled Klaas in capital letters pressed on paper with a ballpoint pen, a style I know well. “Please help me!”
Without reading any further, I already knew the score. Klaas is many things – colorful, outspoken, feisty – but above all, she is a strong supporter of the Lakewood Library. For more than a decade, she has been a member of the volunteer group that collects and sells used books in her basement, raising money for an institution she considers a community treasure. Few things seem more important to him than the historic 59-year-old building on the corner of Wildaire and Gravelly Lake, not far from the Lakewood Towne Center.
As I suspected, Klaas was writing because a day she had been dreading for a long time – and which she was trying to prevent with all her fiber – was fast approaching.
Saturday, the Lakewood Library will close to the public for what could be the last time, and Klass for his part isn’t happy about it.
“It breaks my heart,” Klaas told me on Friday, his emotions raw and his voice shaking. “They want a Taj Mahal library, and they’re going to get it. And they take that away from us.
Before I go any further, I have an important disclaimer, which I also offered Klaas upfront: I can’t save the Lakewood Library. Part of me would love to try, because I know the relief it would bring to a number of long-time Lakewood residents, and because the pain on Klaas’ face is hard to bear, but the reality facing the building is raw:
As The News Tribune reported, the Pierce County Library System recently decided it made more sense to close the building and find a new temporary location than potentially foot the bill for urgent repairs, which it says him, would cost between 10 and 15 million dollars.
For now, the library system will be focused on finding a short-term location by the end of the year, according to spokeswoman Nicole Milbradt, who said the decision to close the library ” was not easy”.
Meanwhile, a major advisory committee is being assembled to determine how to proceed from here.
That could mean figuring out how to pay for repairs to the old library’s leaky roof, faulty plumbing and floundering heating and cooling system — and one day reopen it, Milbradt acknowledged.
Or, more likely, it could mean a whole new building one day.
In other words, Klaas’ quest could be nearly over, and she knows it.
“It’s a historic building. Everyone is comfortable there. They have everything anybody wants,” said Klaas, who raised four children in Lakewood and has fond memories of taking them to the library when they were young.
“It’s just not right.”
The thing about Lakewood’s story is that it’s easy to miss. Unless you’re a local and have kids in Clover Park Schools, seen 4th of July fireworks shows at Villa Plaza, or remember when the arcade game “Pong” debuted at the Liberty House department store, the woodsy slice of post-World War II suburbia. feels mundane, or like a place where you accidentally get lost.
But behind the exterior of the strip mall and cul-de-sac is a place where memories were made, lives were built and a city was born, according to former City Councilman Walter Neary, a former journalist who co-author of two books on the history of Lakewood.
The Lakewood Library, which opened in 1963 as the Flora Tenzler Memorial Library, paid for with $250,000 from the Tenzler Foundation, plays a big part in this story, Neary said. For years it was the where community meetings were held, providing a venue for many of the civic conversations that shaped Lakewood (or at least those that didn’t happen over martinis at the Terrace Piano Bar). When it opened, it was also a marvel: Russell Garrison, the architect hired by the Tenzlers, won a prestigious award for his efforts.
Ten years after it opened, the Tenzler Foundation funded an extension to the library, adding what was then a state-of-the-art audio and visual wing, complete with upholstered armchairs with stereo speakers for listening to music. records and tapes. at the request of staff.
According to Neary, the library, which for many years was owned and operated by the same group of volunteers of which Klaas is proud to be a member, was a key part of the identity of a thriving town.
“It’s not like Lakewood is Tacoma, with all that history, you know? We kind of develop our own history,” Neary, 60, said of the town he’s lived in for half his life, which officially incorporated in 1996.
“You have to remember: Lakewood, for a long time, was pretty much just an extension of Tacoma, and its sense of community gradually grew. … Having a library here was important,” Neary said.
In the early 1990s, the group of volunteers who owned the library, then known as Friends of the Lakewood Library, donated the building to the Pierce County Library Systemas well as $350,000 for renovations.
Neary said that was one of the reasons why the library’s closure proved such strong emotions.
“When the Friends of the Library handed over the building to the Pierce County Library, there was a sense of confidence that the Pierce County Library would remain loyal to Lakewood. And they’re still planning to have a library here, so that’s good,” Neary said.
“But it’s something that people are sensitive to,” he added. “Like, ‘Hey, this is part of my heritage, in my newly evolved and unified little community.’
Neary said he was “keeping an open mind” about the prospect of a new library.
Whatever happens, he hopes the original building will somehow be preserved, he said.
“It’s a historic place,” Neary said.
“We all wish these buildings would never change and always stay the same, but you have to be realistic about what’s happening in the world.”
Last day of Lakewood Library
Carlo Manetti, an 85-year-old retired doctor who lives a stone’s throw from Lakewood Library, is another regular visitor who says he will be filled with sadness when the doors are locked on Saturday night.
Manetti, who immigrated to the United States from Italy and raised a family in the home he’s lived in since 1977, said he’s been consulting books from the library every week for more than 40 years.
On Thursday, Manetti said he wasn’t convinced it would take as much to save the building as the Pierce County Library System claimed. In Lakewood these days, it’s a familiar question from those who oppose the decision to close the facility.
Manetti also said he wasn’t ready to give up. Along with his daughter, Christina Manetti – who is no stranger to public battles, having recently helped save around 90 Garry oak trees in Lakewood from being cut down to make way for a new warehouse – it is expected to put pressure on the system of Pierce County Library and the City in the coming months.
“For me, the most important part is that the library is one of the few buildings here that is unique,” Manetti said. “What amazes me is how little we care about these things in the United States. … If we don’t like a building after a few years, we bring in bulldozers and tear it down.
According to Milbradt, the Pierce County Library System is well aware of the Lakewood Library’s popularity and the difficulty of this change for some users. She pointed out that no final decision has been made and, no matter what, the agency is committed to providing library services to Lakewood.
Milbradt also promised that there would be many opportunities for public engagement as the future of library services in Lakewood is decided, and that the process would be thorough and transparent.
Still, it’s cold comfort for Klaas, who feels the writing is on the wall.
“They’re going to close this building and there’s nothing anyone can do about it,” Klaas said.
“I tried,” she quickly added, fighting back tears.
“Oh, my God, I fought.”
This story was originally published June 4, 2022 5:00 a.m.