The African American Museum and Library at Oakland (AAMLO)
African American Museum & Library at Oakland (2008); Obtained from Wikimedia Commons under the terms of the GNU FreeDocumentation License.

is a branch of the Oakland (California) Public Library, housed in what was once the city’s main library, a 1902 structure built with funds from the industrialist Andrew Carnegie. 100 years later, the restored and repurposed building reopened to house a unique historical collection and to serve as a cultural center.


In 1899, Oakland City Librarian Charles S. Greene persuaded
civic leaders to replace the city’s existing, inadequate main library. With a $50,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie (only the second Carnegie library grant in the state of California) and a $20,000 fundraising campaign from a local women’s organization, a competition was held to design the building. A jury chose the young San Francisco architectural firm of Bliss and Faville and the library opened in 1902.

The structure served as Oakland’s main library for nearly 50 years and as a library branch, named after Charles S. Greene Library, until 1971. The building later became an administrative annex for city government. In 1983, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The 7.1 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 caused extensive serious structural damage and the building was subsequently declared unsafe for occupation.


1902-1951 – Oakland main library.
1951-1971 – Charles. S. Greene branch library.
1971-1989 – city administrative annex.
1983 – building placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1989 – building suffers severe damage in Loma Prieta earthquake and is declared unsafe.
1997 – funding secured for restoration and rehabilitation of building.
2002 – reopens as the African American Museum & Library at Oakland (AAMLO).

Project description

When the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, one possible alternative use considered was for the structure to house a Black History Museum for the collections begun in 1946 by three local African Americans in an effort to preserve African American oral histories.

The building's inadequacies had been apparent since the 1930s. With funding in place, the $11.2 million adaptive urban renewal project included a seismic retrofit to meet state earthquake standards, renovations of the interior, and the restoration of original interior and exterior design elements. Renovation included the removal of an acoustical ceiling in the Children’s Room and partitions erected during the time of the building’s use as an administrative office. Display space for museum exhibitions, archival storage, and reference library space were also created as part of the project. Restoration work included the return of some of the original murals which had been removed to the nearby Oakland Museum of California. A new mural called the Journey of Promise was commissioned for the building's new purpose.

Architect (Contractor, etc.)

The original 1902 architects, Bliss and Favelle, designed a 17,500 square-foot, symmetrical, two-story structure in an Italian Renaissance style, its facade finished in brick and terra cotta in an American Beaux-Arts style. William Shakespeare’s
name is etched above the main entrance, and the names of scholars (Virgil, Homer, etc.) and disciplines (History, Poetry, Science, etc.) decorate other areas of the exterior. Extensive murals, including some by noted California painter Arthur Mathews, are on display throughout the building interior.

Michael Willis & Associates was reponsible for the conceptual design of the reconstruction, the City of Oakland Public Works Agency handled project management, and Lindquist-Van Hook was the principal contractor.


Money for the seismic retrofit, restoration, and renovation came from three sources: $7.2 million from part of a general obligation bond under City of Oakland Measure I, $3 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and $1 million from a California State Library/Library Services and Construction Act, Title II, grant.

Contact information

African American Museum & Library at Oakland
659 14th Street
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 637-0200


African American Museum & Library at Oakland.
Carnegie Libraries of California.
Oakland Public Library Inventory-Nomination Form. National Register of Historic Places, United States Department of the Interior, Heritage Conservation and Recreation Service.


Dalton, S. (2002). “Library Profiles: The African American Museum and Library at Oakland.” The California State Library Connection
20 (February 2002): 1-2.