The main branch of the Alameda Free Library in Alameda, California is located at 1550 Oak Street in the central section of the city, near civic offices and one of the two main retail shopping and entertainment districts. The two-story, 45,800 square foot building opened in 2006, and is Alameda’s first certified green building. It houses a wide range of information resources, including an extensive local history collection. The main library provides most of the adult services for the city, and also acts as a community center for the densely-populated 12 square-mile island city of 75,000 residents, hosting concerts and events throughout the year.
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Alameda Free Library, Alameda, California. Photograph by Michael Owen, 2014.


The city of Alameda founded its library system in 1877, making it the fourth oldest in the state of California. With a $35,000 grant from the Carnegie Foundation, Alameda opened its first library building in 1903, when the city’s population was a mere 20,000. The 13,500 square foot structure was designed by San Francisco architects William H. Willcox and John M. Curtis.

As the years passed, the Carnegie library became inadequate to meet the needs of Alameda’s growing population. Additionally, the Carnegie library suffered from structural issues: on one occasion, the building flooded; on another, the roof leaked. Both incidents led to significant water damage that resulted in the loss of parts of the library’s collections.

In 1974, the Friends of the Alameda Free Library was created, an event which began a three decades-long struggle to build a new main library. City officials began feasibility studies for a new building in the 1980s, work which was brought into sharper focus by the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake which caused major structural damage to the Carnegie library. As the studies continued, the city purchased the Linoaks Motel, a rundown 1950s era building located across the street from the police station, as a potential site for a new library, but failed to persuade voters to approve bond measures for construction. Eventually, the Carnegie library was forced to close due to safety concerns, and the main library leased temporary space in the empty West Wing of Alameda High School.

The Alameda Free Library Foundation was formed in 1998 to create a groundswell of support for a new main library. This led to the passage of Measure O, a $10.6 million bond, in 2000. A significant barrier to the development of the new main library was overcome by the application for and approval of a grant from the state of California to cover 65% of the costs of construction.

The new main library is a significant piece of Alameda’s “Park Street Streetscape and Town Center Project,” a downtown revitalization project included in Alameda’s General Plan. Other elements of this project – also known as the Capital Improvement Program – included the rehabilitation of the nearby 1932 Art Deco Alameda Theater, designed by local architect Timothy Pflueger, the construction of a multiplex cinema next door to the historic theater, and a new multi-level city parking garage around the corner. This redevelopment was intended to “coordinate with historic structures in the vicinity and solidify the identity of the Civic Center area.”

A Library Building Team of citizens and library staff was formed to oversee the building’s planning and construction. It organized a series of public meetings in which citizens were asked if a new library should be built – and where it should be located – or whether the Carnegie structure should be rehabilitated. The city-owned Linoaks Motel site was eventually chosen as the site of the new library.

Through extensive needs assessments, workshops, and focus groups, the Library Building Team settled on three priorities: 1) expanded, newer, and better collections; 2) meeting rooms and group study areas open to the public; and 3) more computers.


1903 – Alameda opens Carnegie library.
1974 – Friends of the Alameda Free Library founded.
1998 – Alameda Free Library Foundation founded.
1998 – Main library forced to relocate due to damage at Carnegie building.
2000 – Alameda voters pass Measure O.
2002 – State of California Public Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act approved by votes.
March 1, 2005 – groundbreaking ceremony held for new main library.
November 2006 – the new Alameda Main Library opens to the public.

Project description

Work began with the demolition of the rundown Linoaks Motel, which cleared the way for the March 1, 2005 groundbreaking ceremony.

The site for the library – on Lincoln and Oak Streets – was chosen for its location on a major east-west transportation corridor which made the library easily accessible by bus, bicycle, foot, and car. The building is centrally located, near City Hall, and just one block from a core retail and pedestrian district.

The Thomas Hacker architectural firm of Portland was selected to design the project, based on its experience in library construction and its commitment to environmental issues, including LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its buildings. Local firms were chosen for general construction, HVAC, masonry, lighting, mechanical, and interior design.

A city employee with experience in project management, Robert Haun, was selected to oversee the project. His major challenge was to bring the library in under budget, which he did by “value engineering” the project, which resulted in a savings of $5 million through the cutting or modification of elements of the construction and design.

The new library is Alameda’s first green building. 84 percent of the debris from construction was recycled, meaning that the project was able to receive LEED certification. Oriented to utilize natural daylight, the building was constructed with large windows facing in the northeast and northwest directions which reduce the lighting load needed from fluorescent bulbs. This transparency invites people in, and the extended windows, which cantilever over the entrance, allow an increased feeling of openness. On the second floor, the large windows provide breathtaking views of the city and the hills off the island, intended to give patrons a sense of being a part of the world yet separate from it.

Masonry construction creates a thermal mass which reduces temperature fluctuation in the building, keeping the heat inside during winter and keeping it cool in summer. Materials for the project were chosen for their durability and were largely selected from sustainable sources, including the use of recycled shredded denim jeans for insulation. The building’s HVAC systems use under floor air distribution to increase effectiveness by utilizing the thermal mass of its concrete floors.

“Thin client” workstations were selected for their low power consumption and low heat generating qualities. Technology was incorporated into the structure so upgrades and replacements to systems can be accomplished without disruption to library services.

Sensors are activated when people enter and leave rooms, a feature which allows a central computer to control heating and cooling. Lighting is also controlled by computers, and drip irrigation is employed in the garden to reduce water consumption.

The exterior of the building is beautified by the addition of eight limestone window medallions called “Cadence of Water,” designed by local sculptor Masayuki Nagase and his wife Michele Ku.
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Cadence of Water by Masayuki Nagase and Michele Ku. Exterior of Alameda Free Library, Alameda, California. Photograph by Michael Owen, 2014.

The couple also added a limestone and granite tile wall mural to the interior.

The building is designed for inclusion. It is not merely a warehouse of information resources but a center of the community.

Architect (Contractor, etc.)

Architect: Thomas Hacker Architects, Portland, Oregon.
General Contractor: S. J. Amoroso Construction, Redwood City, California.
Mechanical Contractor: Kent Lim Company, San Francisco, California.
HVAC Contractor: Taylor Engineering, Alameda, California.
Lighting Designer: JS Nolan + Associates, San Francisco, California.
Masonry Contractor: E&S Masonry, Castro Valley, California.


The $23.8 million cost of building the new Alameda Free Library came via a $15.5 million grant from the state of California’s Public Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act, which offset 65% of the construction costs. The balance of the cost ($8.3 million) came from the 2000 passage of a local $10.6 million bond measure which also covered the renovation of the city’s West End and Bay Farm Island branch libraries.

Contact information

Alameda Free Library
1550 Oak St.
Alameda, CA 94501
(510) 747-7777


Alameda Free Library: California Reading and Literacy Improvement and Public Library Construction and Renovation Bond Act of 2000 Funds: Application Form, 2002.

City of Alameda, California. “Main Library Expansion Project: RFQ and Background Documents,” 2001.

E&S Masonry.

“Groundbreaking for the New Alameda Main Library,” Business Wire, February 22, 2005.

Hill, Angela. “Island Breaks Ground on Library.” Oakland Tribune/, March 2, 2005.

Ribera, Tyler. “Grand and Green: Check Out the New Library.” Alameda Magazine, January/February 2007.

Taylor Engineering.

Thomas Hacker Architecture.

U.S. Green Building Council Directory.

Vannucchi, Anne. “History of the Alameda Free Library.” San Jose State University, 2008.