Cherrydale Branch Library

Serving North Arlington since 1922

Journalist Charlie Clark Writes About Cherrydale Library's 50th Anniversary Celebration

Our Man in Arlington,
Falls Church News-Press

By Charlie Clark
July 12, 2011

Cherrydale Library The Internet, say all indicators in Arlington's Cherrydale neighborhood, will not
soon replace the public library.

Not with the spirit that abounded in stacks at Cherrydale Library on a Saturday in
July 2011 when, amid balloons, an outdoor banner, a history display and a cake, a
standing-room crowd of patrons from all generations celebrated the 50th anniversary
of that cathedral-like temple of knowledge.

To the passel of attendees who spent our childhoods in that neighborhood, it was jarring
to ponder the half-century of elapsed time. We still think of it as the "new" Cherrydale
library on Military Road that in 1961 replaced the ramshackle, poorly lit former clinic that
once stood near what is now Essy's restaurant at Quincy Street and Lee Highway.

Broad perspective on the event was provided by Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, who remarked
on how the avant-garde slanted building is "tucked into physical foundation of the community."
He noted how some oppressive governments consider libraries a threat, and how early childhood
reading habits help break the cycle of poverty. He lamented the 38,000 public-sector jobs lost
around the country last month, some of them librarians. "A place to go read in serenity--it's hard
to put a price on it."

The branch's original deputy architect Judson Gardner, who at age 87 drove up from Orange, Va.,
reminisced about challenges of designing the unique building with its third-floor back entrance on a
30-foot slope in a residential neighborhood packed with prized trees.

The result-one of 185 community and university libraries his firm built nationwide-on this day was given
a green building award from Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment.

The back story was told with a personal touch by accomplished Cherrydale historian Kathryn Holt Springston.
As the county's oldest branch, this library goes back to 1922 when an embryonic collection was assembled by
the Cherrydale Volunteer Fire Department, League of Women Voters, and Patrons League (later the PTA). It was
housed at various sites near the community's main intersection, including the old Cherrydale School.

The push to build today's branch began in 1957, when eight civic associations and PTAs banded
together (their leader met with the county board 50 times). Ground was broken Sept. 4, 1960, remarkably
just as Arlington's Central Library, less than a mile away, was also under construction. (Its proximity
is cited whenever the county considers closing Cherrydale during budget squeezes.)

Springston's exuberance comes through in her recollection of the old library, with its books piled in
seemingly random piles: "I can picture the sunlight streaming through the windows, the dust glimmering
in its rays, and still imagine smelling that wonderful old book smell! The fans in summer just seemed to
stir the shimmering heat around, and the noisy rumbling and awful smell of the furnace in winter only added
to the ambience.

Springston had read every book in that home away from home. So it took her a while to warm to the "new"
one's neat stacks, soft carpet, bright lights and coolness, where "I admit I haven't read even a quarter of the

Other library fans told of intellectual worlds opened or their first library card. I can recall specific titles on the
shelves that caught my young eye.

Arlington has done well with its reconstituted libraries, recently at Shirlington and Westover. The celebration
should be duplicated across the country.

Charlie Clark
Used with permission.

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