By Laura Plummer
Special to the Gazette
Residents of Mission Hill and local officials came out on July 28 to celebrate the long-awaited reopening of the Parker Hill Branch of the Boston Public Library (BPL). It had been closed for over a year due to a major repair and renovation effort.
A crowd of about 50 residents and BPL volunteers and staff gathered in front of the historic Boston building as library and local elected officials marked the occasion with words of gratitude and fond remembrances.
“Each branch library is at the heart of its community,” said BPL President David Leonard. “Today we celebrate the return of this special place at the heart of the Parker Hill and Mission Hill neighborhoods.”
City of Boston Chief of Operations Patrick Brophy oversees all major renovation of municipal buildings, including the mayor’s $128 million earmarked for the restoration of neighborhood libraries.
“The mayor strongly believes in libraries and he thinks that these types of investments really affect the way that we live and interact in our community,” Brophy said.
Local State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez shared an anecdote about growing up around the branch library in the 1970s and 1980s.
“This library meant more to me than most. Dolly used to be the librarian here,” he recalled. “It was the hip-hop generation. She said, ‘You can dance one hour but you gotta make sure you read for one hour.’ This was a place where we found peace in the middle of uncertain times.”
“There were times when this branch was on the [list to be closed],” Rep. Sanchez continued. “I’m so happy that the mayor decided to make sure this library stays open so we can keep this incredible spirit of community in Mission Hill.”
“This is what makes a neighborhood–having common spaces that are accessible,” said City Councilor Josh Zakim. “This was probably my favorite item in the City capital budget to vote on.”
“I want to thank the City of Boston for investing the necessary resources to polish this gem that the Mission Hill community treasures,” said Nancy Ahmadifar of the Parker Hill Library Friends Group. “More than ever now, we will appreciate our branch library and its dedicated librarians.”
Following the speaker program, residents enjoyed live music, mingled with neighbors, participated in activities for children and toured the improved facility.
The Parker Hill Library at 1497 Tremont Street is an historic Jacobean-style building that first opened its doors in 1931. More than just a place to find books, the Parker Hill Library is a community hub that has offered diverse programming opportunities, such as guest speakers, fitness classes, art exhibits, book groups, and storytimes for children. However, the building had been in dire need of improvements both interior and exterior. Water leaking into the masonry had been creating bad air quality and mold–not a good combination for books.
The $2.4 million renovation included giving the building a much-needed facelift, painting the interior, replacing historic windows, weatherproofing, and upgrading the slate roof. All renovations were carried out with respect to the building’s historic nature.
“Preservation of something this old is really important, especially in the context of this neighborhood given its location right next to the church,” said Lisa Pollack, BPL chief of communications. “Boston likes to hang onto its history.”
One of the building’s interior repair efforts included restoring the decorative plasterwork on the building’s vaulted ceiling.
“The plaster on the ceiling is all original,” said Priscilla Foley, BPL’s director of Neighborhood Services. “Water was coming in and it was deteriorating the plaster. They restored it.”
Brophy mentioned that what struck him the most about the transformation was the lighting.
“This used to be very, very dark,” he said, gesturing to the front foyer entrance. Now, natural light streams in through the newly renovated exterior windows, which are all state-of-the-art and energy-efficient.
Pollack was keen to highlight the improved teen reading room with its sleek modern seating area and fully stocked shelves featuring genres that appeal to young readers.
She said that during its closure, the Parker Hill librarians made a strong effort to find alternative venues for its summer programming, such as its summer reading program for teens.
“They did book groups, computer classes, story time and homework help,” she said.
Leonard stated that all but one of the Parker Hill librarians returned to the branch upon reopening. The branch recently welcomed a new children’s librarian.
Read more about the upgrades to the Parker Hill Branch at recently updated website of the Boston Public Library at bpl.org.