Thursday, October 15, 2009

October 2009 edition - At the Library


The WPA [Works Progress Administration, renamed the Work Projects Administration in 1939] was good to Bernal Heights. It provided much-needed construction jobs which created the Aztec Street steps, the grading and paving of Bernal Heights Blvd, and the St. Mary’s Park playground. But most importantly, the excavating, grading and wall-building of the Bernal Recreation Center’s field and playground literally paved the way for the construction of our jewel in the crown: the Bernal Heights Branch Library.

A second New Deal of sorts, in the name of the Branch Library Improvement Program, has been employing tradespeople all over San Francisco for the past several years. It’s interesting how today’s economic reality parallels that earlier era and once again the building of civic structures symbolizes hope for people.

In our neighborhood CDX Builders, a San Francisco company, were awarded the job and their crew has been steadily working on the renovation. Their effort is bringing architect Andrew Maloney’s vision to life.

Andy works with the Library Design Studio of the City’s Bureau of Architecture and his design is an intelligent and thoughtfully elegant response to the original building, which was designed by the well known and significant local architect Frederick H. Meyer. The renovation, as the original building, will clearly stand the test of time. Andy understands the bones of the building and is honoring them through his work. Our dusty architectural gem is being improved through his careful lead and the crew’s steady effort.

The interior workmanship is of superior quality: wood veneers painstakingly matched through careful refinishing, thoughtful use of tiling and flooring and creative use of lighting and ceiling finishes. The Beaux Arts staircase seamlessly dovetails with existing walls. The entire newly installed lower floor, which houses the public restrooms, children’s, meeting, and staff rooms has detailing which is fully integrated with the upper —not an easy feat—considering it was once a basement.

The front exterior façade now provides an access ramp which is gracefully sculpted to include public seating. There are new lighting fixtures which echo nearby streetlamps and the era of the original building. And a small veranda facing the corner provides a comfortable place for neighbors to converse and watch passersby. The south façade incorporates a second access ramp into the Children’s Room which does not intrude upon the architectural lines of the building.

Valerie and I have had the privilege of regular sneak-peaks of the work in order to snap photos for the blog. As you enter the dusty zone, you’ll first encounter the cacophony of accents and languages of the crew. Their common language is that of the builder’s and their focus is on skill and craft. They cannot wait to show off the finished product and are flattered and proud every time they hear us ooohing and ahhing over the transformation of the building. They really appreciate working with Andy, whose attention to detail and demanding standards are setting a high bar but teaching them a lot.

I remember my first experience of the building very well. I went to look at the library back in 2001 before my interview for the job. Even in its shabby state I could see a grand and lovely building and I knew that it would be a privilege to spend my days in such a space.

January is fast approaching and that means the long-awaited Grand Opening of the renovated Bernal Heights Library is near. You are all cordially invited. We look forward to announcing the exact date and time very soon.

Lisa Dunseth, Branch Manager