1968 Library Building

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The following description of the Dedication Ceremonies on November 17, 1968 appeared in the local newspaper:

South Orange to Dedicate its New Library Sunday Afternoon.

After a decade or more of waiting, South Orange will formally accept its new public library building Sunday.

During a ceremony of dedication at 2:30 p.m., Kenneth A. Lawrence, a former Village trustee and chairman of the Building Committee of the Library Board of Trustees, will present the keys of the new colonial-style structure to Village President Brian D. Conlan.

James E. Bryan, director of the Newark Public Library, former president of the American Library Association and a consultant in the planning of the Village’s new cultural center, will be the principal speaker. Other participants will be Boy Scouts, who will present the colors; Rabbi Theodore Friedman of Congregation Beth El, Msgr. George W Shea of Our Lady of Sorrows and Rev. Nathaniel T. Goodwin of First Presbyterian and Trinity Church, who will give the invocation, prayer of dedication and benediction, respectively, and Earl N. Felio, president of the Library Board, who will be master of ceremonies.

From the records available, it appears that this is the third home for the library since the South Orange Library Association was organized 104 years ago. The first was the second floor of a Beck Hardware frame building on South Orange Ave.; the second was the old library in the same block with the new on Scotland Rd., which was opened in 1896. For the moment, this one will continue to stand; its use in the future has not yet been finally determined.

Insufficient space and outmoded facilities that could not be enlarged and modernized efficiently were the reasons for the long campaign by the Library Board, Friends of the Library and citizens in general to build a new library.

The new one is almost exactly twice the size of the old in square footage and has somewhat more than twice the book capacity. It has more than three times as much seating capacity, includes a small meeting room that can be enlarged by using a movable partition, and has numerous other features essential to a modern library.

Its total basic cost was $526,800, including $456,696 for construction, $30,204 for architectural fees and $39,900 for contingencies and furnishings. This amount came from a bonding ordinance approved by the Village Trustees in 1966 ($425,100) and a federal grant ($101,700). In addition, more than $30,000 was contributed by individual citizens and organizations, much of it for specific purposes to improve the facilities.

The architect was E.W. Fanning Associates of Paterson, with Edward P. McMullin Jr., the project architect. H.E. Nonemaker & Sons of Maplewood was the general contractor; Richard G. Walter, Maplewood’s director of parks, developed the landscaping.

The long campaign for a new library produced more than the new building now being dedicated. It caused a controversy that divided the Village for several years and brought into being a new political party, the Citizens for Responsive Government, in opposition to the Citizens Party League, which had dominated South Orange political life since 1900. The CRG organized in 1963 in opposition to plans for a library costing $655,000 and to a proposal to raise the limits of apartment heights. Though the price was scaled down the CRG won the Village Trustee election that year and in February 1964, a referendum for $500,000 building was defeated.

The impasse was resolved in early 1966 when a 6-man committee of CPL and CRG came to an agreement that led to the bonding ordinance approved later in that year. In the meantime, the CPL regained control of the Trustee board, which again is composed solely of CPL choices. The CRG tried again this past May but lost by a decisive margin. It exists, but its prime issue is gone.